Written May 2008 by Juleen Reher
Because I have nothing else to do this beautiful windy May day, I'm going to stroll down memory lane.
After Barney finished his basic training at Jefferson Barracks in St Louis, Missouri, he was sent to Chanute Field in Champaign, Urbana, Illinois for further training. He was assigned to the welding, sheet metal school. He had just finished schooling in that field before we were married, so after a few weeks they offered him the position of Instructor & made him a Corporal. He was told he could live off the base and would receive compensation for room and board, washing, etc, which meant a slight increase in pay. However if I was going to join him we knew I would have to get a job because we couldn't live on what he was receiving.
We borrowed some money from his Dad, I got employment recommendations from a previous employer and I arrived via train in Rantoul, Illinois. Barney had found a sleeping room with kitchen facilities which meant a closet with a sink and gas plate, livable when you were practically newlyweds. Soon after I was settled I decided to see if the base could use a PBX operator or had any other jobs available. I got all dressed up, put on my nylons, my heels and an appropriate outfit for a job interview. I arrived at the base a few minutes after two o'clock, not knowing classes let out at 2 PM and all the soldiers would be heading back to their barracks. It was a huge base and everywhere you looked were platoons marching in formation down street after street. There were probably 100 guys in each platoon with a Sargent out front or along side, shouting out orders, "Hut, two, three, four." The soldiers marching to that beat. All of a sudden one Platoon came up abreast of me. I found myself stepping right along with them, "Hut, two, three, four" trying to act nonchalant and self assured. Then the Sargent shouted, "Eyes Right!" and 100 heads turned in my direction, 100 pairs of eyes looking at this tall, skinny female from Nebraska, keeping in step and about to turn around and leave the field.
I made it to where I was instructed to go to apply. They didn't use a PBX but because of the letter of recommendation from Kaufman's 5 and 10 cent store, they hired me to have the Jewelry Dept in the Post Exchange Store. I started work the next day. At break time the store filled to standing room only with young men. The jewelry counter was in the middle of this huge barracks type store. I was surrounded by guys all trying to get a look at the new girl. I wondered if I would survive this. I did. One of them was even from G.I. and I had gone to high school with his wife. He stood back by a post and stared and I stared back. Both of us unbelieving it was true, someone from home. I worked there for a couple of years until I became pregnant with Jodi.
After several months, we found an apartment: living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath with shower. It was the loft of a barn (sort of) with double garage on the ground floor. The owners lived in the house and had started to remodel it into this apartment but got discouraged. So we knocked on their door and asked if we could finish it and then rent it. It took a little sweet talk but they finally agreed and Barney finished it. It was kind of cute and we tried to make it charming with ruffled curtains at the windows and a room size rug but it lacked a lot of things. I have never been so cold in my life. There was no insulation under the floor and we had a kerosene heater and kerosene water heater which was not automatic and several times we would forget to turn it off and when we turned the faucet on only steam came out. It's a wonder we didn't blow the place up. Then again the water pipes would freeze and Barney would take a corn cob and soak it in kerosene and light it and warm up the pipes manually. We could have burned the place down.
(Note by Jodi... In December 2005 I had the opportunity to visit Rantoul and take some photos. I looked up the address where Mother and Daddy lived and the photo above is the main house where the people they rented from lived... You can see the garage that Mother and Daddy had their little apartment above in the rear and then in the photo below.)
We were happy there and tried to lead a normal civilian life. We had no car and lived a couple of miles from the base. Barney found a used bicycle and I got in a car pool. Barney planted a big garden and gave away so much produce. He used to make BLTs and have supper ready when I came home from work. Never tasted anything as delicious as that.
They were good times and when you look back at things, sometimes the times that were the toughest were the best times of your life. Those at Rantoul were some of our best years. We were struggling to make ends meet and even managed to pay Barney's Dad back and save a little money too. We had nothing for entertainment, no radio, no car. The movie was on the base and it was a long walk to go to the movies, especially home!!
As I sit here alone in my little two room apartment thinking of those Army days, I realize how good it really was. I have always felt so blessed and am so blessed to be able to have those good memories.