Born April 28th, 1922, of Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania-Dutch descent, with very light skin and sandy red hair - while it lasted - my life has been a burn, freckle, balding lifelong experience; but all in all, my gracious Lord has blessed and cared for me in a marvelous way. I have two older brothers, Shannon and Lindsey, one sister, Junile, and a younger brother, Clarence (George), all born about two years apart.
It has been almost 80 years since my birth, so there is little memory of it. In fact, it has slipped my memory altogether, and the first thing in my life that I can remember distinctly is my brother, Lindsey, showing how easy it was to make a fire. He showed me how to get some dry grass together, then strike a match, and set it afire. Fascinating! The next day, I got a match and went to the barn. All my life, I have tried to figure out an easier, faster, better way to do everything, and there was a tremendous amount of dry hay in the barn, so I thought that was a big improvement over Lindsey's method. I bunched up a nice little stack of hay and set it afire. The fire quickly got much larger than my little mind had anticipated, spreading across the other hay in the barn. I was about 4 years old, and had brought my little brother, Clarence, with me. Two years younger, I remember pulling him, in diapers, across a 2x12 board, on edge, that kept little piglets from escaping through the gateway of the barn. Very frightened, I ran in the house and told mother, "I matched the barn." She was lying down at the time. I think she was recovering from a hysterectomy.
We lived ten miles west of Hominy, Oklahoma, in the country, and dad had gone into town, on that unforgettable day, to buy mother a new kitchen cook stove - wood burning, of course. He was on his way home when he saw the smoke and realized that, in his absence, tragedy had come. When he arrived, it was too late, there was absolutely nothing he could do but watch his future go up in smoke. On a farm, the barn is typically where any wealth resides. This was a huge, wonderful barn, several times as large as the house, and our new Chevrolet was parked inside. The barn was where all the farm equipment and tools were, the harness for many mules, the saddles, bridles, etc. for the horses. Stored there also was the harvested grain, the hay, and three huge bales of cotton - the only year that we had ever raised cotton. And of course, there was no insurance, and absolutely nothing was saved. It all went up in smoke.
On a farm, the house is always uphill - and upwind - from the barn, and between the house and the barn was a windmill and a big watering tank for the livestock, probably about 8 ft. in diameter. I remember standing beside that tank, with my dad at my side, his hand on top of my head, and wondering why he wasn't beating me to death. I don't recall that I was ever reprimanded, and I was never reminded of what I had done. A child doesn't know the value of a nickel or a dime; and I saw the horror of what had happened, but I had no idea of the catastrophe it was to my dad. It didn't dawn on me, until I was over 50 years old, that I was the one reason my dad was never able to own a farm, and had to share-crop other people's farms. Probably the most successful farmer in the area, I had totally put him out of business. Dad was a hard worker and sharp, but it was a constant struggle. He brought in extra income by using his mules to build roads and ponds. Then later, he added terracing, a process of making long precisely surveyed ridges across sloping land to catch the run-off-water and hold it in place to soak into the ground, rather than let it drain away, taking top-soil with it.
Since my children, and others living today, only knew dad when he was elderly, let me tell you more about him.
Rollie Dale Vandruff's childhood was lived in Indian Territory - before it became the State of Oklahoma in 1907. In 1890, at only 8 years old, his father sent him, alone, with a team and wagon, on a several day trip into Kansas to pick up a shipment at the railroad station. In those days, responsibility was expected of children at an early age. On his way home, from one side of a small hill, he heard the ominous sounds of chanting Indians. He climbed up where he could look down upon a celebrating scalping party, dancing around a pole. Scalping of whites was still practiced by some Indians in 1890. He ran back to his wagon, terrified that his horses might neigh, revealing his presence; but God used their drum beating and chant/singing to drown out the wagon sounds, and he proceeded safely home.
As a young man, his passion was horses, cattle, rodeos, round-ups, and cattle-drives from Roswell, New Mexico to the railroad cattle yards in Kansas. This was the adventure of the old west. He was supremely gifted at training horses for roping and cutting - this was the cutting out, the removing, of one specific steer or calf from anywhere in a herd. Both of these essential activities demanded a horse with very special aptitudes and "horse-sense." A good cutting-horse is a phenomenon to watch.
Dad was a champion at roping and tying. Henry Grammar had won the official title of "World's Champion Calf Roper" at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but at a regional rodeo, dad won unofficial championship with a shorter time than Grammar's. He was roping on a horse he had trained; and when Grammar saw it, he wanted to buy the horse; but dad told him, "Nobody, could pay me enough money to buy that horse." Henry said, "Everyone has a price. What's your price?" So dad named such an outrageous price he thought he was proving that the horse was not for sale. Henry said, "Sold!" Because "his word was his bond," he was obliged to let Henry have the horse. He trained another beautiful quarter-horse, called Teddy, a gorgeous animal, so gentle even small children could ride him, yet stunning in his brilliant performance. I have a slight remembrance of Teddy.
Dad was a short man who seemed taller than others - with strength, every aspect of moral integrity, and great love for his family. He had rippling muscles from hard work - not an exercise machine - and was fast as a lightening. He had a sweet spirit, but was a firm disciplinarian. We received good parental teaching with sufficient beltings to learn obedience, and we never doubted his love for us. He never talked negatively or appeared discouraged. God would provide, and He always did. He was the model for "a living-faith."
My mother, Nellie Helen Millsap, had received her teacher's credential at Oklahoma State Teachers College, in Edmond, and was teaching in a one-room school house - grades 1 through 8 - in Pawnee County. Not many people went beyond the 8th grade, at that time, but that 8th grade education was undoubtedly better, in many ways, than a high school diploma today. Dad, who was now ranching nearby, courted her and won her heart. She was a beautiful, lovely young lady and they made a great pair. He was born May 27, 1882, and she was born October 21, 1893, eleven years difference in their ages.
When they were married, he was quite successful, and I remember we had a radio with a big horn and big knobs for tuning. One of my memories is the squealing and squawking that was involved in trying to capture a station's signal. In the evenings, the neighboring farmers came over to listen to our radio.
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child... (Proverbs 22:15) I remember one other impressive event on that farm. One of my dad's four boys (I have no idea which one) tied our little wagon onto the back bumper of the car. I remember looking back and seeing it bouncing and whipping all over the road, leaving pieces all along its path. We had apparently supposed that it would follow along smoothly and safely.
Although I have no memory of it, when I was about two years old, I had smallpox and almost died with a very high fever. Many people did die, and most of those who survived had large permanent pox-marks in their skin. I had no negative after-effects of the disease.
Around the age of five, our family moved into Hominy so we could get the benefit of an education all the way through high school. Hominy, a prosperous little town of around 1,500 was widely known for its excellent schools, two doctors, a dentist, a judge, two drug stores, a fine theater, outstanding shopping, a 5 &10¢ store, a funeral home, railroad facilities, its own city hospital, and many other assets. Its prosperity was primarily from oil, ranching, and Osage Indian head-rights (income from oil leases on Indian land).
