Title: Love at First Sight? Really? 1970
Author: Denis Gulakowski
It was the fall of 1968. The Corps had returned from summer activities – leave & cadet duty (mine was Army Orientation Training [AOT] with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell}, and academics & extracurricular activities were in full swing. I was privileged enough to be selected by my peers at KDET, our school radio station, to be the Station Manager.
Shortly thereafter, I went over to Building 600, which housed administrative functions, including the Post Signal Office, to conduct the customary meeting between the Station Manager and the faculty advisor, whose assigned position was Post Signal Officer. As I entered the office, my attention was immediately riveted on the receptionist, who was one of the most beautiful young women I had ever seen in my brief adult life. I distinctly remember thinking, “I want her to be the mother of my children!” That may sound corny, but it was absolutely my reaction. Her name was JoAnne, the spelling of which I found intriguing, and subsequent to that first meeting, I asked her out. I learned that she recently had graduated from the State University of New York, at Oneonta, with a degree in education, and was working as a secretary until she could find a teaching position in the local area. We began dating regularly and I learned the attraction was mutual.
We continued seeing each other the rest of Firstie year, with one of the highlights being the Ring Hop (a formal dance held to celebrate receiving new Class Rings).
Ring Hop 1969
Another highlight occurred during a powerful winter storm that descended just prior to St. Patrick’s Day in early 1969. The weather encompassed a significant area in the northeast and closed down much activity for a few days; it hit particularly hard at our location in upstate New York. On somewhat of a whim, I thought it would be a great surprise to visit Jo at her home, which was about 2 ½ miles away in Highland Falls. So, I slogged through a couple of feet of snow to appear at her front door. Needless to say, she was quite surprised, as were her parents, who were unable to get to work because of the snow (always good to make points with potential in-laws). The relationship grew; we got pinned (the USMA version of “going steady”) and I gave her a miniature of my class ring.
“A” Pin USMA Class of 1969 Miniature
We spent nearly all our free time together, limited more by my schedule than hers.
Graduation came and went, and we maintained our relationship on a long-distance basis while I was assigned to Fort Benning for Airborne, Ranger and Basic Infantry Officer training. When I returned home prior to the Basic Course for Christmas leave and was visiting Jo and her family, I concocted a scheme to lure her into Newburgh and while she was shopping, snuck into a jewelry store and bought an engagement ring. On our way back to her house, I sprung the question while stopped at a traffic light (I did not, however, get down on one knee for obvious reasons).
His Fate Depends on a Stop Light
Momentarily taken aback, she recovered her composure and said yes! We set a temporary date and I returned to Benning.
While there I discovered that the US Air Force had a regular shuttle flight along the east coast, which stopped at Warner Robbins Airbase in Georgia and McGuire Airbase in New Jersey. I researched the logistics and determined that even though we trained Saturday mornings (six-day workweeks were standard in the Army at that time), it was theoretically possible to make the 90+ mile automobile trip from Benning to Robbins Saturday after class in time to catch the flight to McGuire. Jo would make the 120-mile trip from her home to meet me there, where we could be together for about 24 hours. One time, I even arranged the necessary removal of some wisdom teeth to occur on a Friday afternoon, so I would not have to go to class the next day while recovering from the procedure. That allowed me to leave with enough time to drive leisurely, rather than frenetically, though my Corvette was up to the latter task.
After Benning, I reported along with several classmates, to Fort Carson for my first assignment with 2d Battalion, 10th Infantry, and we finalized the date of our wedding. We set it for August 29, 1970, which would give enough time to plan. We made arrangements to have the ceremony at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs.
Air Force Academy Chapel
Jo joined me a little over two months prior, getting a temporary job at a fabric store, since she was quite adept at sewing, while I ran around in the nearby woods, doing Army things. Two of those Army things turned out to have an impact on our wedding plans. First, subsequent to us setting the date and making arrangements, the luck of the draw caused my Battalion to be scheduled for a one-month readiness assignment involving potential riot response duty for anywhere west of the Mississippi, which overlapped our wedding date. Since ours was what is now called a “‘destination wedding”, our parents, and Jo’s brother and sister, who were part of the wedding party, would join us in Colorado Springs. The only downside was the fact that our “honeymoon” would have to take place in nearby Denver, instead of a romantic getaway site.
Second, a little less than two months before the actual wedding date, my battalion was conducting an exercise in Pike National Forest. I had completed my company time and was elevated to Battalion staff as the assistant operations officer (assistant S-3). After we completed the exercise, the unit moved back to main post and I was designated the officer in charge of the Detachment Left in Contact (DLIC), which in a non-combat environment was the cleanup detail. After the cleanup, as we were ready to begin our return to Carson, I and my driver, who was primarily an armored personnel carrier (APC) driver, were motoring quickly along a gravel road in an M151A1 Jeep, when we came to a sharp turn in the road. He started to make the left turn, when the wheels broke loose on the gravel and we skidded sideways. The tires hit the adjoining grass surface, and the Jeep, having a documented notoriously high center of gravity, started to roll over in my direction. My driver was able to jump out as the Jeep rolled, but I wasn’t so lucky. I almost made it, but the side of the Jeep caught my left leg just below the knee breaking the fibula, though I was able to avoid being crushed by the vehicle. When the dust settled, my driver kept apologizing as he helped me limp to the nearest aid station, which was just a quarter of a mile down the road. The medics temporarily patched me up and we finished the move back to post, with me stopping at the emergency room of the hospital. They put my entire left leg in a walking cast and told me it would take approximately two months to heal enough to walk without it. They immediately scheduled me for a one-month follow-up.
During the four weeks’ time, I managed to become mobile enough to be able to go to the field without crutches. At my one-month appointment, the doctor removed the cast, did an examination and told me he would give me a different cast which could be taken off in a month, assuming my leg was healing properly. Since that would occur approximately a week after our wedding, I respectfully told him that the cast had to be off before then, since I wasn’t about to walk down the aisle on my wedding day limping along in a cast. Although it was personal, it became my self-appointed mission, not unlike many at USMA, especially during Beast Barracks. Being compassionate, he modified his prognosis, had me report in two weeks, reexamined me then and gave me some mobility tests. I did well enough to not need the cast, so he wished me good luck and sent me on my way. Although the muscles in the leg atrophied to some extent from lack of normal use, I was able to carefully ambulate for the ceremony, much to Jo’s delight.
Standing Throughout the Whole Ceremony
Throughout this whole process, she stepped up to the role of wife somewhat prematurely, in a stellar way, doing all she could to make my life easier. I knew I had made the right choice for a lifelong partner.
Walking Down the Aisle