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BOOK EXCERPT

"While in France our third and fourth children were born. For the birth of our fourth child I was sent to a larger hospital. The following excerpt from The Fighter Pilot's Wife describes my homecoming and reunion with Joe, my husband, and the heart-stopping events that followed." GG

From Chapter Seventeen: "St. Gobain"

Gathering up the diaper bag, Baby Daniel and my purse, I left the plane and walked into the boarding lounge where Joe was standing, smiling. He came toward me, grinning broadly, his arms outstretched. He took the baby from me, and holding Daniel in one arm, he put the other arm around me and pulled me close to him.

"I'm really glad to see you, Toots," he said softly. We stood holding each other, our little son between us. Then Joe took us out to the car.

We hugged again, and I murmured, “I’m so happy to be with you again!”

He held the baby and helped me into the car, and then gently handed the tiny bundle to me. I was so glad, so relieved to be back.

When we arrived home, Joey and John ran out to meet us. We went inside to the living room, and I sat on the couch, holding Daniel for his brothers to see. Monique brought Lesley in, who was just beginning to walk by herself. She ran on her tiptoes over to me, and I showed her little brother Daniel to her. She touched his little feet, his hands, and tried to pat his head. Joe and I told the three children how Daniel must be treated very gently. Monique stood nearby, smiling.

“Oh, Daniel, what a nice boy.” She took him under her wing at that moment just as she had taken Lesley fourteen months before.

Monique had placed flowers all over the house. Connie Page from next door came over bringing food, and stayed for a moment to admire our new little son.

“He is so sweet, Gil!” she exclaimed. “I think he looks like you!” I was pleased by her words. Our other children had a very strong resemblance to their father. It was nice to hear that one of the four might look a little like me. I put the baby down in his bassinet and Joe escorted me into the bedroom to rest. I was very, very tired. And I was very, very happy.

A few weeks later, Joe was away on an overnight training mission. I was in the kitchen warming the baby’s bottle, when the doorbell rang. Monique went to answer it. She came to the kitchen and said, “Madame, Il y a deux père à la porte.”

“Madame, there are two priests at the door.”

From Chapter Eighteen: "Au Revoir "

My heart was pounding as I walked slowly out of the kitchen toward the front door. A dozen memories flashed through my mind: Pat Petersen being escorted into the chapel at Komaki, pale, and all in black; Billye Jenkins turning to me in the living room of her house and crying out in anguish, “Gil. . .Bob!”; Mary Willerford traveling across the country with her three small children, alone, a widow at age 25; Claire Pribble looking out the kitchen window of her home at Cherry Point and seeing that column of black smoke. By the time I got to the door I was shaking. I saw Father O’Neil, the base chaplain, standing there with a visiting priest at his side.

“Hi, Gil. We’re looking for the Page's house. We’re invited there for dinner.”

I felt my knees go weak as I leaned against the wall. “Oh, Father,” I murmured, and slid to the floor.

“Oh, my God, her husband’s a pilot!” Father O’Neil exclaimed. “I’m so sorry, Gil. I forgot. I’m so very sorry!”

The two of them helped me to my feet. Attempting to regain my composure, I pointed out the Page's house next door, and assured them that I was all right. Still apologizing, they turned to leave. I returned to the kitchen, where Monique had poured me a cup of tea. Without saying anything, I sat down at the table, and, my hand trembling, I took the cup from her. She didn’t say a word, but bent to kiss me on the forehead. She took the warmed baby bottle and went to the baby’s room to feed Daniel. I sat there for a few minutes, staring out the window.

“I can’t let this get to me,” I thought. I knew that if I dwelled on it and let myself think about all the dangers and all the possibilities I would fall apart. I had learned how not to imagine an airplane disaster happening to us. I had no plan for such an event, because I just didn’t let myself think about it. I had almost convinced myself that Joe was as invincible as he believed himself to be. Father O’Neil's mistake was nothing more. . .just a mistake, I told myself. I wasn’t going to tell Joe about it when he returned from his flight the next day. But when he got home that evening he told me that Father O’Neil had gone to see him right after he landed that day. Father told him what had happened, and apologized profusely for the scare they had given me.

I’ve never forgotten that cold fear that I felt that day as I walked from the kitchen to the front door of our house in St. Gobain, France.

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