As I recall, we lived in Hominy only about a year before dad and mother decided they had made a mistake. Shannon and Lindsey were getting into all kinds of orneriness, smoking cigarettes, learning profanities - the devil was getting their kids - so they decided to move back to the country. Both dad and mother were individuals of unsurpassed integrity, honor, and responsibility; and their constant effort was to pass these qualities on to their children. We moved into a house, five miles from town, that was in two sections - a cedar-log cabin (the kitchen) and a 2-story box-shaped addition built onto it. Dad and another farmer were able to get the first school bus route established from Hominy Schools, to pick up rural children on a 20-mile loop through the country. We walked about a half-mile from our house to the county road, where we were picked up by the bus. This property had a nice creek on it and a lot of farming, grazing, and wooded land - a good place to live.
Something I recall vividly about that farm was a severe drought, and the creek dried up. We would go to the few little pools of water that still remained and stomp around in the mud bottom. The water would become so muddy, the fish would come to the top, gasping for air, and all we had to do was grab them for a delicious fish dinner.
Another event that I vividly remember while living there, was one night, in the middle of the night. Clarence and I, who slept in one bed, downstairs, were standing on the bed fighting over who was the one responsible for cover-pulling. All of a sudden, dad came downstairs with his belt, and used it vigorously on both of us. We knew we deserved it, but it was mighty painful. From that time on, we were the best of buddies.
More about my mother: She was the ultimate picture of a lovely, stable, tender-hearted, devoted, hard working mother, the highest portrayal of that word - mother. She and dad were up at about 4 am in the morning to get the fires going in the wood stoves, in the kitchen and living room, so the house would be warm when the children got up. She made all of our meals, preparing a huge breakfast every morning, of eggs, bacon, ham, small steaks, fried potatoes, etc. We didn't have the luxury of coffee or cocoa, but abundant milk and water sufficed quite well. She washed all the clothes on a wash-board, ironed them with flatirons heated on the kitchen cook-stove. She made all of our delicious bread, kneading it several times. She was a brilliant, vivacious person with a great personality and sense of humor, totally devoted to her family and its future.
When I was about 12, we moved to the Pettit Place. This was a beautiful farm, about 360 acres, owned by the man who owned the Pettit Theater in Hominy. It was a large home on top of a hill, with much land for farming, meadows, and wooded areas with wildlife. However, it still had no electricity, no running water, no sewage system. It did have a bathroom, but it was still basically unusable because of lack of running water and a sewage system. Mother finally got a Maytag washing machine with a gasoline engine. No, it was not automatic. All it did was beat the clothes, eliminating the scrubbing on a wash-board. We had an outdoor privy, about 30 yards downhill from the house - not much fun, especially in the wintertime. We used the Sears and Wards catalogs for toilet paper.
In the depression, other people (especially in big cities) lived under great hardships, but we never suffered. We always lived in a nice home, never thought of ourselves as poor, and were as respected as anyone in the community. We sometimes had patches on our clothing and used cardboard to cover holes in the bottoms of our shoes; but those shoes were polished, and we were always clean, with hair combed, and self-confident. We knew who we were and we were proud and happy with who we were. We didn't have much money, but we sold and delivered bottles of milk, eggs, butter that we had churned, etc. Little things can make a big difference. We had livestock, chickens, turkeys, a big vegetable garden and a field of peanuts. We were never hungry or lacking in good nutritious food. We butchered our own beef and hogs, providing an abundance of meat in our diet. We canned hundreds of quarts of corn, green beans, fruits, etc., keeping them in a big underground storm-cellar. This storm-cellar was our refuge when the clouds turned green and lightening literally covered the sky. We never experienced a tornado, but always anticipated it.
There are no lazy loafers on farms. Laziness and farming do not go together. I was skinny all my life, but strong as a mule, and knew how to apply myself to the best advantage. I never shirked work, but enjoyed it; and was constantly looking for some way to improve or make a job easier and faster to accomplish. From early youth, I always thought of myself as an efficiency expert.
At the Pettit Place, we lived 2½ miles out in the country, and quite frequently, in the summertime, we walked into town on Saturday evenings, carrying several dozen eggs in paper bags. We would then sell the eggs to the grocer, hang around the main-drag for awhile (especially the corner drug store), and then go to the movies - at a cost of 10¢ each. That was the treat of the week. After the movies were over, we would walk back home. One mile of the road was paved, the rest was a dirt road. Dad used his grader and 4 mules to keep that road in reasonably good condition. After a heavy rain, a car could get into a deep rut and have a terrible time trying to get out.
School was always an interesting place to be, and I was a good student, but never the best in the class. That was for Bill Daniels, the principal's son. My grades were mostly A's, B's, and an occasional C. I made one D in my life - in Spanish. That class was after lunch break, and all too frequently, I thought I could get my homework done during lunch break, but didn't. I paid the price in disgrace. My brother, Shannon, and my sister, Junile, were the outstanding scholars in our family, making nothing but A's. Junile was the drum & bugle corps majorette, was in every play, every musical, virtually every activity in the school. She was also president of her class two of the four years of high school. I truly believe there wasn't a better school system in the US than Hominy's. Let me explain:
Busing students from farms and oil leases over a 10-mile radius, HHS had a fully uniformed band, with girl's drum and bugle corps, a wood-shop (where I made a big walnut desk with seven drawers), basketball, an all-State football team (the Hominy Bucks), and courses in drafting, typing, music, drama, physics, chemistry, Latin, Spanish, math all the way through geometry and trigonometry, as well as all of the regular subjects. It was a fabulous school!
Living on a farm was very hard, disciplined work, but a great place to grow up. Everyone had daily chores. We milked the cows before the sun came up and again before the sun went down. We fed the chickens and livestock, slopped the hogs, gathered the eggs, separated the milk (removing the cream), and cleaned up the separator, We brought in firewood for cooking and heating and helped with cleaning, and many other chores. A farm is a team operation, and a big one. There were virtually no tractors in those days. We went out into the woods or meadows, brought in the mules, individually harnessed them and hooked them up to the wagon, the plow, the harrow, the seeder, the mowing machine, the fresno, the cultivator, or whatever was on the agenda for the day. But all was not work. We had several horses to ride, and there was no end of adventure on a big farm. We hunted, built, explored, swam in the creek, and generally enjoyed each other. Kids in town used to be very good to us. They hoped we would invite them out to our farm, where they loved the freedom and expanse that we enjoyed.
You don't find proud people on farms. They are humble, common folks and have an inherent knowledge of, and dependence on, the Lord. They may not be Bible scholars, but they know there is a God and they try to live close to Him.
My early spiritual training was sparse, but the little that I did receive, was exceptionally good. There were six churches in town, Presbyterian (the elite), Methodist (next), First Christian, Baptist, Nazarene, and Roman Catholic. From time to time, I had attended the first four mentioned, but my choice was First Christian, and at about age 12, when they had a revival meeting, I became a believer, trusting in Jesus (the promised Messiah) as my personal Savior and Lord, and was baptized in testimony of my faith in Him. One of the most important things learned in that Sunday School, was to always - yes absolutely always - demand "Bible proof" of doctrines held, to avoid being taken in by man-made-doctrines that were prevalent and flourishing everywhere. This valuable teaching saved me from marrying the wrong woman and taking the wrong road.
