IT WAS MAY OF 1957 and I had gone into town to pick up my date. She was still a senior in high school then, and was at a school club meeting. I was invited to come in and wait for her. There was a man inside, sitting on the sofa watching TV. He told me his daughter was with Grace, so we watched TV together.
There was a WWII documentary playing, and it showed a tank firing.
“Sherman tank,” I said authoritatively I wasn’t in armor…but I WAS in the army, and needed to let this civilian know that.
“That’s a Grant tank,” the man said.
“Grant,” this upstart civilian insisted.
“I’m in the army, and I’ve never even heard of a Grant tank,” I said. “I’m telling you, that is a Sherman Tank.”
“The Grant was an earlier model….the M-3. The Sherman was an M-4.” He smiled. “And I’m in the army too.” He was considerably older than I was, so I assumed he was a sergeant.
“Oh. Well, Sarge, I apologize for arguing with you. I guess you know what you are talking about then. Were you in tanks during the war?”
“Yes. I commanded an M-3 Tank battalion.”
“You commanded a tank battalion?” I asked in surprise. “Who are you?”
“I’m General Cairns. You’re here to pick up Grace?”
“Yes, sir.”
“My daughter Patty is a good friend of hers. What’s your name?”
“Dick Vau . . . uh . . . PFC Vaughan.”
Thankfully the front door opened then and Grace and Patty came in.
“Oh, Dick, I’m sorry you had to wait for me,” Grace said. “Did you have to wait long?”
General Cairns chuckled. “Just long enough to learn the difference between a Grant and a Sherman tank, right Dick?”
Wow. A general called me by my first name.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, sheepishly.
I got to know Patty pretty well after that, seeing her often with Grace.
Then, in December of 1958, General Cairns was killed when his H-13 helicopter developed carburetor ice and crashed, almost immediately after takeoff. I had not run into him, personally, again after that single encounter, but I did know Patty, and I felt a personal loss, and a great sadness.

As an addendum to this story, a couple of weeks ago a writing friend came down to the beach and invited me to have lunch with him at one of the local Golf Clubs. When I arrived he introduced me to Mike, his golfing partner for the day. Mike was a former jet fighter pilot, who now flies for FedX.
We talked flying for a while, and knowing that my aviation background was army, he asked me if I knew Cairns Army Airfield at Ft. Rucker.
“Yes, I know it. I remember when it was Ozark Army Airfield.” (I didn’t tell him, but should have, that Ozark Army Airfield was where the movie 12 O’clock High was filmed.) “It was named after General Cairns because he was the CG of Ft. Rucker when he was killed. I remember that vividly.”
“My mother is General Cairns’ daughter,” he said.
“Patty is your mother?”
Mike’s eyes grew large. “You know my mother?”
“I knew her,” I said, a flood of memories coming back to me.
I’m happy to say that I have subsequently heard from Patty . . . a brief touch with my past.

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