The first time I saw Victoria I’ll never forget. Her big yellow Cadillac was perched at the top of the hill by the Post Chapel at the Presidio of San Francisco. A big American flag streamed from it announcing two remarkable women. Over the years, I’d often see that flag flying in the breeze, always with the same authority. That day, Victoria merged from the car along with her Mom. She walked slowly, a pretty severe case of osteoporosis. Her Mom held to her as they made their way to the chapel, under the canopy and into it. They sat about two thirds back. I would see them every Sunday.
Presidio was what us paratroopers called a “leg” post. Most military types thought getting assigned to the PSF (Presidio of San Francisco) was a dream assignment. Not me. I had arrived dragging my feet. My original assignment was to 7th Special Forces at Fort Bragg. I actually was leaving
my all time favorite assignment, the 82d Airborne Division to take the assignent. I don’t know how it happened that I was now going to PSF. My good friend and boss at the Presidio, a Priest, says he didn’t engineer it but I was skeptical. I was one of the few SF trained chaplains in the Army. It seemed in my own mind, I had sacrificed and taken lots of risks to get Special Forces qualified. It involved a gruelling training regiment, culminating in a jump into the thetchtous Uharrie Forest with an m60 machine gun straped on my back. I was going to Vietnam and it was macho and egotistical and when I got to Vietnam, I got siphoned off to the 101st Airborne. it turned out to be a great assignment not to mention a great ministry. This should have taught me a lesson. Go with it.
I didn’t realize it much then but came to realize later on–these two were the epitome of patriotism. Red, white and blue coursed through their veins. Victoria was always dressed to the “nines” with three ponds always on: an American flay, her WAC
The Post Chapel was the second oldest building on the Presidio, a dynamic historical chapel with these gorgeous flags of units that served at the Presidio hanging from these high cathedral ceilings. Plagues adorned the walls as memorials to the decorated and famous military and the not so famous. It was almost like Victoria and her mother were born for that chapel.
Victoria’s family was military through and through. Her Dad was a military man, retired with the rank of Major. He is shrouded a little in mystery. They served in Hawaii, Utah. He was in WW l. They lived for a long time in Seattle and put down roots and somehow made their way to San Francisco where Victoria became a 4th grade public school teacher. They lived in this really nice apartment on Nob Hill and she and her mother spent their time riding around the Bay Area and hanging out on the Presidio.
The Presideo was a big part of Victoria and her Mom ‘s life. They were a familiar site at almost every single event that went on: the chapel, the club, ceremonies, change of command. Someone said to me one day, “Who is that lady with the other older lady?” People rernembered them because Victoria was beginning to suffer a little more from the osteoporosis and walked slower but always with her Mom on her arm. Must be somebody important. “Of course, I allowed.”
For the vast majority of their lives, Presidio of San Francisco was a hard charging military Post with active duty soldiers and a first rate teaching military hospital. Victoria took it personal when any body had the audacity to call the Presideo a base as opposed to a Post. And, when the “powers that be” decided to close the Presideo, Victoria again took it very personal and never forgave them, whoever “them” might be.
The love of Victoria’s life was her brother Fred. Other than simply a sister worshiping a brother, Fred was pretty remarkable I think. He was in flight training in Southern California, preparing to be one of the Army Air Corp’s finest. Victoria was herself a WAC (Woman’s Army Corp) stationed in Virginia. She was a clerk and waiting her turn to go overseas. It was WW ll. Her Dad was an Artillleryman and was somewhere in the Southwest. All were “ready” for what might come.
This meant going to war. Victoria never figured what might possibly happen. She got the call in the middle of the night and could describe it in intricate details–how the “Charge of Quarters” came to get her. She fell to the floor. Fred had crashed and been killed. It was a training accident. He was on his final check-out flight before he got his wings. Later on he postumously got them. Fred was dead. Victoria could not believe it.
The funeral, the time of grief, all ran together with life. A war raged on in Europe and Japan had attacked us. Fred was dead. Here’s where the story of Fred takes a turn, especially in Victoria’s mind. There was an incident when her mother went to get Fred’s personal items. Someone whispered to her, Victoria thinks maybe the Red Cross; “Fred is the 4th one to die in a similar act. We think maybe sabotage. A German sympathizer is suspected of sabatogimg Fred’s plane and the crash was the direct result of his actions.” It was a blow to Victoria. The details and follow up to such a heinous act disappeared in the mist of war.
Years later Victoria wanted to clear it up. She travelled to LeMoore Field where the “act” occurred and talked to people. She joined the Aces Organization which kept her on the edge of those who had been fellow students of Fred. Had he lived, to her, no doubt he would have been an Ace (pilot that shoots down at least 5 enemy planes). She actually located some who had flown with Fred. Over the course of years, Victoria steeped herself in the history of these comtemporaries of Fred. Along the way, the sabatoge story faded and for Victoria, a kind of nostalgia set in. She could cry and did often when she talked of Fred. Her apartment had pictures of him everywhere–the correspondence concerning his death was stacked around.
After Victoria’s Mom’s death, the actual beginning of our personal involvement with Victoria began. She kind of fell apart, as there was literally no one to help. My wife, Jackie stepped in and took her under her wing (Jackie is an angel) so to speak. I pulled a few strings and got the commander to authorize her continued access to the Presideo and especially the Officer’s Club where they hung out and were fixtures.
Victoria moved into the Sequoias, a retirement center. She continued to be a ubiquitous presence in the Bay Area, developing a cadre of good friends and driving that big old car around. Flag flying. She and Jackie made trips to Europe, numerous ones to Washington, visiting Arlington Cemetary the graves of Mom, Dad, and Fred.
A few weeks ago, Victoria had a heart attack. After her attack and subsequent hospital stay, she returned to the next level down, the Health Center. In the Health Center, Victoria had a small room as she would hope to gain strength and return to her apartment. The room had a nice TV but Victoria decided it was a place for the pictures of her family and mostly of her beloved brother.
Victoria died this morning. Her pictures of her family are still up. God bless Victoria on her journey.