My uncle "Shorty" Scott, dad's brother-in-law, owned the Hominy Auction, where all kinds of livestock, chickens, farm equipment, tools, and everything imaginable, were auctioned. They also had little "sites," much like present-day flea-markets and swap-meets, where a person could sell whatever he desired. An entrepreneur, I ordered merchandise out of a wholesale catalog and sold it at my little site. I also sold bananas for a penny apiece or 10¢ a dozen. It was nice to have money of my own, and a constantly increasing volume of business - a great experience.
I never had "a date" in high school. Quite naturally, I made it a point to be around girls as much as I could, so I was reasonably comfortable around them; however, a truck - no matter how clean it was - wasn't very appealing for dating the cutest, prettiest girls in school, and my ambitions and pride wouldn't allow me to consider any others. I am sure I did not suffer any permanent damage from my lack of dating. I was probably better off.
Graduating from high school in May, 1940, I floundered around, not knowing what to do with my future; but working part time as a projectionist at the theater and as a helper at the local funeral home. In the winter of 1940, my mother read about the opportunities in aviation, in California. Being really into airplanes, reading everything I could get my hands on, and building beautiful model airplanes with the money I earned, she suggested, "Why don't you and Lindsey (who was four years older and living in Okmulgee, Oklahoma), go to California and see if this is true?" Being adventurous, we thought that was a great idea. However, with probably less than $20 to my name, I went to see Mr. Mullendore, the local banker. He agreed to loan me $250, but I would have to get both my dad and my uncle Jim as co-signers on the note. They did.
So, in January, 1941, Lindsey quit his job in an automobile accessory store, came home, and we obtained a ride with someone, to California, for $15 each - the going price. When we arrived in California, with one suitcase apiece, we rented a furnished apartment at Belmont Apartments on Figueroa Street, near Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles, only three blocks away from Anderson Airplane School. We enrolled, at once, in their sheet-metal worker's course. I don't remember how long it took, but each of us got jobs at Douglas Aircraft, in El Segundo, immediately after completing the course.
This was a radical change in our lives, living in the big city, working in a factory, and making good money. We especially enjoyed eating at the fabulous Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway, an easy walk of about eight blocks, where they had beautiful (Hollywood hopefuls) singing waitresses. With no automobile, we rode streetcars and shared rides with others. It wasn't long before a friend of Lindsey's, Clayton Williams, joined us, and we rented a tiny, furnished house at Redondo Beach, a short walk to the ocean.
Once, on an overcast morning, we went to the beach and I dozed off. When I awoke, I was burned so badly, I blistered and peeled - raw flesh! Oh! how miserable! Another time, while swimming, a riptide carried us farther and farther from the shore. Lindsey knew nothing about riptides, and I knew very little. We kept trying and trying to swim back to shore, but made no headway at all. Finally, I told him to try swimming parallel to the shore for some distance, then try again to get to shore. We did it and it worked. Totally exhausted, I could barely stand up, and Lindsey could not walk at all. He crawled out of the ocean and virtually collapsed. That was a perilous lesson that almost took both of our lives.
Lindsey was so love-sick he couldn't stand it, and I was home-sick too, so we quit our jobs in the fall of 1941 and went back to Oklahoma. Lindsey got married, and I decided I had made a mistake in returning. I quickly paid $15 for a ride back to California, was immediately re-hired, in a better position, with better pay, and was now in final assembly, making installations on a new experimental A-26 aircraft.
On December 7th, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, America declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy. I remember how we hung onto every word of news over the radio. It drew our nation together like nothing before - or since. The mobilization for war that took place immediately was a marvelous thing to behold. It could never be duplicated today.
In May, 1942, I was living at a boarding house on Denker Street, in LA, when Clarence graduated from high school and came out to join me. He also was hired at Douglas Aircraft. Then, a couple of months later, mother and dad joined us - with dad starting over at age 60. We lived together at the boarding house for a short time, then rented an apartment on State Street in South Gate. We didn't have a car - dad had sold his pickup truck before coming to California. They both quickly found jobs, the first time mother had received a pay-check in 30 years. Dad was a security guard at San Pedro shipyard and mother became a professional seamstress, doing beautiful work, at a shop in South Gate, almost across the street from the apartment where the four of us lived. They were so happy, and said they never wanted to go back to Oklahoma. Mother did once, but dad never returned.
Even with a good job at Douglas, I could feel the hot breath of the induction center breathing on my neck. A woman could do my job, so I decided that it would be very foolish to wait until they drafted me, and possibly end up in the trenches. No thanks! I enlisted in the Army Air Corps, specifically applying for Aviation Cadet training to be a 2nd Lieutenant and pilot. With 20:15 vision, excellent physical condition, and an exceptional education, I had little doubt as to my qualifications.
I was accepted, and in January, 1943, my orders were received to report to Fresno, Calif. for a few weeks of outfitting and basic training. The temperature there was typically 90° and the training was rugged. Then one day they ordered us to pack up, but take our heavy wool overcoats with us. We got on the train, having no idea where we were headed, but a couple of days later, we found ourselves disembarking at Jamestown, North Dakota, in a 35°-below-zero blizzard, and we had to march about a mile to Jamestown College. I spent about nine weeks there, taking courses in meteorology, higher physics, radio Morse-code, aeronautics, etc. While there, I also learned to fly, and flew solo in a Piper Cub airplane.
From Jamestown, we were sent to Santa Ana, California for Pre-Flight Training. Here, we got a great deal more preparation in aircraft engine mechanics, more aeronautics, gunnery, navigation, more training about being an Air Force officer, etc. I was there for about six weeks. It was here at Santa Ana that many did not make it. Superiors somehow decided who would be pilots and who would be navigators or bombardiers. Whew! I made it!
From Santa Ana, we went to Dos Palos, Calif. to take Primary Flight Training. At Eagle Field, I flew the PT-19, all-metal, low-wing trainer - the prettiest, finest, and fastest trainer in the Air Force. It landed at 90 miles per hour, where the Piper Cub landed at 45. I loved that little plane. Training was very demanding, and they did everything they could to "wash-out" the cadets. They made life miserable, to see how much we could take. They put us under as much stress as possible. Many cadets washed-out, but I decided that if anyone else could hang in there, I could too.
From Dos Palos, we went to War Eagle Field at Lancaster, California for Basic Flight Training. This was the pits. We flew the BT-13, a real dog, bulky, under-powered, terribly noisy, and a death-trap. Many pilots were killed, trying to fly that monstrosity. I was so happy when I escaped. It was at this point that we were asked which type of plane we would like to fly. I said I wanted to fly a fighter plane, but definitely did NOT want a single-engine plane. I wanted to fly a P-38, A-26, B-25, or even the B-26. I never trusted a single-engine airplane. If it quit, you were in serious, immediate trouble. With two engines, you could still travel a long distance looking for a suitable place to land. I liked being adventurous, but not foolish.
