Which One?-Part 5 (Image: Jessica in hat)

Her comment about me not sounding like—me—or more precisely, sounding like the Orion from the early sixties—rang a bell—something began to click. Her response to my service number stunned me for half a second—it was like being told I got my birth date wrong.

“Joanie—what are you talking about?” I said in exasperation, “if that’s not the correct number then what is it?”

“It’s RA-one-nine-one-OH-eight-six-two-one,” she snapped back.

I laughed—and was relieved.

“Joanie,” I said, being careful not to be patronizing, “zero and “oh” are the same thing to most people in this context.” In the overly focused intensity of the moment she had failed to remember that distinction.

Silence on the other end.

“And even if you want to insist on that difference—how did I get the rest right? And I think I know why I don’t sound like me—to you. I’ve been having the same reaction to hearing you—you don’t sound like my Joanie to me.”

More silence.

“I take it you never left the Mohawk Valley. You’ve been living there in Odyssey your entire life?”

“Yeah…” came the tentative reply.

“My speech has changed,” I said, “I’ve lost my upstate New York, accent. My pronunciation and inflection are now more mid-western. I’m the one who has changed—

and as I changed I unconsciously thought of you as speaking like me. I was wrong, of course.”

But even though I now understood why she didn’t speak like I thought she should—she still didn’t sound like my Joanie. I was still speaking to this Mrs. Brown from upstate New York.

Joanie’s manner relaxed. She finally decided it really was Orion she was speaking to after all these years and we started to catch up. I told her about what happened after leaving the service—college, my two marriages, my kids, career and so on.

She told me the marriage to the guy she wrote me about back in early ’65 was quite brief—the mistake of a 19 year old. After high school she took a secretarial class at a local community college and worked as a typist at Browning Arms—locally known simply, “The Arms”—there in Odyssey.

During the Viet-Nam War Browning was awarded several large government contracts and production was expanded considerably. A military liaison office was set up in the factory and in 1973 a young Navy Pilot, Rogers Brown, was assigned to head up that office. Brown had flown A-6 Intruders off aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf for the better part of two tours of duty until his plane was brought down by a soviet S-75 missile during “Operation Linebacker.” Brown bailed out over the gulf sustaining relatively minor injuries but they were sufficient to keep him out of action, and at a desk in Odyssey, New York, for the rest of the war. After leaving the military Brown, who had a degree in mechanical engineering before entering the service, continued to work for the Navy as a civilian employee.

Good-looking and affectionately known at the plant as “Captain Rogers,” sometimes “Buck Rogers,” Brown had a reputation as a lady’s man and in addition to earning a doctorate in mechanical engineering design (dissertation project in weapons guidance systems), sooner or later dated almost every single girl at the factory. “The Captain”—as he was sometimes called—was notorious for one night stands and “love ‘em and leave ‘em” relationships until he asked out the girl with the incredibly beautiful black eyes and even more incredible body who worked in Parts Acquisition. Seven months after their first date Joanie became “Mrs. Captain Rogers.”

Three children were born to the Browns. Kristin, the youngest was a homemaker and mother of two in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Mark the middle child, served 6 years in the Coast Guard becoming a fire-fighter on Cape Cod after the military and would later serve in the Air Force Reserves in Iraq. The oldest boy Rogers Junior, took after his dad and, after college, became a fighter pilot serving in the First Gulf War. Like his father, his F-4 Phantom was shot down but unlike his father—did not survive. A routine investigation determined the reason the 22 year old pilot’s plane fell prey to a simple surface to air missile was a malfunctioning weapons guidance system.

A system his father had designed.

End part 5

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