Is it His Story or History?
Dennis was in the US Army and had recently reported to the US Army’s Warrant Officer Flight Training program at Fort Wolters, Texas (Wolters is pronounced as Walters and it is near the town of Mineral Wells). Mineral Wells is west of Dallas, about half way to Abilene. It was 1971, the Vietnam War had been in full swing but troop strength had been cut back twice that year. The wind down had just begun. The Flight Students were "Warrant Officer Candidates," called WOC’s for short. Old joke: What sound does an Army Helicopter make? WOC, WOC, WOC, ...
Terry was a Freshman student, on academic scholarship, attending Texas Woman’s University (TWU) at Denton. Denton is just north of Dallas and Ft Worth. Terry was from Lamar, Colorado, and she was a Pre-Med major. Dennis had no idea what Pre-Med meant, but he knew a bright girl when he met one!
Dennis was with three other WOC’s on a weekend pass. Dennis did not have a vehicle but he had talked another WOC with a car into going to Texas Woman’s University, figuring that the odds were high that TWU would be a good place to meet lots of women. When they arrived at TWU, they recognized half the guys as being from their base. So much for being clever, however to demonstrate some sense of good taste, Miss America did come from Denton that year.
Terry was with four or five girls who were visiting a girlfriend who in turn was engaged and meeting her fiancé. They were all in the pool area when Dennis and his buddies showed up.
Dennis and Terry met in the pool area. Terry was in the water. In fact, Terry was the only person in the pool and she was swimming. Everyone else was sunning or milling about. Dennis asked, "How’s the water?" Smiling, Terry said "great." Dennis made arrangements to change and enter the pool. The water was freezing COLD! Terry was on the college swim team and she loved water and loved to swim. Dennis isn’t a cold water swimming fan as he was from Florida. However Dennis easily likes a girl with a sense of humor. They liked one another and got along together from the start. After a series of subsequent disastrous attempts at getting together which they toughed out, they become pretty good friends.
Ft Wolters was only the first part of the Army helicopter training school (called Phase I or Basic). Phase II & III were at Ft Rucker, Alabama (respectively called Instruments and Tactical). Dennis finished Basic flight training and went to Ft Rucker. Dennis and Terry communicated by Telephone and by US Mail. Telephone means a single phone booth with long lines serving a company area of about 300 soldiers. Guys carried about $5 in quarters, 10-15 minute calls cost $4-5 (2 hours wages) and if people were in line, after about 10 minutes they would start yelling 'Get off the phone' or they would start knocking on the phone booth, louder and louder. No one had a phone for more than 15 minutes.
Dennis came to realize that he was going to graduate Flight School / Warrant Officer School two weeks before Terry would finish her Sophomore school semester (meaning that Terry could not attend his graduation ceremony as she would be deep into her final exams). Dennis was also going to graduate as #2 or 3 in the class but class standing wasn’t anything that Dennis cared about. Class standing turns out to be important because the top graduates get some leeway in picking assignments. Bet that the reader already knows what’s coming.
Dennis’ new sub-freezing biking buddy, Ken Clark (who will end up being the Best Man at Dennis’ wedding) stated what a bummer is was that Dennis was not in the training class that was two weeks behind his present class, as then Terry could attend the graduation. Then, quite mysteriously, Dennis had suddenly failed an exam and gotten sick for about a week. Suddenly, Dennis had missed enough scheduled training & study time that he had to be set back a class. ... Bummer huh?
To make matters more interesting, Dennis’ class standing was now about #4 or #5 in the following class. The top three or four guys in the graduating class GOT to go to Vietnam (The U.S. involvement in the war was winding down and only the "best" pilots were being sent to Nam). Dennis was being offered the very best State Side assignment at Ft Lewis, Washington (located south of Seattle/Tacoma, in a beautiful rural mountain forest setting). But, Dennis wanted to go to Texas to be near Terry, so he traded his highly sought after Ft Lewis assignment with another WOC, Cliff Web, who was assigned to Ft Hood, Tx. Ft Hood is between Waco and Austin (but at least in Texas). Dennis had to up the ante with a promise of a steak dinner to Cliff because Cliff wanted to be stationed near his originating home area. Things happened fast and Dennis didn’t have a chance to pay off the dinner debt until about four years later, but he did.
Terry and Dennis became engaged in 1973. Dennis wasn’t Catholic but Terry was, so Dennis had to get a written "dispensation" from a Cardinal in New York City in order to get permission to formally marry Terry in a Catholic Church. Father Bruler, a War Hero Catholic Priest and US Army Chaplain and Major, secured the documentation for Dennis. The Cardinal granted the "Dispensation" and It looked like a diploma, about 14x16 inches of parchment paper with a seal. It stated that "Dennis Struckeum, the Pagan" (meaning non-Catholic) had permission to marry the "good Catholic girl, Teresa Harmseum" (or words to that effect).
Father Bruler explained that he wanted Dennis to go through some pre marriage counseling that the Church mandated. Some of the counseling was for Dennis alone and some was for Terry and Dennis together. Dennis’ eyes must have rolled. At that moment Father Bruler said that it would be fun because he was going to minister the counseling. Dennis gave a nervous acknowledgment.
The counseling as ministered by father Bruler was actually beneficial. The classes were ministered across a pool table while he had a pool stick in one hand and a mug of beer in the other. Dennis actually remembers most of what he said, to this day.
Father Bruler (pronounce Brula) had prior Vietnam military service experience as a field soldier. We called them "Grunts" back then. He had also been previously married and had an older son who lived on his own. Rumor had it that he went into Priesthood after his wife died. He was an unusual Priest in that he actually knew what marriage and life in the military was really like.
Father Bruler was amazing. On his second tour of Vietnam, as a Priest he had ridden a helicopter out to a 30 day Long Range Patrol (LRP) position and gave a quick Mass while supplying the soldiers with new clothing and gear. He later went to a water-buffalo water-hole to wash and do some personal business when two North Vietnamese soldiers in VC black pajama uniforms and AK47s came out of the bushes. Priests and Clergy are always unarmed. Father Bruler was alone when the two NVA’s surrendered to him. The LRPs made sure that Father Bruler got recognition for the POW captures. The event was treated as one of those in house military humor things; there was even a disguised cartoon about the capture in the Stars & Stripes military news paper. [Its called journalism with class.]
Terry graduated from Texas Woman’s University, on 18 May 1974. Dennis & Terry married the next day at a Ft Hood Army Chapel with a formal Crossed Sabre wedding ceremony. It was an economical "two-fer" for Terry’s family. She has eight brothers and sisters and all but her elder brother came (her brother Steve was in the Army and was stationed a long ways off). Dennis & Terry were all having so much fun at the reception that people were subtly suggesting for them to depart so that the guests could feel comfortable going home. Always a good sign that a wedding & reception had gone well ... and not a bad sign for the rest of their lives, either.