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Veterans Day: Sea Bees, Barbados & Beyond

November 12, 2020

The life journey that took us to Barbados in 1957 is overflowing with miracles. After WWII, my husband Garland worked in the General Motors garage in Fort Madison. He was sent to Detroit to be trained to service and maintain Hydra-Matic transmissions. GM was introducing a new way to shift gears in the new Cadillacs. When the Naval Reserve unit in Burlington was activated at the onset of the Korean War, he was assigned to the Sea Bees. After completing his two years, we decided to enlist in the regular Sea Bees. We spent the next four years in Kingsville, Texas and then received orders for a two-year assignment in Puerto Rico.

When Garland checked in at the Naval Facility, the Commander of the unit was very pleased that he now had a mechanic who could keep his brand-new Cadillac in tip-top shape. This cosy arrangement changed when the Commander got orders to Barbados. The Commander called Bupers (Bureau of Personnel) and requested orders for Garland to be transferred also. We went to Barbados without a visa or passport. The Naval Facility’s Second-in-Command met us at the airport. A house complete with a maid was waiting and our car would arrive in about two weeks.

Garland had volunteered to teach a beginning dog obedience class for the Barbados Kennel Club. He was given a beautifully coated German Shepherd puppy to train and use for the class. All was well until Garland was selected to be a chief. Our billet on the island was for a First-Class Mechanic.

We prepared to be moved to Rhode Island. I had checked with the airline to get the dimensions of the cargo hold. I was assured the dog crate would fit. No problem! On departure day we were given a fine Bon Voyage from the Kennel Club members. We were nicely settled in a sparsely filled cabin. All was well until a workman came to Garland and said, “The crate won’t fit.” Garland got off the plane to take care of the dog while our three children and I remained on board.  We got to Miami after having a posh plane ride and service as only the British Airlines could give. We collected our baggage, reserved a motel room, left Garland a message on a bulletin board and took a cab to the motel.

Garland arrived the next morning. He collected the dog (without the crate) and never entering the inside of the terminal, he got into a cab. He told the driver, “My wife and kids are somewhere in Miami, but I don’t know where.” If the driver had been an Aussie, he would have said, “No worry, mate. I took them to the motel yesterday.”

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