So my next airfield was Advanced Flight Training at Marfa, Texas, a twin-engine training field. Here, we were not only trained to fly multi-engine aircraft, but we learned instrument-flying, flying completely by instruments, not being able to see anything outside the cockpit. It was also where we got more experience at navigation, with cross-country flights to various points in Arizona, New Mexico, etc.
In April, 1944, I graduated as a multi-engine pilot with an "instrument" rating - the same as an airline pilot. All graduate pilots were 2nd Lieutenants, and our new uniforms, with all the brass on them, were beautiful. Our incomes, at this time, increased from $75 per month to over $200 per month. What a relief! I had made it all the way!
After a short leave, with trips to Oklahoma and California, I was assigned to fly B-17 (Flying Fortress) 4-engine bombers at March Air Force Base, in Riverside, California; then re-assigned to fly B-24, (Liberator) 4-engine bombers at Lemoore Field.
The B-17 did a fantastic job in Europe, was a much prettier plane, and far easier to fly; but the B-24 was quite superior. It was designed years later, with a tricycle landing gear instead of a tail-dragger, was considerably larger, had greater power, carried more armament and bomb load, was faster, and could fly farther and return. It was really a fabulous war machine.
From Lemoore Field, I was assigned to a crew, as co-pilot, with Bob McCutcheon as 1st pilot, going to Yuma, Arizona for crew shakedown. There, we practiced bombing runs, strafing of ground targets, and navigational runs. We were attached to the 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, 23rd Squadron, whose operations were in the South Pacific. We were called the "Bomber Barons".
I had asked to be a fighter pilot, but the need now was for bombers; so the apparent policy was that all those who had specifically asked to be multi-engine bomber pilots were made 1st-pilots; and those who had petitioned for fighter aircraft (which I had done) were made co-pilots - it made good sense. In all my flight experience I never met anyone who resented being a co-pilot. In war, there was no difference. It was very definitely a "team effort." Flying a B-24 was not a fun-and-pleasure experience. On long air-strikes, some up to 12-15 hours, I got blisters on my hands from flying tight formation.
Let me clear up a very common misconception. Like a "co-owner" or a "co-heir," a co-pilot is equal, a "joint-pilot" with the same training, usually the same rank and pay, and the same authority - with a single exception. If there ever was a definite conflict in decision making, the 1st pilot, by virtue of title, took precedence. With equal authority, responsibility, privileges, and rank, there was no jealousy or tendency for conflict. Mac was a New England rich kid with a Continental, and I was just a farm boy, but there was never one conflict between us. We were both promoted to 1st Lieutenant rank at the same time, and I flew a few more missions and quite a few more hours than he did. Later, I became 1st pilot and he took a desk job at headquarters.
My memory fails me now as to the date that we went overseas, but it was made on a DC-6 cargo plane with no seating. They already had planes there for us to fly. We flew to Hawaii, Wake, Guam, then on over to Nadzab, New Guinea. Nadzab was only an area, with no civilization that I know of. It was pure jungle, where we saw no natives. The navy engineers had cleared off an area for personnel, planes and supplies, made a runway, and that's about it. We were there only a short time before moving on up to Morotai Island in the Halmahera Island Group, west of New Guinea. At this location, we were frequently bombed by "midnight-marauders." Japanese planes sounded so different from ours - never synchronizing their propellers, they made a whum-whum-whum sound, instead of a steady drone. From Morotai, we made many strikes on Borneo and Philippine targets. The big targets in Borneo were oil refineries and shipping facilities. Our primary targets in the Philippine Islands were airfields and supply depots. We lost far more planes from ack ack than from enemy aircraft.
After every mission, the entire crew of 10 was de-briefed (interrogated about the mission) and each person given a jigger of whiskey. It was supposed to calm us down. Instead of drinking the fine-quality American liquor, we collected it in original bottles and kept it for bartering. Better than money! Soon, the motor-pool had a Jeep that they had put together from junk salvage. We traded liquor for the Jeep and were the only crew who had our own unregistered, private vehicle.
We were also the only ones (4 officers) living in a luxury tent with a raised wooden floor and steps. I tapped into the mess-hall electrical and ran wiring through the coconut trees to our tent, so we had electricity for a light and my little Setchell-Carlson portable radio that could be powered by a 6-volt car battery, 110 volt ac current, or 12 (yes, 12) D-batteries in the bottom - batteries were very hard to obtain. I bought this fabulous little radio in 1940 and had it all through the war. Tokyo Rose provided us with the latest songs on the "Hit Parade." These things did a lot more to calm us than the liquor.
Quite a few of our missions were what we called "shipping missions," where we went out looking for shipping. We were the only crew that did this. After flying all the way around northern Borneo, we arrived at Brunei Bay. This was a major oil port, and there were three ships at the docks. We blew up the docks, sank one ship, and the other two were possibly damaged. We were so elated, we shoved the nose of the huge bomber down into a steep power-dive, from 11,000' altitude, circling down to the deck. We were flying at around 350 miles per hour, about a hundred mph faster than normal, and less than 100' altitude. I'm sure no one expected such an action from a B-24 bomber. The vibration from 10 machine-guns simultaneously strafing everything in sight was so great it shook light bulbs out of their sockets. We didn't get one bullet hole. This was an effective and super exciting mission!
Once, because of an expected serious raid, we were forced to evacuate all B-24s from Morotai to Wakde island. The next morning, when we took off, the runway was just too short for B-24s, heavily loaded with bombs. We always took off in fast succession, and the two planes ahead of us went down in pools of flame on the ocean. They were not able to get up to full flying speed when they came to the end of the runway. With the help of the Lord, we were able to do what the two previous planes were unable to do.
I also remember a flight back to Morotai from the Philippines - probably 700 miles - late at night, through one huge thunderstorm after another. It was wild! Because of the weather, Jim Steiner, our Jewish navigator, was never able to take a "fix" on the stars, to plot our course. With high winds and utter darkness, it was easy to get lost and altogether miss the tiny island and the blacked-out airbase, but the Lord, through Steiner, dead-reckoned us precisely back home - it was quite an amazing navigational feat.
Another extra-interesting mission was a volunteer mission, as a single plane, looking for shipping around northern Borneo, then up to Palawan Island - a long, skinny island north of Borneo. This mission got off to a bad start, that only got worse. Our Irish engineer, Brennan, had been drinking before we took off the Morotai airstrip at midnight. He failed to bring his toolbox aboard, failed to complete his pre-flight check, and left the cover on the pitot-tube; so we had no indication of what our airspeed was. This was extremely dangerous, because Mac, who made that take-off, couldn't know when he had enough airspeed to pull the heavily loaded bomber up for flight, and it was even more perilous, being at midnight, when nothing could be seen but weak airstrip lights. We made it safely up, and Brennan knocked a hole through the fuselage to gradually move the protective sleeve off the pitot tube.
