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Liz Ciancone

June 26, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: Memories sparked by find of old letters

My Best Friend had a pleasant surprise the other day. Forwarded from the Tribune-Star was an e-mail from the granddaughter of one of his special friends. Marvin Eilts had served with my BF in the Aviation Cadet Program during “the big war.”

Marvin, a farm boy from Lemont, Ill., barely made it into the program. It wasn’t because he couldn’t handle it intellectually, it was because he was about nine years older than most of the boys/men in the flight and the age limit was 18 to 27 years. Marvin was 26 1/2. Maybe that made him more determined, or maybe it was because of his greater life experience, but he was an achiever.

Marvin and my BF entered basic training together at Jefferson Barracks south of St. Louis, and remained together through the college training portion of the program at the University of Arkansas and on into pre-flight training. After that they lost touch until 1997.

It was then that my BF began to remember how Marvin mentored the younger boys, so we looked him up on Internet and found he was still on the family farm. We sent a letter and, in response, got a letter from his daughter. Marvin had died only a few weeks prior to our letter and his widow was too upset to respond, so his daughter did. We wrote to thank her and my BF shared some of his memories of time spent with her father.

Marvin was not only older, he was the tallest man in the flight, so he drew the duty of carrying the guidon during parades. Every time he dipped the guidon to salute the flag at the reviewing stand, the pole bruised his rib cage. He would console himself by going back to the barracks, plugging in his portable record player and listening — over and over and over — to Coleman Hawkins’ recording of “Body and Soul.”

Maybe it was a result of walking the farm, but Marvin bounced when he walked. The military disapproves of bouncing when you march, so he drew a lot of flak from the drill sergeant, and maybe a few gigs.

Marvin and my BF were assigned to the same bunk — Marvin the top bunk and my BF the lower. To keep it fair, they switched now and then.

By the time he entered the Aviation Cadet Program, Marvin was married, so maybe he had more incentive to win the war and get home. He did brilliantly at the college course work, but he wanted to get back to the farm, so he did.

His granddaughter wrote that she found our letters while visiting her mother. She was young when “Pa” died so was pleased to have memories of her grandfather. She said she looked up the Coleman Hawkins’ record and thought it was pretty good stuff.

Marvin did well. His family meant everything to him and he, obviously, meant very much to the family.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to


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