Rebecca West: Words & Music

Good Year, Bad News

by Bob West

I was fortunate to be stationed at the Air Force base in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1952, but my life there got even better in 1953. I was a senior clerk-typist working in the 1707th Training Squadron headquarters. In February I was promoted to Airman First Class. Then one day I happened to notice that there was a Training Aids Squadron on the base. And it had an art department!

Prior to my enlistment October 2, 1951, I had worked as an artist, cartoonist, and sign painter. During my basic training the career assignment clerk told me that the Air Force did not have artists, so I had become a clerk-typist. But now I found that there really were artists in the Air Force. And it was my heart's desire to be one.

I talked with the artist in charge of the art department, a Tech Sergeant, showed him some samples of my work, and he quickly arranged for my transfer. Now I was able to do art work, lettering, and visual aids. This was a happy time in my life, but it was about to get even better.

Sylvia Buteau was home from Rhode Island!

Sylvia 1953

Many years later I would learn that before I met Sylvia, her best friend Nellie Hansen had told her what had been happening at the Methodist Church while she was away in nursing school. She told Sylvia about me and showed her my photo, and Sylvia had said, "That is who I'm going to marry!"

But I didn't know this. And as shy as I was, I didn't pay any more attention to Sylvia when she became part of the MYF again than I did the other girls.

MYF class

Then Mr. and Mrs. Varner, the MYF sponsors, scheduled a "moonlight cruise" on the intercoastal waterway for the youth group. We would have hot dogs and soft drinks and sing songs. It was a group activity, but an airman named Howard wanted to use the occasion to date Sylvia. But like me, he was shy around girls and too bashful to ask her.

I encouraged him to call Sylvia on the phone and ask her to be his date. But he was afraid she would turn him down. Finally, I picked up the phone and dialed Sylvia's number. After all, it was Howard who might be turned down, not me. Sylvia's mother answered the phone. I told her who I was and asked to speak to Sylvia. Sylvia's mother told Sylvia that Bob West was on the phone. She sounded excited when she said "Hello!" I said, "Howard wants to speak to you," and handed him the phone.

The next time I saw Nellie, she said, "Bob! Sylvia doesn't want to date Howard. She wants to date you!"

My mouth dropped. My eyes got big. And I said, "Really?!!"

MYF moonlight cruise
MYF moonlight cruise

After all these years I don't remember the details, but I do remember that Howard took Sylvia to the MYF cruise, we all participated in the group singing and activities on the boat, and then I took Sylvia home. Late that night when Howard arrived back at the barracks, he was drunk. He claimed that his intoxication was my fault -- because I had stole his girl!

Sylvia and I started dating in April. I had never kissed a girl and had few dates prior to this. I guess I was afraid of rejection. I was also afraid of girls. One night I got up enough courage to kiss Sylvia. And she kissed me back. What a wonderful feeling!

I remember telling Sylvia on one of our dates about my plans for the future. I told her that I had another couple of years of active duty in the Air Force. After that I planned to go to art school or college. After I graduate from college I plan to get a good job, design a house and save up the money to build it, and then I will think about getting married.

Less than two months later as we were saying goodnight on one of our dates, I heard someone who sounded just like me say, "Will you marry me?" And someone who sounded just like Sylvia say, "Yes!!!"

When I got back to the base, I was thinking about what had just happened, and I told another airman that I had just asked a girl to marry me. After thinking about it a few more minutes, I said, "That's not a bad idea."

A few months later on December 1, 1953, Sylvia and I were married.

MYF group

This was an exciting time in my life. We had rented a nice apartment. Sylvia worked in a department store. I loved my work in the Training Aids art department at the base, had made "Airman of the Month," and expected to be promoted to Staff Sergeant very soon. Just married. A three-day pass. A honeymoon. Who could ask for more?

The next day we went back to work. And I received my orders to go to Korea!

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