We found a ship on Borneo, but after we skip-bombed it (with a tenth-of-a-second delayed fuse) we realized that it was a derelict ship with no one aboard. However, when we doubled back to take another look, the enemy fired on us with machine-guns from the woods nearby; but we were not hit. We then flew up the west side of Palawan Island, and decided that we would not waste another 500 lb. bomb on a ship until we had first checked it out. This proved to be a very big blunder!
When we found another ship in a cove-type of harbor, we didn't even open our bomb-bay doors. We just went in to strafe it with machine gun fire and look it over. As we approached the ship at about 50' above the water, they threw off camouflaging and opened up on us with the firepower of a gunship. They shot out one of our engines, it caught fire, they destroyed the hydraulic system, and they badly punctured our fuel tanks. The plane was riddled with holes, but no crewman was touched. We made a big circle, and the bombardier dropped our bombs, slightly missing the maneuvering ship, but possibly capsizing it. There was no way that we could get back to home base, a thousand miles away, so we headed for the Philippines, about 500 miles away. We had heard that US forces had landed and taken Leyte airstrip only a couple of days before. This was the first foothold in the re-taking of the Philippines. We were in bad weather all the way, flying on instruments, with nothing to check whether we would find the airstrip or not. Again, it was almost miraculous as Jim Steiner said, "This should be about it. See if you can get down through the clouds." We did, and right in front of us, a couple of miles distant, was the airstrip - another navigational miracle.
We called the tower and they told us not to come in, because there were 'bandits' (Japanese fighter planes) in the area. We replied that we were coming straight in because we were badly shot up and almost out of fuel. We put parachutes out the waist (gunnery) windows to help slow down the plane. Brennan had cranked down the landing gear, by hand, and was able to bend a hydraulic tube so, amazingly, on landing, we found that we were able to get one application of brakes. After the plane came to a stop, we tried the brakes again, and there was nothing. We left the plane there and hitch-hiked back to our home base on Morotai, to get another ship and go at it again.
After completing 25 bombing missions, we were sent to Sydney, Australia, for a 10-day rest leave. Jim Steiner and I were buddies as we saw the sights and enjoyed Sydney. I lost a few dollars at the horse races, not winning once, which was a good thing - a very cheap lesson teaching me not to gamble.
Captain Benson had flown his missions and no longer flew on a regular basis. He planned out the missions for our squadron. In talking with him one day, I said, "If you ever have an exceptionally interesting volunteer mission, I'd like to fly co-pilot with you." A short time later, he came to me and said, "Van, I'm going to fly an intelligence mission all the way to Saigon, Indochina, on the Asian mainland. The Japs still hold that oil-rich country, and we want to see how practical it would be to bomb their refineries, all the way from the Philippines. Would you still like to co-pilot with me?" I confirmed that this should be a very interesting mission, and I would be very pleased, especially to fly with him. He was a big, handsome Swede, probably 6'4" tall - really an outstanding guy.
On most bombing missions, we used at least 7 bombers, but on this one, there was our plane and only one other. We started by flying from Samar Island, in the Philippines, our base airstrip, to Puerta Princessa Airport on Palawan Island - the same island where we had been clobbered on a recent mission. We stayed overnight there, re-fueled, and took on a load of bombs, then headed west for Saigon early the next morning. Incidentally, Saigon is now called Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam.
As we approached Saigon and our target (an oil refinery), 9 Japanese Zero fighter planes attacked us. Each of those 9 planes was shooting at us with 2 machine guns and a 20mm cannon, and our two bombers were firing at them with sixteen 50-caliber machine guns. Being much faster than we were, they literally flew circles around us. Every enemy attack on us was from 11:00 o'clock high to 1:00 o'clock high. If they had realized it, they could easily have brought down both of our planes, because neither plane had a belly turret. Someone made a mistake, and both planes had radar turrets in place of the machine-gun turrets, so we were totally vulnerable there. A radar-plane should only be used in a large formation, where it gets belly protection from the other planes. Going up and down like a porpoise, each Zero could have fired up into our bellies, from below, until they ran out of ammunition, then turned the fun over to their compatriots. It's an amazing thing! I firmly believe the good Lord kept them from catching on. In that battle, 5 enemy fighters were shot down, and 3 of our 4 engines were shot out. As we were flying the lead-ship, the other bomber got off with little damage and returned to home base safely.
If our one remaining operative engine had been an outboard engine, rather than an inboard engine, we would not have gotten out of the city of Saigon, because the plane would have gone into a spin, and the only remedy would have been to glide - about like a rock. As it was, it took the combined effort of both pilots pushing on the left rudder, plus additional help from the automatic-pilot, to keep the plane flying in the desired direction.
A B-24 doesn't fly very far with only one engine, so we headed up the coast toward our "rendezvous-point" - this is a pre-determined location that, if we went down, we would reach that location, by any and all means, and as soon as possible; because it was the one specific spot that rescue forces would come to look for us.
Our #3 engine was hit in the middle of the propeller hub with a 20mm cannon shell, and that engine was set on fire. We were able to put out the fire rather quickly with fire extinguishers, but the splayed-open propeller hub allowed the propeller blades to rotate into low-pitch. We no longer had any control of that engine, and it spun so fast it screamed like a banshee. It was a wonder the blades weren't thrown right through the cockpit, killing us and sending the plane into the sea. That engine kept alternating from screaming speed - causing it to become red-hot - to gradually seizing-up and shaking the plane so violently we thought the engine might break loose from its mountings - but it didn't.
By throwing overboard our machine guns, ammunition and everything else that we could (to make the plane lighter and fly farther), we made it almost 100 miles up the coast to the rendezvous point and started parachuting out of the plane at about 1,500' altitude. The radar-officer's parachute didn't open and he fell to his death. Another young man, 19 years old, was wounded and couldn't swim, but he didn't hesitate a second, as he parachuted into the ocean.
I was next-to-the-last one to parachute out, and I instantly pulled the rip-cord to open my chute. Capt. Benson was the last one out, and the deserted plane - the automatic-pilot unable to control it - immediately went into a slow dive, circling back, only a couple of hundred feet below me, with what sounded to me like a death wail, and ended its circle as it crashed into the water just a few yards from Capt. Benson.
Then everything was quiet - the quietest quiet that I have ever heard. It was actually a delightful experience. Because of my light weight (130 lbs.), I floated down so softly into the ocean, I don't think I got my hair wet. I immediately inflated my little life raft and climbed into it. Every man had a one-man life raft strapped to his parachute harness. It was normally used as a seat cushion.
Each of us had parachuted out through the bomb-bay doors in the bottom of the plane, and were in a straight line, parallel to the shore; but because of the speed of the plane, we were too far apart to see each other. It wasn't long till I saw a Navy Catalina, a twin-engine amphibious airplane coming to pick us up. After rescuing three crewmen, I saw the plane leave, flying over the horizon. It was obvious that something serious must have gone wrong, or they would not have left us behind. What happened was that, on their radar, they picked up enemy aircraft coming - apparently looking for us - and they decided, rather than take the risk of losing themselves, their plane, and the men they had rescued, they should leave and come back the next day. They had no armament, so it was a hard, but logical decision.
