English: Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1943. 155 mm. ho...

Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1943. 155 mm. howitzer. The 155 mm. howitzer, firing on the Fort Sill, Oklahoma artillery range, provides a mass of heavy, high-angle firepower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Macon, Georgia. On January 2, 1968, he called me. He’d received his expected draft notice. A student deferment for college was changed to a Peace Corps deferment when he enrolled in Peace Corps training. But, after training, he decided not to continue with the program and dropped out, to return to school and graduate on time. His draft status reverted to 1A – first to be called. Knowing this, his first employer out of school, IBM, put him on a defense contract in the Pentagon, hoping that would shield him. They even wrote a letter to this effect when he was drafted. It wasn’t enough. The traditional “30 days to report” translated to January 26.

At this point, our memories differ. I thought I gave him a week to absorb the news about his near future before giving him my news. He says I called him back the same day.

“Would you make me an appointment with the doctor I just saw to get my physical to get into George Washington University?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t you want to know why?”

“Sure.”

“I might be pregnant.”

What I remember clearly is that on January 15, my father’s birthday, I told my parents. We didn’t eat the cake I’d dropped on the floor.

“What will you do?” they asked.

“If I am pregnant, we’ll get married.”

Washington, DC. The next week, I went to Washington, DC and saw a doctor who confirmed that I was pregnant. By January 24, we’d bought rings, secured a marriage license, flowers and champagne, and arranged with a Unitarian minister to marry us in his church.

I called my parents that night. My Mom answered the phone.

“We just got married.”

“So, you’re pregnant, then.”

“Yes.”

On January 26, I drove my new husband to Baltimore, his jumping off point on the way to Basic Training. A few hours later he called to tell me they wouldn’t be leaving for a few more hours and did I want to drive the two hours back to the Baltimore airport for dinner. Of course, I did.

By then, he’d met another draftee, so we double-dated for dinner with his girlfriend. She asked me, “Did you say you’ve driven to Baltimore from Virginia twice today?

“Yes.”

“Then, you’re not driving there again. You’re coming home with me. You can drive back in the morning.”

She showed me her trousseau and sent me on my way, rested and fed, the next day.

I had enrolled at George Washington University to be closer to my boyfriend. Now my husband, he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, while I settled into a dormitory suite with four roommates. They were the only ones who knew I was married because married women were not allowed to live in the dorm.

I started a part-time secretarial job to save money. My parents were paying all my college expenses, but, after this year, they would only pay tuition. My boss promised he’d pay for me to visit my husband in Missouri, as he had business interests there. As it happened, this promise was empty and I had to fight to redeem the last two paychecks that bounced by alerting his bookkeeper wife.

The paychecks covered my trip to Missouri to meet my husband on a weekend pass. His first act was to go to the grocery store to buy a bag of oranges. He’d come down with pneumonia, but the camp had reached its ration of pneumonia cases so it was not diagnosed. He did, however, receive antibiotics and was given permission to take his weekend leave pass. We holed up for the weekend, and he enjoyed oranges and the surprise of pregnant breasts, while I still had a flat belly.

I interviewed with the National Security Agency. In the first interview, I’d taken a language aptitude test, which I recognized, from having taken an IBM test, as also being a programmer’s aptitude test. I wanted to be a Chinese translator, part of their exotic languages program. By the second interview, it was clear to me I’d be leaving the area to join my husband for the rest of his three-year tour. I told the interviewer so.

“Did you know you could be a programmer?”

“Yes. I recognized the programmer aptitude questions on the test, but I want to be a Chinese translator.”

“Get back in touch with us when you are back in the area.”

The program had closed by the time I came back three years later. I went to work for the Navy as a programmer after taking their aptitude test.

“Full disclosure. This is the third time I’ve taken this test.”

“It doesn’t matter. You can’t memorize the answers. We accidentally shorted you on time and you still aced it. We’d like to hire you.”

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Washington exploded in riots. Watching on television, the parents of one of my roommates drove the two hours from their home into DC to gather us up. Their daughter had been escorted back to the dorm by black colleagues, afraid for her safety. We crossed the District line just before they closed all the bridges into the city. Armed troops were already massing on street corners. My husband was, by then, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for Advanced Individual Training. His Army unit was put on alert in case they were needed in DC. The city burned over the next few days until Bobby Kennedy walked the streets to talk to the angry mob and the rioters’ rage exhausted itself.

The last couple of weeks of the school year, my roommate’s mother took me shopping so I could buy maternity clothes. She commiserated with me over not having any wedding photos by telling me the story about her own wedding.

