On October 22, 1960, two fellow airmen and I hitchhiked from our base in Wichita Falls, Texas, to Denton for a weekend getaway. We had hardly thanked our driver for the ride before two pretty girls from Texas Woman’s University spotted our crisp blue uniforms and invited us to a campus dance.
When we got to the dance, girls mobbed us. We hadn’t spoken to a young woman in almost five months, and now they were everywhere! Whenever I tried to sit down, a new partner yanked me out of my chair.
As a slow number, “Blue Moon,” started to play, an attractive girl named Karen came up and asked me to dance. There was a caring quality about her that I liked, and we arranged to meet again before I left town the next morning.
Though I was shipping out soon, I returned to Denton the next two weekends to see Karen. Thanks to KP duty, I almost missed our final weekend together, but I paid someone else $15 to wear my name badge and do it for me. Then I went AWOL to see Karen one last time.
When I left for Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, we started writing to each other immediately. Karen sent me an unusual letter on circular stationery, and I responded with a message written on the inside of three paper soda straws, which I carefully unwound and glued back together. We shared our good days and our discouraging ones, getting to know each other far better than we would have in person.
Our unconventional letters gradually became more elaborate. Karen wrote on strips of shredded paper that she stapled together. I stretched a handful of rubber bands over a ruler and wrote a note, then put the loose bands in an envelope for her to piece together. My Morse code letter confused her as much as her shorthand letter confused me, so we both sent translations. Letters passed between us on metal plates, movie posters and even confetti!
In my favorite letter to Karen, I wrote backward on six labels and placed three on each end of a paper towel tube. Then I put a dental mirror in the tube so she could read the letter while it was inside.
But Karen won our game of one-upmanship in 1962. She wrote down one side of a 30-foot roll of Teletype paper, then back up the other side. It took me an hour and a half to read the letter, and then I realized I hadn’t taken notes! Back in the barracks, four guys stretched the letter down the hall while I ran up and down, writing on a pad. When a fellow bay member saw the ridiculous scene, he had me pose for a photo, which our base paper published. The Air Force Times picked up the story, too, and headlined it “Here’s a Girl Who Won’t Be Caught Wordless.” The Times called it the “longest letter ever received by an airman.”
When Karen and I married on Thanksgiving 1964, we had seen each other only 30 days in four years. Our paper romance worked so well that we’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. We still occasionally send each other love letters for old times’ sake.