The Biography of Michael Gessner | Part II
In 1943, I was transferred to Chicago, IL where I received advanced training in jet engines. The course lasted three months, after which I was off to Naval Air Station Terminal Island for further assignment. I was assigned to Consolidated Aircraft factory in San Diego, which schooled and manufactured B24 Bombers (Liberators).
Mike and father Michael
After schooling I was assigned to Patrol Service Unit-10 at Miramar Air Station to maintain and service B24s. Squadron 101 was assigned to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington State Fasron 120, a service and maintenance unit. We serviced and maintained the B24s. They patrolled to Alaska and North Atlantic, then to Russia for patrolling and bomb targeting against enemy forces. I was with Headquarters Squadron Fleet Air Wing Six when the war ended in 1945.
I was transferred to the USS Salamaua (CVE96) Jeep Carrier. We were operating out of Seattle on what they called the Magic Carpet, picking up troops from the different islands in the South Pacific and transporting them back to the United States. It was on the Salamaua that I received news of Nina’s liberation—What a day! She was in San Francisco, and I got permission to leave and go see her. It was a joyous reunion. Our years apart had affirmed that the years to come should be spent together.
I had a wartime marriage that ended in divorce, and Nina had married an American while interned, so that had to be absolved, but in 1947, we were joyfully married in Reno, Nevada.
Mike & Nina
Damaged during the war, the Salamaua was no longer needed in the fleet and was ordered to Bremerton Navy Yard to be scrapped. My next assignment was the USS Shangri-La (CV38), on which we made some interesting cruises. We participated in the first atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, we flew drone planes through the cloud from the atomic blast, and assessed the effects it had on other ships and objects.
I finished my duty on the USS Shangri-La and was transferred to Litchfield Park, Arizona for shore duty. The Base was a storage facility for surplus and preservation for aircraft that may be used in the future.
Nina and I went to Pennsylvania to meet all my family before I reported for duty in Arizona, and they of course fell in love with her as I had so many years ago.
It was while in Arizona we met Bob and Cassie Jackson, who became our dearest and closest friends. What a beautiful couple. We spent so many good times together. Our highlights while in Arizona were traveling to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico for wicker baskets of rum and the time the four of us went to buy our first new cars, the 1950 Oldsmobile 88. The Jackson’s car was yellow and ours was blue. What a joy to own a new car!
1950 Oldsmobile 88
Nina and I lived in Navy housing. Our backyard was the stockyard and water coolers kept us cool, but these were happy times with people we loved. Our community of Navy couples became one big happy family with picnics and parties weekly at the Chief Petty Officer’s Club and Nina enjoyed her job at the Goodyear factory building blimps.
Those joy-filled days made leaving that much harder when our tour of duty in Arizona ended in 1950. It was a sad farewell. I left for duty in Japan. Nina stayed in the states until I settled in to my new duties overseas.
I was assigned to Patrol Squadron Fifty-PBMs seaplanes at Oppama, Japan, a former Japanese Kamikaze Air Base. The planes made patrols and furnished supplies to Korea during the Korean War. I requested Navy housing, and Nina joined me in Japan in 1951. The only available housing, however, was in the Kobe area of southern Japan. For six months, I would visit her every other weekend by train or squadron plane until Army housing opened up in Yokohama. Our beloved friends, Bob and Cassie Jackson, shipped our car to us, and we had much fun learning to drive the Oldsmobile on the left side of the road!
Nina had returned to the same country that held her captive during World War II, but she had no hard feelings toward the Japanese people. She showed nothing but understanding and grace. In fact, in 1953, we adopted our son, Bob, from the Elizabeth Saunders Home in Oiso on the outskirts of Yokohama, an orphanage for biracial children conceived during the war. He was 4-1/2 years old. Bob made our lives complete and even more enjoyable. We left Japan that December on the Transport USS Henderson and arrived in San Francisco at Fort Mason, where I reported to Treasure Island for assignment.
Fort Mason piers in San Francisco
I was assigned to NAS Alameda Security Division as Chief of Police for Security. We bought our first home at 1229 Ottawa Avenue, San Leandro, CA in February 1954, and our life as a family began. Our future was seemingly secure, and we were excited to stay in one spot and raise Bob in a beautiful community.
