On a cold, windy, rainy Himalayan ridge in 1945, Bob betrayed his heart and did something he now regrets. But his is not just a story of loss. It is a story of a great love, and how a bundle of letters was traded in for 64 years of happiness.
Bob, a radio operator in the Air Force, was flying The Hump — the name given by Allied pilots in WWII to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. Crews flew from India to China to resupply the forces based there.
The journey was always a risky one. And this time the crew’s luck ran out. As the plane was going down, all the Lindale native could think of was to save a stack of 26 unread letters sent to him by his sweetheart Jewel Edwards.
“I just stuffed them down in my coveralls and we bailed,” Bob said. “It was so cold. And it started to get dark up on the mountain.”
Jewel had sent the letters to Bob while he was stationed in France. The bundle finally reached him a few weeks later in India — just at flight time. So there was a stack of them and he hadn’t even had a chance to read them yet.
“After dark, another crewmember and I shivered as our attempts to light a fire failed,” Bob remembered “As we became more desperate, I decided to burn the letters to dry and kindle the wood. It worked.”
Although destroying the letters was his only option and it kept him and his crew warm that night, Bob never forgave himself for burning them. Even now, following Jewel’s passing two years ago, he said he continues to live with the guilt and shame of his actions that night.
But there is another side to this story.
It begins in 1944 in Lindale. A 21-year-old man is on furlough from Air Force radio school and meets a beautiful girl and falls in love.
“She was 17 and oh so sweet and pretty,” Bob recalled with a smile. “We married in January 1947.”
The couple had two biological children and adopted a daughter. They also fostered several children over a period of six years.
“I worked at GE and she raised the children,” Bob said. “She got her nurse’s degree but opted against a career and applied her skills with the family and volunteer work in the community.”
Bob said he fell more and more in love with Jewel as the years passed and her kind, compassionate nature became even more apparent.
She served as a teacher and worker at their church — Pleasant Valley North Baptist.
“Her greatest joy was to serve as a community missionary and minister to the sick and homebound,” Bob remembered. “A great focus of her life was to help those who were less fortunate and to bind up the brokenhearted. She was kind to people and to little animals.”
The couple made a home and family together for over 60 years — years Bob treasures now that Jewel has passed away. And while he says he misses her every single day, particularly during the holidays, he has beautiful memories of their lives together.
It still brings tears to his eyes when he remembers burning the letters on the mountain that night and telling Jewel about it later. But a part of him has come to terms with it.
“When I was overseas she wrote me everyday. And she waited for me. She waited for me all that time,” Bob said, emotion blanketing his every word. “I still feel very guilty about what I had to do. But since she died I have come to feel that her love that warmed me that night on the Himalayan ridge was the same that endured and blessed me for another 64 years.”