VMTB-242 I

Jake Nevans and I were among the first pilots to report in at El Centro.  Jake was a ruddy, raw-boned six-footer from Colorado.  In the heat of the night, we were issued our bedding and assigned to an empty, loosely framed BOQ building, inundated with dust and infested with black widow spiders.

Personal memory is such a slippery customer.  As I recall it now, sometime in the early morning hours, I think Jake did a backward somersault out of bed with a blood-curdling yell.  He’d spotted a fat, black widow spider on his sweaty sheet, next to his leg.  In the turmoil that followed, I upended a chair and discovered two more widows, nestled in the bottom of the chair’s seat.

A thorough room inspection revealed a glut of the deadly widows in hiding.  The two of us searched them out and exterminated them.  Scores of them.  With deadly aim, we squashed every last one of them.

***

Over the years, Jake and I have maintained a lasting friendship, half a world apart.  At the end of the war, he headed for the Philippines, where he spent many years as a manager with an old-line British trading company.

In the Philippines, Jake married Sally Saleeby, the vivacious daughter of an American scientist who played a major role in developing the Philippine hemp industry.  Sally and her family had been prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation.  Eventually, Jake and Sally moved down under to Australia where they still operate their sprawling “Dunraven Ranch” in New South Wales.

***

To my complete surprise, Ox Wilson, an ATO from Oregon, turned up in the second contingent of pilots to join the squadron.  The last time we’d seen each other had been the end of spring term l941, when I left the University of Oregon, joined the boilermakers’ union and went to work at Willamette Iron & Steel.

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