“It was a winter wedding. I had a long, white velvet dress. We had a professional photographer. His film was bad. I don’t have a single photograph.”

Actually, that did make me feel better. We had no photos because the flash didn’t work and we married late on an overcast afternoon.

The last couple of weeks of the school year I started wearing my wedding ring and maternity clothes. The school chose to ignore this breach of rules and I finished my Junior year in May.

Lawton, Oklahoma/Ft. Sill. When I arrived in Lawton, Oklahoma, I chose to wear my hot pink miniskirt maternity dress. I imagined my husband gulping as he saw me step onto the top step outside the plane, at the reality that yes, indeed, I was pregnant and yes, he would certainly be going to Vietnam in the next year or two.

He had arranged a romantic two-week interlude before he had to report for Officer’s Candidate School. He and a buddy picked each other out as likely having wives that were compatible, so they rented a two-bedroom half of a duplex in a lovely neighborhood five minutes from the base. My roommate would come down from her home in Ohio at the end of the two-week break.

The first time I walked into the duplex, music was on the record player, flowers were on the table and dinner was in the works.

The next morning, I made my new husband breakfast for the first time. I burned the toast, burned the bacon, and scorched the coffee. He said,

“These are the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. They are better than my mother’s. And, don’t you ever tell her I said so.”

Then, he taught me to cook.

For the six months our husbands were in OCS, visits were restricted. There were no weekend passes the first six weeks. This was extended another four weeks when my husband agreed to put his name on a list to order forbidden pizza and they were caught.

We could sit next to each other at church, where the minister joked about being able to tell the couples in the first six weeks’ of school by how close they sat to each other.

We could brush fingertips in exchanging laundry and coins in the parking lot every day, where the soldiers stood at parade rest next to their wives’ cars. We sympathized with the single soldiers, who had no one to do their laundry for them. The single soldiers felt sorry for the married guys, who didn’t get to live with their wives.

After ten weeks, he started getting weekend passes. He asked if I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. Having owned guns since he started shooting squirrels with a rifle at 12, it was no surprise he’d earned a Marksmen’s badge. I’d never shot a gun.

“Sure. Sounds like fun.”

We went to the gun range on post, at Fort Lawton. He had intended to teach me how to shoot a rifle, but you had to lie down in a prone position. I was seven months pregnant and could no longer lie on my stomach. We moved to the handgun range. He checked out a 22-caliber match pistol and a box of ammunition and set up a target for me.

“Just aim it at the center of the target by lining it up with the notch in the sight. Then, pull the trigger gently.”

I shot and missed the target completely.

“OK. This time, just take a breath and hold your breath while you shoot.”

He had a scope so he could see where I was hitting the target.

“Bullseye. Just do that again.”

Bullseye.

Bullseye.

Bullseye.

I never missed again and finished the box of ammunition.

At this point, our memories differ. He noticed that a soldier standing next to me moved his scope so he could see what I was doing. After I hit a few more bullseyes, he put his gun down and left.

When Dave told me this later, I discounted it.

“Shooting at a target is not the same as shooting at someone who is shooting back at you.”

I’ve never picked up a gun since.

On August 27, our son was born. My roommate’s mother was visiting. Suspicious that I was in labor, even though I’d seen the doctor that morning, she said,

“You don’t want to go to the emergency room if you’re in labor. Just go back to the clinic before they close for the day at 4:30 and let them have a look at you.”

My roommate drove me to the hospital.

“Do you want to go the slow, smooth way or the fast, bumpy way?”

One was five minutes; one ten. I chose the slow way.

When I presented myself to the admitting nurse, she asked,

“Are you in labor?”

“I have no idea. That’s what I’m here to find out.”

They decided to keep me. They alerted my husband and the doctor told him,

“We don’t know if this baby is going to be born tonight or tomorrow. Why don’t you go ahead and get some dinner.”

Of course, fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room in those days, and it was past visiting hours, but a sympathetic nurse let him in to see me for five minutes while I was in labor.

I’d never met the doctor before that night, and never met him again. He allowed that I was lucky I was catching him at the beginning of his 18-hour shift.

When I’d asked on a routine visit what drugs to expect during labor, I was told,

“We’ll give you whatever you need at the time.”

When I asked a nurse during labor if I could have more drugs, knowing even then that she’d be restricted by whatever their regimen was, she replied,

“You knew it was going to hurt, didn’t you?”

Well, yes. I watch the movies. But, at 20, when I’d tried to check out books on pregnancy at the local Macon, Georgia library near my parents’ house, I could not find them on the shelves. When I asked the librarian to help me find them, she asked,

“Are you married?”

