In September 1941, the sound of wedding bells filled the air. Elmer’s best friend, Osie, decided to marry his fiancee in Hawaii on the 10th. Like with many young couples, a twinge of uncertainty surrounded the proceedings. “They hope it works out OK,” Elmer wrote. “I hope he has good luck.” Back in St. Louis, Elmer also received word that some of his old friends were getting married as well, including his “old flame” Lorraine Wolf. He told his parents that he was not interested in marriage, at least for a while, and insisted that he was “entirely too young to settle down.” But his protests seemed slightly too much. “Bachelor Luckett – that’s me,” he wrote, not for the last time that month.
However, the biggest engagement news came from Pat, who announced that she had agreed to marry a man from Texas. Elmer, who only a week earlier counseled his parents to not worry too much about his long-distance courtship with Pat before announcing that he had started a “marvelous friendship” with another pen-pal suitorette, Irene Skyler, did not seem overly concerned. “This simplifies matters for me,” he announced, noting that Pat must have sensed some distance on his part and so began looking for another beau. But the sudden turning of the tables was not without some shock. “It was sort of a surprise,” he admitted, “but that’s all.”
Yet later that month the tables turned again, and Pat wrote Elmer to let him know their engagement was off, and hinted at wanting to get back together. Evidently the Texan proposed under false pretenses, and led Pat to believe that he had money. Once it became clear that was not the case, Pat decided to make nice with Elmer again. He would not have it:
“Well, you know me mom. I wrote her a letter telling her that under the circumstances we better call it quits. I would be a fool to take her back. She is just young enough and foolish enough not to know what she wants. I really ‘read her off’ in the letter. But I think I am justified in doing it. She must think I’m an easy mark. I’m thru with women for good. Ha. Ha. At least for several years.”
And that, as Grandpa might say, “is pretty much the story on that.”
Courtships like this are common among those who have been dating long enough to accumulate their own relationship history, and the happy endings belong to those who knew enough about themselves (and their partners) to call it quits early. But whether or not one would wish to argue that Elmer “dodged a bullet,” as my friends might say, there were other factors in play that kept him from wanting to commit for several more years. The most important one underlay his decision to join the Naval Reserve in the first place: a desire to explore. When explaining that the Chew was likely to go back to patrolling the harbor after spending at least another month in the Navy Yard, Elmer expressed mixed feelings. Although harbor patrol was “really a snap job,” he wanted something more. “Between you and me I would like to travel – anywhere. I would like to see more of this world.”
It is fascinating to look back at these letters. In three months he would watch the world change around him on the deck of the Chew as the Japanese attacked Battleship Row, and in three years he would join the American military push across the Pacific, into Oceania and Asia. Before the war was over he would go on to see much more of the world. But he would meet the love of his life sooner than he had planned as well. Love is like a lightning bolt: it is hard to know when or where it is going to strike, but when it does it delivers 1.21 gigawatts of pure electricity.