The adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression” may be true, but luckily for George Peabody, a beautiful brunette named Mildred Baker gave him a second chance.
The two met on a blind date in May 1941. A co-worker had pestered Mildred to meet George. “She asked me a couple times, but I refused at first,” recalled Mildred.
Finally, she agreed. Since the outing was a picnic, she splurged and bought new white sandals for the occasion.
Mildred and George hit it off and were having a lovely time until he offered to carry her across a creek so she wouldn’t damage her pretty new shoes. “He picked me up and dumped me in the creek!” she said. “I lost my white sandals! I’d saved and saved to buy them. I finally found one – just one.”
George, a 24-year-old soldier stationed at Fort George Wright, was mortified. He tried to placate Mildred, 18, to no avail. “I got so mad at him I wouldn’t even speak to him.”
He called her home repeatedly, but her mother would answer and say, “No. I’m sorry. Mildred is not speaking to you.”
But he refused to give up. He’d honed that persistence while pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot.
While still a student at Helena High School, George got his first taste of flight and was hooked. He was a student in the aeronautics division of the vocational education department. He saved his paper route money to take lessons and earned his solo license.
After graduation, he went to work for Boeing in Seattle. But after almost two years there, he was no closer to his dream of flying. “I got real tired of punching rivets for 62 cents an hour,” he said.
He decided the Army Air Force might just be his ticket and enlisted on Oct. 30, 1940, and was eventually sent to Fort George Wright.
That love of flying proved to be the key to getting Mildred to go on another date. “I loved airplanes!” she said. “I went up on my first flight when I was 5.”
George had earned his private pilot’s license and when he offered to take her on a flight, she finally agreed to see him again.
That second chance was all he needed. Soon the couple planned a Christmas wedding. While Mildred made wedding plans, George was sent to Illinois for a mechanics course.
As soon as he completed it, he and a buddy drove to Helena to visit his parents. On Dec. 8, they were stopped by a Montana State trooper. “He told us we were at war,” George recalled. “It was the first we’d heard of it. We had no idea what to do.”
He immediately called Mildred and told her to come to Helena, which she did. They were married the next day.
“I always remember my anniversary,” George said. “It’s Pearl Harbor Day plus two.”
They enjoyed a brief month together before he was ordered to report to California for flight training. “I never did get a honeymoon,” Mildred said.
His joy at learning he’d finally be a pilot was tempered by the sadness of being parted from his wife. As soon as he could, he sent for her to join him.
George grinned when he recalled his training aircraft – a Ryan PT-22. “It’s the same plane that Harrison Ford crashed on that golf course the other day!” he said.
By July 1942, he’d received his wings and his commission and was assigned to the 34th Bombardment Group. To celebrate he took Mildred up in a small open-cockpit plane. Showing off a bit, he did loops and rolls, trying to make her sick.
“I never did get sick,” she said. “But oh, I was mad at him!”
He and his crew were assigned a brand new B-17 that they christened “Junior.” They received orders to report to North Africa. With Mildred’s name painted on the No. 2 engine, they set off. Knowing his wife was expecting their first child made the parting even more wrenching. Nine months would pass before he’d see her again.
In March 1943 another crew had engine trouble so they took Junior out on a mission. George shrugged, “They got shot up and caught on fire. The wing broke and fell off.”
Four of the crew survived the crash and were incarcerated as POWs for the reminder of the war. George was given a new plane, the “Holey Joe.”
In April he got the news he’d been waiting for – he was a father. Mildred had given birth to George Jr. on March 26, 1943.
His wife and son were on his mind on Mother’s Day as he and his crew set off on a mission. Things didn’t go well.
“I heard a big bang. The airplane started shaking so violently I couldn’t read the instruments.”
Shrapnel had sliced the oil tank. “The prop came off and I couldn’t feather engine,” George recalled.
He was able to stabilize the plane enough to drop their payload, then he turned and headed for base. They came under fire and flak lacerated engines 1 and 4. He was down two engines with a third one struggling. As he flew across the Mediterranean he told his crew to jettison anything that wasn’t nailed down. “We flew lower and lower. There was no way we could make it to base so we landed in a grain field.”
For his “courage, resourcefulness and unfailing devotion to duty,” George was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After flying 50 missions, in November 1943, he finally returned to Helena, to his wife and the son he’d never met.
A daughter, LaVona, completed the family in 1947. George served as an instructor pilot until 1960. When he retired from the service he took a job with the FAA.
Mildred enjoyed their frequent moves. “We learned to ski while in Germany and continued to ski when we lived in Colorado and when we moved back to Spokane,” she said.
George, 97, and Mildred, 93, will celebrate their 74th anniversary in December. Sadly, both of their children have died.
When asked the secret to their long marriage, George shrugged. “We both got cement shoes,” he said. “We stayed in the same spot!”
Mildred’s glad she gave him that second chance, but she said, “We still have our problems. It’s just give and take.”
Then she turned to her husband and smiled. “We’re together all the time. It’s a habit, now.”
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