This is the story of two young women who wanted to take an adventure across the United States by train. Nancy Gertrude Brumley (1920-2005) and Mary Teresa Henry (1920-2002 both from Kansas City, Wyandotte, Kansas decided they wanted to go out and see the world. It would be an experience that would change their lives. Nancy Gertrude Brumley is my mother and we talked about her adventure many times over the years.
It was during a continually active time in the early 1940s when there were many trains taking service members to their destination before going overseas to fight for our country during WWII. Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri was a hub of activity during WWII as it was the middle point of soldiers going to the east or west coast.
During WWII, an estimated one million travelers – many of the soldiers — passed through Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. The North Waiting Room held 10,000 people and the complex included restaurants, a cigar store, barbershop, railroad offices, the nation’s largest Railway Express Building (used for shipping freight and mail) as well as a powerhouse providing steam and power.
Nancy and Teresa wanted to go to San Luis Obispo, California because Teresa’s sister was living there along with her husband who was stationed at the Camp San Luis Obispo Army Base. In 1940, the US government leased Camp San Luis Obispo from the State. The compound would become home to the 40th Infantry Division, which included installations from California, Utah, and Arizona. Several other infantry divisions followed increasing the camp’s size to 5,000 acres. The cantonment area began construction in 1940 and was completed in 1941. The Army also added 4,170 acres at the Salinas River, which was 20 miles east of Camp San Luis Obispo. This became the Salinas Dam and a supplemental source of water for the camp.
Several combat divisions trained at Camp San Luis Obispo who would head to the Pacific and Europe battlefronts once finished. Marine Corps also moved into Camp San Luis Obispo from Camp Matthews after the limited ranges and training facilities could no longer support the extra 5,000 Marines. They completed marksmanship and other training.
My mother had never seen the ocean before so as soon as they got checked into their hotel it was off to Pismo Beach. She wanted to have a tan while she was there, but she learned the hard way that when you are a fair-skinned person you do not tan you BURN! So, the first couple of days were spent recuperating from a bad sunburn.
Back in the day, it was common for girlfriends to dress alike and even style their hair the same way. They did everything together!
My mother wanted to enjoy each moment knowing she may never be able to do this again, so she and Teresa took in all the sites in the area. Since they were so close to the Army base there was never a shortage of meeting guys, whether at restaurants or dance halls or just walking down the street. The servicemen were from all over the United States, from big towns or small towns, rural or city. They all missed the back-home folks and wanted to talk about what was going on in the world besides the war efforts. My mother loved to dance, and she never had to be convinced to step out on the dance floor and she could dance with the best of them. She and Teresa enjoyed going to the Hollywood Palladium where they could listen and dance to the latest music. Big bands were popular like Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.
As their time in California was ending they visited Radio City and the Earl Carroll Theater in Hollywood, California. They had a wonderful time visiting with Teresa’s sister and brother-in-law and the servicemen. There were many conversations and laughter about anything but war. Some of the servicemen had never been away from home and they were homesick and simply scared about where the war would take them and if they would survive it all and return home one day.
They boarded the train that would take them back to Kansas City. It was a long train ride with many stops along the way. As the train stopped they were able to get off the train to stretch their legs, have a cigarette or grab a snack to take back on the train. It was not comfortable to sleep on the train unless you had extra money to have a berth for sleeping. So, you usually curled up in your seat to sleep at night. There were plenty of servicemen on the train heading east on their way back to Kansas City. It was somewhere along that coming home train ride that my mother fell asleep and when she woke up she discovered this note left for her by three servicemen. These soldiers had spent their time during the day talking and laughing with Nancy and Teresa passing the time away on the train.
It read in part — Dear Nancy and Capt. ? (her boyfriend at the time) Instead of awakening you at such an ungodly hour, we thought maybe this little note would be more suitable to you — even though it isn’t to us. Again, we’d like to say that it’s been very enjoyable thank you. A young lady like you is what all us fellows have fought for and dreamed of coming home to. The best of luck to you and your sailor boyfriend (future old man —– Capt. the officers like you are 4.0 + to guys like us. Best of luck. Fred L Frazier, A L Stolte, T J Gaither
My mother carried this note in her wallet for decades. She showed me the note many years ago and I was truly amazed at how much this note meant to her. She felt it was her contribution to the war effort to help calm the fear of these soldiers even if it was only a few hours on a train. None of them knew what their futures would be or what would become of them. She was a young lady like the guys had left behind in their hometowns to fight in a war to defend our country.
My mother did not marry the Captain in the note but when the war was over she married my father Merle Otto Weik. He had been a soldier as well from Manhattan, Riley, Kansas. Teresa’s sister Margaret that they had been visiting got word that her husband had been killed in Germany, she was devastated.
The three servicemen Fred L Fraizer enlisted on January 12, 1943, in Houston, Texas, Tinsley J Gaither enlisted on January 20, 1943, Dallas, Texas, and Alfred Louis Stolte, Jr. enlisted on June 29, 1942, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Other servicemen my mother meant during her time in California —–
My mother meant these soldiers on the train from Denver, Colorado to Kansas City, Missouri.
It was a different time back then and I lived this story through my mother. Her memories were important to her so she could pass them on to me. She never imagined I would be authoring this story someday or even writing a blog about relatives. It gives us some perspective on what war is about and how with just a few hours spent with a stranger on the train life became bearable for these soldiers. They did not know where they were going or if they would return to their homes, but they were on a mission.
I would like to say thank you for your service to all men and women who serve past, present, and future.
Thank you mom for the memories you shared with me.