In February 1943, as an 18-year-old Army Air Corps recruit from Indianapolis, I found myself walking guard duty at night on the sands of Miami Beach armed only with a broom stick.
I had been sent to Miami Beach for basic training, where instead of barracks, we lived in hotels on what is now South Beach.
I was assigned to The Franklin Hotel at Ninth and Collins.
Thirteen months later, after some incredible training by the Army Air Corps, which took place at bases around the South, I became a pilot and second lieutenant.
In summer 1944, I was taught to fly the B-17 “Flying Fortress,” a high-altitude four-engine bomber.
In the fall, I was assigned as first pilot on a newly formed 10-man crew. I was 19.
When the war ended in 1945, I returned to the University of Michigan and received a master’s degree in business administration in 1949.
I had taken Spanish language courses in college and had spent two summers living in Mexico City during my college years, so I was ready to “head south” toward South America.
I got as far as Miami before my money ran out. I stayed with a former Sigma Chi fraternity brother at his University of Miami apartment.
While there, I read in the classified section of The Miami Herald that the owner of a two-masted schooner was looking for a passenger to share expenses and duties on his boat during a cruise of the Bahamas.
I convinced him that my work could make up for my lack of funds so he took me on the trip.
Two weeks aboard the yacht in the waters of the Bahamas reinforced my desire to live in South Florida.
I looked up the office of a life insurance company that my parents had dealt with in Indiana — Franklin Life Insurance Company, which had an office in Coral Gables.
It offered me a “job” that had no salary only commission — I became a life insurance salesman, an occupation that would last for more than 50 years.
Now that my career and place of residence were established, I knew that I was ready to ask Doris to become my bride.
Doris, who was living in Michigan, said, “Yes,” and I returned to South Florida to continue my new-found career.
Someone suggested that I should join the Coral Gables Jaycees — the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
What started out as an attempt to meet some people in a community, turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The friendships established in those years have stayed with Doris and me for more than half a century.
Our first home was at 1200 Alhambra Cir. in Coral Gables — a garage apartment. Rent was $60 per month.
On our first month’s anniversary — Nov. 15, 1949 — we were invited to dinner and dancing under the stars at the Coral Gables Country Club.
My new bride was very impressed.
In 1951 we visited a group of homes under construction around a lake that was five blocks west of Coral Gables.
The lake provided the fill for the streets when George Merrick founded Coral Gables.
We have been in that home for 59 years.
Fast forward to 1965 when our son, Van, was 10 and our daughter, Morgan, was 6. Van and I took golf lessons at Colonial Palms golf course while Morgan took horseback riding lessons in “horse country” near Sunset Drive and 127th Avenue.
For each, those interests turned out to be their life’s work.
Van is a professional caddie on the PGA Tour and Morgan founded and operates a horse rescue charity.
When we first took up residence in the Miami area, Doris had a job with Southern Bell.
After a year, she worked as a second-grade teacher at Hialeah Elementary School.
When our children were born, she stayed at home until 1982 when she authored the family history of the Fuchs family, founders of the Holsum Bakery.
That led her to be invited by Dr. Edward Norton to visit the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, where she was hired as archivist.
Twenty years in that position provided Doris with valuable friendships and a sense of accomplishment. And that is how I would describe our life in South Florida.