The following year, we made a trip to Pennsylvania in for a Gessner family reunion, proudly introducing the newest member, Bob.
I was stationed at NAS Alameda until July 1956 where I was to end my Navy career. I applied for a civilian job at NAS Alameda and began my civilian job as an aircraft engineer mechanic. I was laid off by reduction-in-force in 1958, but went quickly to work in security at Oakland Supply Depot until April 1959, when I was rehired at NAS Alameda.
Nina worked for San Leandro School District in the school’s cafeteria and worked her way up to manager. Bob finished high school in 1968, joined the Marines, and was sent to Vietnam.
In May 1969, Nina was diagnosed with lung cancer at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital where she was pronounced terminal. Ever resilient, she wrote a story, Only Shadows Scare Me, about her illness. She finished it in early July and died July 20, 1969.
Bob was sent home from Vietnam to be with his mother and me in those final days. It was a tremendous loss for me, and my love for her still has never dimmed.
Bob, Nina and Mike
Portrait of Nina taken 1939 in China
Shortly after Nina died, Bob left the Marines. His first marriage was short and ended in divorce. He remarried a wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful woman, Barbara Billings, who bore him two sons, Michael and Patrick. Their marriage ended in divorce and Barbara raised those two boys with devotion and love.
During the next five years, I lived alone but would visit my sisters and relatives in Pennsylvania often, and our ties grew stronger. I was blessed to have their love and laughter in my life through the good times and the bad.
In 1973, I met Martha “Marty” Craig, a widow with two grown sons. We were wed in Reno in 1974. Bob and Cassie Jackson, my steadfast best friends, joined us in celebration. Martha renewed my heart, and we started our new life with love, understanding, and happiness.
Marty was working in a factory making beef jerky at the time, and I was still working at NAS Alameda, but we managed to make it to Pennsylvania often for much loved time with family. I retired from Civil Service in 1972 after 38 years of Federal Service and Marty worked until 1975. Officially retired, we were struck with wanderlust, and embarked on many adventures together.
Our trips and cruises took us to Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean – unforgettable trips spent together and several times with our best friends, the Jacksons. Though less exotic, our trips back to Pennsylvania were our fondest. Our life together was thrilling.
Mike & Marty 1976
But tragedy struck once again in 1987 when a lump was discovered in Marty’s breast. She was going to have it removed, but a staph infection developed, and she was admitted to the Navy hospital to recover. While there, she became constipated and her colon burst. She died two days later on September 8, 1987. Another tremendous loss.
After Marty’s death, I made more trips back to Pennsylvania to see my sisters, and when I wasn’t there, they’d visit me. My sisters Christine, Rose, Mary, and Genevieve kept my heart full and my days occupied. My sister, Rose, died in 1991.
Mike and sister Mary
I attend our family reunion every other year. My niece, Arline, and her husband, Ray Chiz, make the arrangements and coordinate schedules to make it a great success. God bless my family.
Mike with sister Mary and nieces Arline and Bonnie and nephew Wayne
My daughter-in-law, Barbara, stays in close contact, and I have seen my grandsons, Michael and Patrick, blossom into fine young men. Michael is now married to lovely Bessie and they are both working diligently on their respective careers in economics and nursing. Patrick is working for an auto auction firm, and I am immensely proud of him as well. My son, Bob, is remarried and drives truck for Consolidated Freightways. He makes long hauls and seems to like it. He is a good man and wonderful son. I couldn’t be prouder.
I always enjoy when nieces and nephews visit. They make my world worthwhile. As the older generations fade and the new generations thrive, my friends are still my friends and our families are closer than ever.
In the twilight of my life, I can recall memories and events as I did on that battleship many moons ago in the Caribbean Sea. It is an honor and privilege to share my love with all of my friends and relatives and to reflect on all the joy-filled times we shared together. It is in these moments that I think about what the future holds for them. I hope and pray for their successes, happiness, health, and love. May their futures be in peace with all the peoples of the world. I hope that they stay close with family, as family has always been the solid rock in my own life. Family, with all its diverse complexities and differences, is an example of what the world can become, which is a more peaceful and happy place to live.