As the Catalina was barely seen on the horizon, an American submarine stuck its periscope up, looking for Japanese shipping. When the submariner on the scope saw the Catalina disappearing over the horizon, he asked the Captain if they should radio the Cat and find out what it was doing in such an unlikely place. So they called the Cat and found out that we had been left behind, and were asked if the submarine would be able to pick up the rest of us.
Since the sun was getting low, and I was about 5 miles from land, I took out my little nickel-size, light-absorbing compass and plotted my course to paddle in to the shore after it was dark. I had no idea what might await me there. Then I saw a ship in the distance heading toward me. Since I was in enemy territory, I assumed that it was some kind of shore-patrol coming out to capture us. At first, I tried to hide my raft and myself (except my eyeballs) with a blue rubber sheet covering me and the raft; but the boat kept coming toward me; so, under the sheet, I prepared my gun for immediate action. I had heard many stories of the torturous deaths of prisoners, and I had determined that I would not be taken prisoner, but would try to take out at least one of the enemy before they killed me.
How exciting it was when the ship was identified as an American submarine, with sailors on the deck waving to me. They said we were one big grin from ear to ear as we were fished from the ocean.
In the meantime, Capt. Benson had paddled over to the airplane wreckage. There, he found a big 5-man life raft with many provisions - even a hand-cranked radio-signal transmitter - that had automatically been ejected from the airplane and inflated itself; so he sank his one-man raft and took over the big one. When he saw the boat coming, he thought the same thing that I did, flipped the big raft upside-down and hid underneath it.
As the sailors approached the big raft, they wanted to destroy evidence of the crash and get a little target practice with their machine gun, sinking the raft; but one sailor said, "wait a minute" and dived in. He swam over to the raft, turned it over, and there was Capt. Benson. What a pleasant and fantastic surprise!
The seven of us, who were rescued, spent the next 7 wonderful days aboard the "USS Cobia" submarine as it took us to Subic Bay in the Philippines. It was a great experience, and the food was superb. We then hitch-hiked to 4 air-bases getting back to Samar Island, where we would start flying again. Throughout the entire war, I never got a scratch.
It turns out that the USS Cobia (SS 245) had a long and meritorious career in WW2. A rare survivor of the war, it has since become a symbol for submariners the world over and is dry-docked at the International Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Of its many significant exploits, a the record states that "Cobia... then returned to the Java Sea, where on 8 April  she rescued seven men, the surviving crew of a downed Army bomber." As a parting gift from the crew of Cobia, I was given a silly certificate that reads: "Know ye of these presents that I, Davy Jones, have on this date delivered up one (1) Zeroed Zoomie, Lt. Jean Vandruff, by name, into the custody of the Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Cobia, to dispose of as he may see fit. Signed "Davy Jones", Nan-Hai-Branch, Lat. Twelve N., 4/8/45, Received in good condition, Albert L. Becker, C.O.----USS Cobia"
With over 50 million square miles of water in the Pacific Ocean, the possibility that an American submarine might be at that particular spot, and stick up it's periscope at just the right time, is nothing short of a miracle. I have no fear of death, because my gracious Lord and Savior has always saved me, and I know I'm always safe in His hands! "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice...The peace of God that passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4&7)
After completing 43 bombing missions, which was an unusual amount, I was ordered to leave Samar and report to Hamilton Field in San Francisco. The orders provided returning on a cargo ship. Jim Steiner and I decided we did not want anything to do with ships. We had never heard of such a thing being done, but we thought it was worth a try, to see if we could bluff our way onto cargo planes returning to the States. We showed our papers to the manifest officer, then talked so incessantly to him, he couldn't read them. We hit him with question after question, to distract him, until he gave up and signed the papers, putting us on the shipping manifest. Twice, we pulled this off successfully. It was a good lesson in what can be accomplished with determination, strategy, and bluff. Instead of taking weeks to return, we were home in hours.
When we arrived at Hamilton Field, on July 4th, 1945, they were astonished to see us - in violation of orders. However, they accommodated our cleverness and welcomed us back to the good soil. After a short leave, I was honorably discharged from the Army Air Force.
A new phase of my life began as I enrolled at USC in the fall. Twenty-three years old, I knew what I was there for, diligently applied myself, making almost all A's. I started out in electrical engineering, but later switched to architecture. I immediately got my name on a Chevrolet dealer's list and became one of the first people to get a new Chevy, when the war was over and production of cars was resumed.
Shortly after getting my new car, on double dates, the couple in the back seat would frequently ask me to turn up the radio for them to hear better - then it was too loud for us in the front seat. Radio was really big in those days. So I got the idea of cutting a hole in the package deck, behind the rear seat, and installing a second radio speaker there. My friends thought it was crazy to cut a 6" hole in my new car, but I fabricated a nice looking grill, installed a second speaker, and it worked great. In fact, it produced much better sound than the front speaker, utilizing the trunk cavity as a resonance chamber. Everyone who heard it was amazed at the improvement. When I got the idea of producing and selling them, I ordered 1,000 speakers from GE, wiring, boxes, labels, etc., designed a nice-looking, flexible plastic grill, and went into business - while I was still attending USC. This was only possible, because I had saved over five thousand dollars, rather than spending it on booze and other wasteful things. I was taught to always live within my means and save money for unforeseen needs and opportunities. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had not saved that money and had not been able to go into business and become exceptionally prosperous.
Amazing, but people did not break down the door to purchase my speakers. They didn't know what a rear seat speaker was, and had to hear one before they realized that it was worthwhile. I demonstrated it to dozens of dealers in order to sell them on it. Fortunately, they were "loading" every car with as many accessories as they could find, to increase profits on the few cars that were available. Dad and mother helped me with the manufacturing, which also benefited their income. My oldest brother, Shannon, joined me, and it was quite a profitable business; but over a period of 8 years, we were pushed out of it by the automobile manufacturers themselves. American Motors was first, Chrysler was second, Ford was third, then GM. When they produced their own rear seat speakers, they told their dealers, "We don't care whether you like Vandruff Rear Seat Speakers better than ours, or not, you are going to use our speakers or lose your automobile franchise."
Dad and mother had never owned a home, so in 1949, I used my Veteran's Benefit to buy a new three-bedroom home in Downey - for $8,800, with no down-payment and a 4% loan. Payments, as I recall, were $64 per month, including insurance. We moved out of the apartment into their new home, and full title was transferred to them, shortly thereafter. They were so happy to own their own home!
