BACK STORY: Giving Thanks to Those Who Sacrificed

Writing the November column, my theme for the month could naturally have centered on either Veteran’s Day or Thanksgiving. It makes sense. However, in the process I once again learned ­— it’s a small world.

During an interview with local fun person Paula Craig (Sunset ’56), she shared her terrific memories about armed services personnel in Oak Cliff. The Craigs were one of the many American families who “adopted” soldiers, sailors, and Marines during World War II, providing comfort, emotional support and a home-cooked dinner. According to Ms. Paula (her Montessori “teacher name” for two generations of Oak Cliff folks), those on the homefront would drive to Commerce Street in downtown Dallas, approaching servicemen to extend an invitation for dinner and possibly some entertainment — listening to the radio or playing croquet in the back yard.

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During the war, because the Brits were being hammered so brutally by the Germans, the Royal Air Force sent many of its student pilots and trainers to the States for training.  The first of these facilities, the No. 1 British Flying Training School, was in Terrell. But on the weekends the flyboys often rode the train or bus to Big D, looking for fun. A fortunate group of these guys found a home-away-from-home with the Craigs.

“Many times we’d be around the house,” Craig says, “and suddenly, from the front door we’d hear, ‘Anybody wanna go to the zoo?’ That was the code phrase.”

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The Brits were in town.

The boys were so fond of little Paula that they gifted her with a RAF patch, one Mrs. Craig sewed on the sleeve of Paula’s dance costume — a miniature U.S. Army uniform.  Between the ages of 4 and 7, the little dancer wore the costume when she performed at war bond rallies. Sadly, of the 55 pilots hosted by the Craigs, only two survived the war: one Brit and one Scotsman, Jimmie Dunn, who corresponded with the family and even came to Martha and Paul Craig’s 60th wedding anniversary celebration.
Sifting through her vintage photo album, one of the images caught my eye: a photograph showing the Craigs’ Elmwood home at 1420 Brunner.
“Did you sell your house to the Couches?” I asked.

They had.

Bill (Sunset ’33) and Elizabeth Couch married and then raised their family in Oak Cliff, celebrating Thanksgiving each year at the home until Elizabeth sold it in 1993. My high school boyfriend attended Sunset, and one of the Couch sons, Jim (’65), was his friend. I spent many hours at this house, playing games and hanging out, sometimes using it as a meeting place before venturing out to other destinations. Jim was in my wedding, as were his twin sisters, Betty and Nancy (’67). I even had a date with older brother, Don (’62).

Like I said, it’s a small world.

As a historian and writer, and in my daily life as well, I continually find this adage to be true. Now, with modern transportation and communication, along with 24-hour cable news, the world does seem to be getting smaller.

Thanksgiving follows Veteran’s Day. It’s fitting.  We owe such a significant debt of gratitude to all those who’ve served our country in the United States military — our life of freedom, a gift granted by the sacrifices of others. We should be thankful.

Now, as I frequently drive by the I-35 E giraffe stature, I think about those British pilots arriving in town with their “zoo” announcement. If the flyboys were still with us, perhaps they would have seen the story of that statue — designed to be the tallest in Texas — on 24-hour cable news.

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  • I remember Jimmy Couch. He was in my class at M.B. Henderson. I have a picture of our class on the steps of the school.
    Pat Bates

  • Great article, Gayla. Those were different times when you invited total strangers into your home and never gave it a thought. Jim Couch–now there’s a name from my past!

  • My dad and Bill Couch remained best friends from Sunset on. The families had a party when Bill and Judge realized that they had been friends for 50 years. I guess we are a bit too young to know that Brunner house belonged to the Craig’s first.

  • Thank you Gayla for the tribute to all who paid the price to keep liberty’s flame burning brightly. Not so much in vogue any more.

  • What a blessing to hear such wonderful stories about my hometown, Oak Cliff…especially coming from my precious Sister-in-Law, Gayla. Gayla has a unique gift with words. Her words take me back to my growing up years in Oak Cliff. Please keep those stories coming.

  • Good story. One addition, the flyboys also could have ridden the Interurban which ran from Terrell in those days!

  • Great story.
    Jimmy Couch and I were in the same class at Henderson from 2nd – 6th grades. I have a somewhat fuzzy, but recognizable picture of him at our 6th grade “formal” dance in the gym.

  • Terrific story Gayla! I don’t think any of our generation will ever forget. With your stories, I think the “now” generation will remember as well.

  • Good job, Gayla. You always seem to find that personal story that really interests us. Thanks, Vicki

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