“No.”

Marriage was still two weeks in my future at the time, and not actually settled. I wouldn’t have even said I was engaged.

“You can’t check out those books unless you’re married.”

So, my pregnancy preparation was regular pre-natal visits at the Army clinic in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, which included a one-page sheet of instructions on how to breathe during labor.

Our beautiful, perfect, ten-toed, 6-pound, five-ounce son was born at 9:20 that night, after less than five hours of labor.

In those days, you did not know whether you were having a boy or a girl until the baby was born. We’d discussed and discarded a number of boys’ names. I favored Daniel, but my husband refused to name our son after one of my former boyfriends, indeed, the first one to ask me to marry him. I was in high school; he was in medical school. Not only was I not in love with him, I was not interested in marriage at that time. I was looking forward to college. I still have the dictionary he gave me as a high school graduation present.

Although my husband told me later that he didn’t like naming a child Junior, believing they should have their own name, I liked my husband’s name, David William, and it was the only name one or both of us hadn’t dismissed outright. I shuddered at the idea of taking a baby home whose birth certificate read, “Boy Covin” I signed the paperwork for David William Covin, Junior.

I asked the doctor when I’d be able to take my son outside.

“You’re leaving the hospital, right?”

“Yes.”

“You can take him outside then.”

Four days after our son was born, my husband had a weekend pass for Labor Day. He put the bassinet in the back seat of my roommate’s Volkswagen. Afraid that precious bundle would roll around in the bassinet, I held him in my arms for the ten-minute ride home.

That night, he woke me up with a sneeze. I realized then we had a real, live person in our bedroom.

In those days, when nursing was discouraged because formula was scientifically prepared to include all the necessary nutrients, I was given a shot in the hospital to stop my milk, while our son was started on formula.

Two weeks later, he was throwing up at almost every feeding. X-rays determined he did not have the feared esophageal blockage and, he was gaining weight. We switched to water for 24 hours. I’ve since learned it is common for infants to hit a growth spurt at two weeks. When you are nursing, however, there is a lag before the milk supply catches up to the new demand. With formula, babies can eat as much and as fast as they want, so there is no built-in delay to let their systems catch up.

In October, I pinned on my husband’s new 2nd Lieutenant bars. In a stroke of good fortune, he was assigned for one year to Ft. Benning, Georgia, the closest base to his home of record, his parents’ home in Hogansville, Georgia. We later discovered all married soldiers were given a year at home before their deployment to Vietnam. Single men were sent directly to Vietnam on graduation.

Columbus, Georgia/Ft. Benning. At our new garden apartment, I decided to clean the house naked one morning because I had never before been in a house alone. Of course, our infant son was asleep in his crib, but that didn’t stop me. Then, my neighbors came to welcome me to the neighborhood. Trapped in the pantry behind the back door, window covered with a thin curtain, behind which they waited, I could neither grab clothes, nor answer the door. They finally left.

My brother, Bruce, a new helicopter pilot, got his orders for Vietnam. As a gift, he offered to let us take over payments on his Pontiac LeMans convertible. My husband had sold his six-month old beige Volkswagen bug as soon as he received his draft notice the year before. My brother extended his tour a year so our older brother would not have to serve in Vietnam. The military’s Sole Survivor Policy,  implemented after World War II, dictated that not all the boys in a family may serve in combat at the same time. Six months later, the Pontiac started needing extensive repairs. By this time, Toyota was making a big push into the U.S. market. Instead of getting another Volkswagen, as we’d planned, we turned in the Pontiac to the Toyota dealer, for $500 more in trade-in than the Volkswagen dealer was offering, and drove home a shiny, new, fire-engine red, four door, Toyota Corona.

My husband had been cooking for us for several weeks, showing me how. But, he was ready for me to start taking over. The first time I went grocery shopping by myself, I did what I thought my mother had done, browsing through the aisles, picking up whatever I needed. Except, I had a budget of $25 and showed up at the cash register with more than $100 worth of items. I took everything out of the cart except that week’s food. The dustpan and broom went back. Most of the cleaning materials went back. Sweets went back. Half of the baby food went back. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the concept of budgeting for one-time purchases, budgeting for household set-up, or, for that matter, how much food you needed in a week.

We celebrated Christmas at our furnished, garden apartment, as well as with his parents, an hour away, and my parents, two hours away. It was the first two months of the 13 months we lived together the first three years we were married.

Related links

The Year Before the First Year

The Second Year

The Third Year