My eldest son, also nicknamed Sandy, was born while I was overseas in Korea. It is somewhat sad to think about it, but when Sandy Jr. graduated from high school in 1972 another war was raging, this time in Vietnam. Sandy had a low draft number, so he joined the Air Force shortly after his high school graduation. Following basic training he was stationed at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. While at Westover he had been introduced to the Navigators, a Christian fellowship, and through them he became involved in serious Bible study and daily prayer.
Early in 1973, Sandy Jr. and other airmen from Westover were sent to Michigan to work on an airfield construction project. The temporary duty assignment ended in late June or early July 1973, and Sandy worked out a car ride with Charley, a fellow airman, for the trip back. There were others in the car, so Sandy sat in the rear seat. He had arranged with Charley to be let out along the route through northern Pennsylvania, and from there he planned to get a bus to our home in Maryland. He was due a ten-day furlough.
All went as planned. Sandy Jr. got out of Charley’s car at the bus station in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he caught a bus from there to Columbia. Of course, we were elated to see him. Sandy was the first of our five sons to leave home. We missed him very much.
Sandy Jr. had a grand furlough, and we enjoyed each other thoroughly. Most of the ten days was spent on a family camping trip. First, we camped at a place in Delaware near the ocean, and then we spent two days in the beautiful Susquehanna valley in southern Pennsylvania. All the boys were with us, and it was a memorable week of lazy summer days, riding ocean waves, eating the evening meal under the trees, sitting around the camp site under the stars, and just being together.
The time passed much too swiftly, and soon we were back home in Columbia and preparing for Sandy Jr’s departure. He was to fly out of the Baltimore-Washington Airport on a commercial flight. Westover Air Force Base was located near Springfield, Massachusetts. There were no flights from Baltimore to Springfield, so Sandy planned to fly into Hartford, Connecticut and get a bus from there to Springfield. He would leave Baltimore around nine in the evening and arrive at Springfield in the early a.m.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon, Sandy Jr. came to his mother and me with a worried expression on his face.
“I’ve lost my keys,” he explained.
He had lost the set of keys that he had taken from Westover, including the keys to his room, his locker, etc. This was a matter of great concern to him. He would not arrive at the base until after two o’clock in the morning, and he had uncomfortable visions of rousting his sergeant out of his sack at that early hour and getting him to open the door to his room, his locker, etc. The prospect was intimidating, to say the least. Anyone who has served in the military will understand his concern. Ann and I joined him in the search, but the keys were nowhere to be found. Finally, at Ann’s suggestion, the three of us sat down at the kitchen table and prayed for God’s help in finding the keys. Following this, we made another thorough search, but again we were unsuccessful.
Conversation around the supper table was more subdued than usual that evening, and not long after the meal was over Ann and I and the boys drove Sandy Jr. to the airport. He was still worried, of course, but it wasn’t the end of the world. He would survive somehow. We got him to the airport on time, said our farewells, and saw him off on the 9 p.m. flight to Hartford.
The next evening Sandy Jr. phoned and told us the rest of the story.
He arrived at Hartford and took the bus to Springfield as planned. When the bus pulled into the Springfield bus depot, he got his duffel bag and headed for an outside platform at the bus station where airmen would often drop by to see if anyone needed a ride to the air base. Sandy had only been standing there a few minutes when Charley, his friend from the Michigan trip, came by in his car. Charley got out of his car and greeted my son.
“Well, what do you know? Good trip?”
“Great,” said Sandy. “How’s it with you?”
Charley opened the trunk, and Sandy loaded his duffel bag. Then he opened the rear door of the car, slipped in, and rested his head against the back of the seat, exchanging a brief greeting with the other passenger in front. He was thinking to himself about the odds against Charley, who had dropped him off in northern Pennsylvania ten days before, being the one to pick him up in Springfield, Massachusetts, at 2 o’clock in the morning. Amazing. Now if he only didn’t have to face his sergeant about the keys.
Sandy Jr. moved his feet forward in an attempt to relax, and then he heard a clinking noise. He reached his hand down to the floor, under his right foot, and grasped the missing keys.