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The Postwar Reunion of a Flyboy and His Pinup Girl

August 22, 1986|KAREN LAVIOLA | Karen Laviola.

Another chapter in the continuing saga of a World War II romance unfolded Wednesday when former 96th Fighter Squadron Comdr. Richard Willsie and his "Lightning Lady" girlfriend, Jackie Brundage, met for the first time in 41 years.

It wasn't exactly a Hollywood ending with Willsie's wife, Marilyn, and Jackie Brundage Gardner's husband, Paul, very much a part of the reunion. But when old buddies gather to swap stories, they like a lot of listeners.

Jackie Gardner was the squadron's pinup girl during its tour of duty in Italy during the war. Squadron members chose her picture from 38 submitted by female employees at Lockheed Aircraft's Burbank plant where the P-38 Lightning was built.

The war hero and the pinup girl didn't meet until after the war when Willsie was invited to visit the Lockheed plant. The two dated for several months before Willsie decided his heart belonged to Marilyn.

The 96th Squadron has reunited in the intervening years, but lost track of its pinup girl. Until, that is, Paul Gardner saw a story about the search for his wife in The Times earlier this month.

Now that she's been located, squadron members feel their date with Jackie is long overdue and they'd like her to attend their annual reunion next October in Atlanta.

Willsie, however, beat them to the punch again by inviting the former pinup girl to a quiet dinner Wednesday night. They were accompanied by Marilyn and Paul, of course.

Before dinner Dick Willsie and Jackie Gardner met at the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino Airport to re-enact the photo session that brought them together 41 years ago. The photo will be used to publicize the first national P-38 convention to be held next year in Southern California.

The museum, which is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., houses "the most exotic collection of flyable war birds in the world," said Howard Wilson, the museum's general manager.

All pilots, ground support crews and technical representatives who were involved with P-38s during the war may attend the reunion May 13-17, 1987. For more information write: P-38 National Convention, P.O. Box 727, Sun Valley, Calif. 91353-0727.

Tracking the Ring

While camping with his parents on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Cyril Snyders found a ring. He was 16 at the time.

Now 32, Snyders has decided it is time to look for the owner of the ring--a size 11 sterling silver school ring from Cal Poly bearing the school seal and the date 1901.

Officials at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona determined the ring came from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo between 1947 and 1972. It was probably lost by someone hiking near the Hoh River at the base of Mt. Olympus, south of the town of Forks.

"When you look at it, the whole story comes across in front of your eyes. He was washing a pan and it came right off," said Snyders, who uncovered the ring in a fire pit.

Snyders can be reached at (206) 479-6519 or by writing 148-0 Russel Road, Bremerton, Wash. 98312.

An Answer From Afar

Off the coast of Northern California, Helga Gergens of Long Beach leaned over the railing of her cruise ship and flung a bottle into the ocean. Inside the bottle was a dated post card requesting that the finder write her.

That was two years ago and Gergens, now 15, had almost forgotten her romantic gesture--until she received a letter from Japan the other day.

A little boy, Shigekatsu Takamine of Okinawa, wrote to say he had found the bottle on the beach while fishing with his father. Shigekatsu, who Gergens estimates is 10 or 12 years old, returned the post card, pictures and a map of where he found the bottle, along with a picture of himself and a letter.

"I was moved," he wrote. "A little bottle was swimming all alone from America."

Gergens, who wrote back immediately, said she hopes some day to follow her bottle to Japan to meet her new friend.

Getting the Golden Touch

About 80 high school students from Roosevelt High School and Catholic Charities Youth Organization recently participated in a free enterprise seminar at USC called "The Midas Touch."

TRW and Volunteers of America of Los Angeles sponsored a second conference for about 100 students from several inner-city high schools. Both programs made a point of mixing business with pleasure; the youths spent their days listening to small business entrepreneurs and making plans to set up their own businesses while evenings were filled with dining and dancing.

"We showed them you don't have to have a grandiose plan for a large company," said Jack Boyd, chairman of the committee for the Rotary Club. "You can start small and work hard and your chances are pretty good."

Sylvia Rodriguez, 17, of Sacred Heart High School, said she identified with the speakers, most of whom started out like the students--young, poor and with menial jobs.

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