CALLING FORT KNOX
I wonder how many people there are out there in the world who remember making phone calls to a business and talking to a real live person? I'm not kidding. It truly was that way once upon a time. There was nothing unusual about it at all. That's probably why I felt no hesitation in December of 1966, when I picked up my home phone, dialed 0 and asked the operator to connect me to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You need to know what prompted me to try to call a U.S. Army Base in the first place.
We grew up in a small town in northeastern Kentucky. We dated all through high school and just assumed that one day we would marry and be together forever. Uncle Sam, however, didn't know of our plans and just a few days after my high school sweetheart, Don, graduated, the dreaded draft notice came in the mail. Almost before we realized what was happening he was whisked off to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. We may have been young and naïve but we knew that the next step would be Vietnam. That's the way it was during that time.
We started making plans to marry as soon as his basic training was completed. Very often, soldiers were given a 30 day leave after basic and before being re-assigned. We counted forward six weeks and plowed forward with our plans. AGAIN Uncle Sam didn't realize our Grand Plan and for some reason all after-basic-training leaves were canceled. Don was immediately and 'temporarily' assigned to remain at Fort Knox.
Plans were canceled. Nerves were rattled. Still we were determined to marry. We sent letters back and forth and tried to decide what to do. Finally we agreed upon a December wedding. Surely there would be some sort of leave for the Christmas holiday. Again plans were put in motion. Again Uncle Sam canceled all leaves. Only week-end passes would be given.
Ok, we thought to ourselves, we'll get married during Don's week-end pass. Everything will be fine. It will all work out. Think positively and just keep plugging along.
The next snag came with the marriage license and blood tests. We were both underage. I was only 17. Don was 19, which today seems so young, but he was evidently old enough to fight a war. We each needed our parents signatures and we each needed blood tests. The court clerk helped make arrangements for Don to have his blood test on base and the results would be mailed. Faxing was not an option at that time. Both of our fathers agreed to sign giving their permission but of they both worked and getting them together at the same time appeared to be impossible. Again the court clerk came to my aid and told me to come in myself with one of the fathers. Then Don would need to come in on Saturday before noon, with the other father. Everything would be signed, sealed, and ready for the Saturday afternoon wedding.
It worked out that Don's father went with me and my dad was going to go with Don for all of this 'signing' business. When I walked my 17 year-old self in to the Court Clerk's office with a man in his early 60s and told the young lady at the counter that we were there to apply for a marriage license, I thought she would surely swallow her teeth. Then I told her that I had been working with Judy and she gave a big sigh, indicating that all was well with her again.
We left the office and so far so good. Nothing had gone wrong. When I got back home, my grandmother had arrived for the wedding and had even answered the phone and taken a message for me. She was very careful to write it down exactly as it was told to her. The call was from Don telling me that he would be arriving Saturday afternoon on the 12:25 bus.
I looked at Granny and said "But Granny, that's too late! He has to be at the court clerk's office with Dad BEFORE they close at noon. 12:25 IS TOO LATE! What am I going to do?" and I started to cry.
My granny seemed quite calm about the whole situation, patted my hand and said, "Well, Honey, just call him back. He probably forgot that the office closed at noon. I'm sure he can get an earlier bus. Just call him. It'll be ok."
Well, all right then! That's exactly what I will do. I picked up the phone (rotary, of course) dialed 0 and told the operator to connect me to Fort Knox. And in just a few minutes there was a human voice on the other end of the line. I was still sniffing and crying as I asked to speak to Donald R. Chandler. I gave his rank and serial number. I had no idea where he was or the name of his barracks. I only knew name, rank and serial number. The voice on the phone didn't even ask why I needed him, just told me that it might take a few minutes and for me to hang on. I remember vaguely wondering how many sobbing females called Fort Knox during any given day. The voice seemed not in the least alarmed and treated my request as if he received them every day.
By the time a male voice spoke to me again, I had worked myself into near hysteria. I asked, "Is this Don Chandler.
The answer was, "Yes, Mam." With that I launched into a crying rant that I'm sure was barely coherent. I ended up by saying, "If you can't get her before noon, then just forget it! Don't come home at all!!"
As I was trying to get my breath and blow my nose, the young man on the other end of the line, said, "Mam, I think you have the wrong person."
"Are you kidding me? Are you Don Chandler"
"Yes Mam, I am but I heard that there's another Don Chandler on base. Maybe you want to talk to him. Want me to try to find him for you?"
During all this time, my mom, dad, little sister, and of course, granny, were all tip toeing around trying to pretend that they weren't listening and trying NOT to get my attention for fear that I would fly in to a rage in their direction.
Minutes, minutes, and more minutes passed. At last, I heard, "Hello?"
"The Don Chandler that supposed to get married this week-end?"
"WELL, YOU'VE GOT TO GET HERE BEFORE NOON!!!! I THINK I TOLD YOU THAT BEFORE. WE CAN'T GET MARRIED IF YOU SHOW UP ON 12;25 BUS! .............. And on and on and on.
When I had exhausted myself, he said, "Ok, no problem. I just got an extra day added to my pass. I'll be in on the Friday bus.
When I hung up, my granny was back, patting my hand and saying ,"Now, was that so hard? Everything is just fine." I was a blubbering mess but yes, everything truly was fine.
So, the wedding actually took place. He DID end up going to Vietnam. When he returned to me, we had a happy life, raised 2 children and often talked about the day I called Fort Knox and yelled at some OTHER Don before I found the right one.
It was almost 40 years before he left me again. This time it was cancer, instead of Uncle Sam, that called him away and from that, there was no returning.
© copyright Donna Hale Chandler
DONNA HALE CHANDLER
LIFE HAPPENS (My Story)
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