Sunday, August 22, 2010

Marilynn Marie (Miller) Combs - Class of 1962 - A Remembrance

Graduation, 1962

Marilynn died twenty-two years ago after ten years of breast cancer. She was only 43. I wish she could have told her story – maybe somewhere, someday I’ll come across a long letter or story she wrote about herself. After a twenty-five year marriage, we collected a lot of things that I’m still sorting through. I know she would have described her life very differently than I do. When I tell her story, I can tell you when, and what, and where, but I can’t tell you how or why.

Marilynn was her parents’ first of five children, born in Colorado in 1944 while her father was stationed with the Army in England. He didn’t see her until she was over a year old. I guess that’s a family tradition. I didn’t meet our first born, Bruce, until he was three months old because I was stationed in Texas with the Air Force when he was born in California. Marilynn was only 19 when she gave birth to the first of our three sons – still a child one day, the next day a child of her own. We grew up fast in those days. We thought we had to.

Marilynn was a happy girl, but serious and hard working too. Her mother didn’t care for housework. She liked working outdoors, so Marilynn became the little mother to her younger siblings, two girls and two boys. She was a good, conscientious student, and was very loyal and attentive to her small group of friends. Her favorite activity as a teenager was Jobs Daughters. She loved the interaction with the other girls, and became a proud Honored Queen.

Of the many funny and humorous things I remember about Marilynn as a young girl: one evening before a Jobs Daughters meeting she and the other members were playing around. Marilynn puffed out her robe over her tummy and sang, “I should have danced all night.”

After graduation in 1962, her family moved to Vallejo. A few months later we were married in Reno – Tom Vincent and Gary McMillen were there at a trap shoot, so we got them to be our best man and bride’s maid – I still don’t know which was which.
At the Miller's, near Anchor Bay, 1961

The Air Force sent me to Indiana University for nine months of intensive Russian training, and Marilynn and began our adult lives immediately with pregnancy. While I trained in radio intercept in Texas, Bruce was born in Vallejo. Then we went to Maryland, where I trained at the National Security Agency and Marilynn made a close friendship with our neighbors, Hungarian Uprising refugees Helmut and Julia Kolveg.

Then I was off to Karamursel Air Station in Turkey, and Marilynn and Bruce went back to Vallejo, where Marilynn soon was working for AT&T as a keypunch operator. She worked there six months, long enough to save enough money to pay for airline tickets to join me in Turkey. Marilynn really enjoyed living in Turkey. My pay as an Airman Second Class (E-3), while very low by American standard, when added to Marilynn’s earnings at our Yalova Cultural Center day care service enabled us to live a life of comparative luxury neither of us had experienced before.

When we came back stateside, to Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, Marilynn worked again as a keypunch operator for AT&T, right on up until we had our second son, Scott. Soon after Scott arrived, we packed up again, this time to the University of Arizona at Tucson. I went to classes mornings and early afternoons, then Marilynn left me to study and look after our sons while she keypunched on the swing shift for Hughes Aircraft Company.
Our backyard in Tucson, 1988

Almost two years later I went to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas for Officers’ Training School, and Marilynn stayed with the boys at her parents’ home in Vallejo. She and the boys joined me again in Texas, saw me commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, then we raced across country to East Lansing, Michigan, where I entered the Michigan State University MBA program and Marilynn gave birth to Jeffrey, our third son and final child.

After graduation in December, 1969, we packed and went to our favorite assignment, Royal Air Force Station Bentwaters, England. I had a great job there as the Base Budget Officer, and Marilynn was very active in the Officers Wives Club and in the Red Cross, working with a military optometrist screening students in the two base elementary schools for eye problems.

After five wonderful years I went to a Headquarters job at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and Marilynn continued Officers Wives Club activities and started bowling in their league. Four years later, we prepared to go to my next assignment, one that Marilynn arranged through her friendship with my commander’s wife, Janey - Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Marilynn had chatted with Janey about Jeffrey’s asthma problems in Illinois, and they both agreed that Hawaii would be a healthy place for him, and that Janey’s husband should send me there to replace a senior officer he was bringing back for a headquarters job. Everything about the move was going smoothly, until only a month before we were to move Marilynn came into my office crying, and on the point of collapsing from fear. She had detected a lump in her right breast, and a biopsy determined it was breast cancer.

Her breast was removed immediately, and she arrived in Hawaii with a twelve inch gash across her chest and began radiation therapy every weekday for a month. After that we moved into base housing on Hickam AFB, and soon she was going through a six-month program of chemotherapy at Tripler Army Hospital. Her life in Hawaii was very enjoyable after the first year which were so filled with treatments. She had her remaining breast removed as a precautionary measure, and the cancer didn’t spread again until the Air Force gave me a Compassionate Reassignment to Travis Air Force Base, where we could live near to Marilynn’s parents in Vallejo.

Marilynn went through chemotherapy again, but the cancer was only held in check for two more years before it began to spread once more, appearing in her bones at several places, and then in her liver. After almost ten years of living a fairly active and enjoyable life, even with the breast cancer, Marilynn went downhill rapidly just before our twenty-fifth anniversary in November, 1983, and died in January, 1988.

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