FINDING ROMANCE IN ARMY BOOTS AND A MESS HALL

By Les Goldberg / Special to CalVet Connect

Les Goldberg

After a few less-than-memorable dates in high school and college, the last place Les Goldberg expected to find his future bride was in the Army – especially right at the start of the Vietnam War. But, believe it or not, that is exactly what happened.

Just a few months following his graduation from college, and during his first professional job as a journalist, Les was drafted in the first call-up in September 1965. He decided to enlist in the Army in November and was shipped off to basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, a virtual shrine to General Patton and the same place where Private Elvis Presley was stationed a couple years earlier. From there he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he was assigned to the Fourth U.S. Army Public Information Office. To his surprise, his barracks was right next door to those occupied by the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). Male and female soldiers shared the same Mess Hall and the men outnumbered the women by a 50-1 ratio.

Mary Elizabeth Fahey

In June of 1965, Mary Elizabeth Fahey graduated from Taunton (Massachusetts) High School and decided to seek adventure while furthering her education by joining the Army. After her basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, she went on to complete a clerical training program at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was assigned to Fort Sam Houston and Fourth Army Headquarters.

On one sunny day in early 1966, Les said “Hi” to a smiling lady on the steps of the WAC barracks, and she politely returned the greeting. Soon after, the two would be standing in line waiting to enter the Mess Hall. It didn’t take long for Les to ask Mary to go out with him on a date, and to his delight she accepted the invitation again and again. But if you ask Mary, she will tell you that Les “stalked” her. If you ask Les, he will tell you that it was love at first sight for him, and he didn’t want to lose her to the hordes of his fellow soldiers who lined up at the barracks’ doors to date her.

The seeds of romance bloomed and Les and Mary became an “item” on base, and their friends began to bug them with the same question over and over: “So, when are you guys getting married?” By 1967, the couple didn’t need any prodding. Les popped the question, Mary said “yes” and on May 13, in front of some wonderful Army friends and a Justice of the Peace, vows were exchanged and their life together took flight.

With two weeks of leave, the newly married couple spent their immediate honeymoon in Les’ hometown of Culver City, California, where his parents greeted them with a backyard reception. Upon their return to San Antonio, they rented an apartment just off the base. It was the bottom floor of a two-story old Victorian home, complete with parlor, sunroom, dumbwaiter, and wrap-around veranda.

They learned through Les’ colleague at his office that the home once was occupied several decades earlier by another honeymoon couple – 2nd Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower and his new bride, Mamie. The historic mansion was built by Mamie’s parents, the Dowds, who allowed the newlyweds to live there while Ike underwent his training in the U.S. Cavalry unit. It was soon after his arrival from West Point when he met Mamie, fell in love, and got married.

(Unfortunately, the historical significance of the home was lost for many years during the 1960s and 1970s, and it fell victim to urban renewal. When Mary and Les returned to San Antonio to celebrate their 30-year anniversary in 1997, they learned that the home had been destroyed. They also learned that the site where the home once stood is now the site of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Post Office. Throughout their 53 years of marriage, Mary and Les have always been honored to share such a precious piece of history.)

While serving in Texas, Les became part of the Fourth U.S. Army Public Information team that worked with a search and rescue operation to help locate, pickup, and assure the safety of victims of Hurricane Beulah, which hit south Texas on the Gulf of Mexico, September 20, 1967. He received the Army Commendation Medal for his efforts.

But just six months later, Uncle Sam sent Les and Mary on another “honeymoon” – a one-year tour in Europe. Based in Frankfurt, Germany, the couple took advantage of every moment to enjoy the adventure while serving the European Transportation Command headquarters. They rented a one-bedroom apartment or flat in a partially bombed out but livable building near downtown, bought an old and rusty Volkswagen bug, and worked in the I.G. Farben building – former headquarters of the Allied Forces following Germany’s surrender ending World War II in Europe.

Upon their return home at the end of 1968, they settled in LA where Les began life as a civilian, and Mary worked at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro until she was discharged a few months later. Les realized one of his goals – to work at a metropolitan daily newspaper – when he was hired by the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a reporter, covering high-profile stories such as Charles Manson, East LA riots, Bel Air fires, the Oscars and Emmys, the Western White House, and the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.

In 1969, when their uniforms still fit, Les and Mary wore them to the then nationally acclaimed Steve Allen Show in Hollywood where they were asked to stand under a bright TV spotlight and explain their military romance to a massive theater and TV viewing audience while the band played the Army song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” For months afterwards, strangers approached the couple to say, “Aren’t you the couple that we saw on TV?” The “15 minutes of fame” was fleeting but fun while it lasted.

Today the retired couple lives in Santa Ana.

At the same time, Mary put her military service experience to work for the Civil Service at the U.S. Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station in downtown LA. She also attended college business classes which came in handy when she later joined Les at his public relations agency. As a proud former Women’s Army Corps member, she is equally proud to be one of many former military women who attended the dedication of the Women in the Military Memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery and is in the Registry.

Today the retired couple lives in Santa Ana, have two sons – Randy, 46 and Cameron, 43 – and two granddaughters, ages 13 and 10. Both their sons continue to tell anyone who knows them that their “mom and dad wore combat boots!”

One comment

  1. Augustine terminel · · Reply

    Great story. The military is a great place for young people to get their”sea legs” of life and get an education you could not get or buy any where. Where else can you get training on the R=3350 aircraft engine. Yes i am dating myself. 1957 to 1962 active duty.

    Like

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