All members of the Vandruff family, and all of our relatives, had been Democrats for as long as we could remember, and Oklahoma was one of the most solid Democrat States in the nation. In the early 50s, Communism and Socialism were spreading like wildfire all over the world, but the Socialist Party and the Communist Party USA were under suppression in the United States. When our party, the Democratic Party, became extremely liberal and the Communists and Socialists moved from their parties into the Democratic Party, my dad, mother, Shannon, Junile, and I all changed over to the Republican Party. We were considered traitors for doing so. I remember once, when dad got into an argument with my aunt Edna, and dad said to her, "If they ran a dog on the Democratic ticket, I'll bet you would vote for him." Edna retorted, "I certainly would! I would never vote for a Republican. I'm not a traitor like you are!" Many years later, we found that Ronald Reagan switched parties at about that same time, saying "I left my party because it no longer stood for my principles." Amazing, Oklahoma is now the strongest Republican State in the union - the only State where all national offices, as well as the governor's office, are held by Republicans. Very likely, it is also the most Christian State in the union - claiming they are the buckle on the "Bible Belt."
In 1950, Shannon bought a huge lot in a fine neighborhood in Downey, California. I designed the home and we built it during summer vacation from USC. This was such a neat experience, and being worn out from going to school, I decided not to re-enroll in the fall, but start designing and building homes. We built one, sold it immediately, then built two at a time, then three. By 1954 we were building 6 at a time. Then, I designed what we magically called "The Cinderella Home" in Downey, and it was a knock-out! The talk of the town! Over 35,000 people came through that home with only word-of-mouth advertising - from as far away as Oceanside. It was our success formula.
It was at about this time, at Eleanor's suggestion, that I started using the name, Jene, instead of the name, Jean - associated with the female gender in American English. It had always been a problem, but had become especially so, now that I was getting some recognition and publicity.
One day Shannon said, "Jean, instead of building custom homes, we really should be building tract homes. Individual building sites are becoming terribly hard to obtain, and the "boxes" that are presently being sold as tract homes are a disgrace to the profession." I heartily agreed, and we started plans for mass development of "Cinderella Homes." We planned to have 4 floor plans and 20 elevations. They would be ranch style, wide and low, with clipped ceilings, long roof overhangs, rounded rafter-tails, shake-shingle roofs, lots of brick wainscoting and brick planters, brick fireplaces 8' wide and floor to ceiling, big wide windows with custom shutters and garage doors that tied in with the rest of the architecture. They would be excellent open-space plans, where the wife was still in constant touch with her husband and children - instead of being isolated - when she was working in the kitchen. Every home that I ever designed has incorporated this concept, because I have always believed that "communication" is one of the primary keys to a successful marriage and a happy family.
Shannon was able to tie up about 40 acres of land in the west side of Anaheim, California, and went out to try to obtain a construction loan for 168 homes. Most everyone thought we were crazy dreamers. One lending institution after another said, "If you were going to build 10, 20, even 50 homes, we might go along with you, but 168? No way! But the Lord intervened, and he found an old gentleman who ran Hollywood First Federal S&L. He said, "I like your designs, I like your perfect credit record, I like your past performance, and I'm going to go along with you." We closed the deal on the final day of our being able to retain the land. Why does God sometimes test us right up to the last minute?
As we were under construction, we had hundreds of people stopping by to ask when the homes would be for sale. These houses were revolutionary. No one had ever seen anything like these, except in custom homes well above $20,000. These were going to be available for $14,000, with 4% VA loans. When the houses went on the market, they were sold out in three days, and in a short time we had over 1,000 people on a waiting list who wanted a Cinderella home. The impact of these homes caused several local builders to go into bankruptcy, and others had to stop, in the middle of development, to redesign their homes. At this time, we had what the advertising agency said was the world's largest sign. It was 200' long and 40' high, beside the Santa Ana Freeway - impossible to drive the freeway without seeing it!
After we started the second development, containing 701 homes, we didn't have enough to meet the desires of over 1,000 people, so we decided to separate out those who really wanted a Cinderella Home from those who weren't quite so motivated. We notified the people that there would be a 4:00 am grand opening. When the sun came up, we had sold over 200 homes. This was an $11 million development. It would be a $200 million operation today. At the peak of construction, at the very end, we were producing 16 homes per day; a huge operation. Normally, this would have been an impossibility in one single locality, but housing starts were in a deep slump, and there was an abundance of tradesmen and material available. We had the largest building operation in Orange County in 1956.
During construction of those homes, the lending market had changed radically. Money became extremely tight, and we were unable to procure permanent loans (VA & FHA) for our buyers. Many builder-developers went into bankruptcy. This continued for months, and when we did find a permanent lender, we had to pay 9 points (9%) to obtain the loans. We had about 10% profit figured in, so this ate up virtually all of our profit. We barely skinned through in the black, and Shannon said he would never build again.
There were many builders who wanted to use our plans, especially in the San Fernando Valley, so we started a franchise program, licensing other builders to use our copyrighted plans, specifications, lumber lists, hardware lists, color schemes, advertising formats, contract forms, and the name, "Cinderella Homes." This operation lasted about six years before the appeal dwindled away. Altogether, there were over 6,000 Cinderella Homes built from those plans as far away as Houston, Texas and Wichita, Kansas.
In 1961, we built 255 homes in Yorba Linda; but Shannon had completely lost interest, only coming into the office occasionally. He hired a friend, David Melilli, to perform his duties - under his guidance. David worked for us until that job was finished, then formed his own company, becoming very successful. Shannon had other interests that consumed his time, so that was the end of our business relationship and the building of homes. I spent at least $50,000 (that would be around $400,000 now) trying to continue alone, but finally closed the doors a year later. Shannon had a degree in accounting and business administration. I had no knowledge or inclination toward it. I was the designer, the one who worked with the engineers on every aspect of the development of the land, established all of the specifications and lists (lumber, sash & door, hardware, etc.), plotted the houses on the lots, took all the bids, wrote up and signed all contracts, and oversaw the construction; but I knew practically nothing about business management, financing, escrows, real estate law, taxes, bookkeeping, etc.
Now let me relate the romantic part of my life. When I was going to USC, and prior to getting my Chevy, I met a wonderful girl, Anna Mae Downing, on the bus ride home, who was receptionist for the huge Coca Cola Company in Los Angeles. We dated for almost 4 years, but I finally had to break it off, because she was a strong Roman Catholic, and I was a Christian. After taking Catholic instruction for months, I knew, for certain, that I could never become a Catholic, and I had no hopes of converting her or her family. It was a painful but wise decision.
Then I met Dolores Stafford, a beautiful girl who was under contract with Warner Bros. Studios. We dated for a year, and when we started getting serious, and she told her mother that I did not want my wife to work, but wanted a homemaker, a full-time wife and mother of my children, her mother threatened to commit suicide if we got married. She was living her life over, through her daughter, and I was upsetting her plans. One night, Dolores said, "I don't know how you put up with me, Jean." I didn't reply, but I thought in my mind, "I don't either." That was the last time I saw her.
The wife I wanted would not be found in a bar, so I was busy going from church to church, every Sunday, looking for an outstanding girl. I expected God to give me the right wife, but I would show my sincerity by doing what I could to make it happen - and I think God honored it. I was getting close to thirty and was rather anxious about getting married. I dated often, but couldn't find the right person.
Then the Lord brought it about - his way! My mother had what they diagnosed as a heart attack and she was hospitalized in Lynwood Hospital. Eleanor Kouri was vacationing in California with her relatives and also checking to see if she could find a better job at a radio station here, rather than in Oklahoma. Her aunt had a heart attack and they brought her from San Fernando Valley to Lynwood, where she could have Dr. Atyah, as her heart specialist. One afternoon, Eleanor came to see her, and it was love at first sight between my mother and Eleanor. Kindred-spirits, they hit it off in a minute. That evening, when I came to see my mother, she said, "Jean, you've just got to meet Eleanor Kouri." My mother had never before recommended a girl to me, and she was the best judge of character, of anyone, so I made sure I never missed visiting mother again till I met Eleanor.
When she appeared, a few days later, I was there. We met - in a hospital room. My mother and her aunt were busy match-making and having a ball doing it. They were real "fun-people." I made arrangements to call Eleanor the next day and asked her if she would like to go to the Coconut Grove, at the Ambassador Hotel in Beverly Hills, on Friday night, two nights later. Freddie Martin and his orchestra were there, the most romantic music in the world. It was the most glamorous, fabulous place to go on the West Coast. When we met for our first date, she was wearing a beautiful eggshell-white tailored suit and I was wearing a suit almost the identical color. I brought her a "mystery gardenia" corsage, and we felt quite elegant. It was an evening never to forget. We were both dedicated Christians, didn't drink, had the same principles, desires, and interests. We had so much in common, and no conflict whatsoever.
A little more about Eleanor's past: Prior to my meeting her, she had attended Oklahoma City University, been a radio disc-jockey, had her own radio programs, founded Talent Club, entertaining the military with many shows, and sung with a professional band. During the war, she worked in quality control at Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan, where they were building B-17 bombers. She was voted Ford's "Beauty Queen". Additional information and pictures are available on her "tribute" web site at: eleanor.vandruff.com, and some pictures of my life are available at: jean.vandruff.com.
Eleanor was swept off her feet. At that time, I had two very successful businesses, drove a new soft-blue Cadillac Coupe deVille hardtop - and had blue eyes. She loved blue, so the odds were with me. I did an incomparable job of courting her. I couldn't bear the thought of her going back to Oklahoma. As they say, "Time was of the essence!" When told that my desire was a full-time wife, homemaker, and mother of children, she affirmed that was also her desire. I took her out every evening and we went to interesting places every weekend until we were married 5 weeks after we met. We were truly fulfilled in each other. She was, and still is, my dream come true.
I was so tied down to my business, we were able to take only one week for our honeymoon, but it was so perfect it was more than adequate. First, we went to Yosemite, then Carmel by the Sea. The sights were breath-taking and the companionship was beyond comparison. When we returned, I carried her over the threshold of our furnished apartment - that she had never seen - and in front of her was her wedding present, a beautiful piano, that I hoped she would learn to play. According to plan, she didn't become a concert pianist, but she probably has the sweetest, most wonderful expression on the piano, that I have ever heard. I am always enthralled by her musical interpretation.
Someone had told me Eleanor was a singer, but I had never heard her sing a note until after we were married. Was I ever surprised to find out what a bonus I had received. Her voice was totally unique, very low, but absolutely feminine. It was filled with heart and expression. No one could sing like Eleanor!
I was 30 and Eleanor was 31 when we got married on June 27th, 1952. Our first child, Mark Kouri Vandruff, was born almost three years later, in May 1955, on his grandfather Vandruff's birthday. Eleanor was 33. If he hadn't been so bright, so handsome, and adorable, I would have turned him in for a different model. I was building the 168 homes when he made his debut, and it seemed as if he cried with colic most of the night and slept during the day. I couldn't get enough sleep. But all things pass. He was, and is, our pride and joy. And everyone else's too.
It was Mark's colic that made me invent the collapsible baby bottle. I determined that it was the vacuum and bubbles in the glass bottle that created the problem. A mother's breast simply deflates as the milk is drawn out. So, I thought if a collapsible bag was used, inside a supporting framework, it would function like the breast. I had previously had a bad, and expensive experience with a patent attorney, trying to patent the rear seat speaker, and our first tract was under construction, so I sat on the idea for a couple of years. Then it came on the market under the name, "Playtex Nurser." I was too late!
Marshall was our second blessing, arriving in July 1958. From the moment he came home from the hospital, he was the source of laughter at the Vandruff's. With his big dimpled grin, he was constantly smiling and delightfully funny. Uniquely self-entertained, he could be left for hours and would find ways to entertain himself - the longest interest-span I have ever seen in any child. Of all our sons, Marshall was the most studious, and consistently made the best grades.
Dean was our "Little Lord Fauntleroy," the beautiful boy, born in June 1960. All of our boys were good looking, but he had big black eyes, a slim-trim physique, and chiseled features. He not only walked, he was running at 7 months old. The pediatrician said he had never seen such a thing. He had ear infection after ear infection, until the doctor's had used every anti-biotic that was available. Much of his early years were lived with severe pain, but he seldom cried. He seemed to think it was normal. He was the analyst and fixer in the family. In 1987, Dean paid for our entire family of 8 to fly to New York City to see Les Miserables (that's the story of Jean Valjean, after whom I was named). Then we flew to Jamaica for a fabulous vacation in a private villa on Blue Lagoon. With all of our family together, it was the most wonderful vacation of our lives.
Stephen was our bonus boy, born in April 1963. We didn't expect this wonderful fourth son. Eleanor was 43 years old when Stephen was born, and we had hoped that we would finally get a daughter, but were delighted with what we got. No problems whatsoever with any of her pregnancies. Stephen was the easiest to raise. He was probably the one that received the least of our attention, but he learned early how to get along with others and how to accomplish the most in the least amount of time. In most tasks, he could do as much as two or three other people - and accurately. Always Mr. Decisive Efficiency!
I will refrain from further detail about our son's lives, leaving that for them to record in their own autobiographies when they have reached the age of a sage. You have read about the first half of my life. You need a breather, but someday, I may write about the second half. Eleanor and I are very pleased and happy with each of our four sons. They are the result of much prayer about many things - especially wisdom. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...The Lord giveth wisdom...Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." (Psalms 111:10, 2:6 & 3:13) True wisdom comes only from the Lord, solves a multitude of problems, and is essential for real happiness.
At an early age, our sons learned to work hard, be honest and dependable. They had to earn their own future - it would not be handed to them on a silver platter. Each of them has brought great honor to the name of Vandruff, and with the good Lord's help, have chosen the finest wives that could be found. They are "equally-yoked" with wives who share the same Christian beliefs and principles; so we are totally confident that their marriages will endure and be fulfillingly happy, as ours has been. Each of our precious daughters is as dearly loved and cherished as our sons - and that's a rare phenomenon, indeed. We are most blessed! Thank you, dear Lord!
Interested in eternal life? Read: "Life's Most Vital Message"
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