Veterans Air Express first hostess. Found “Treasure!”

Veterans Air Express first hostess, Marilyn Gries.

Marilyn & Robert Gries. Both a part of Veterans Air Express in 1945. She, now, a new friend of the air line founder's daughter.

Marilyn & Bob Gries. How I love this photo — given to me personally by Marilyn. Dear Reader, you have no idea how much this touches me.

“Gaye?  This is Marilyn Gries.”

My heart stopped.  “Marilyn!  Oh! my!”  That’s all I could say.  I was choked up with emotion.

“Yes. Cindy gave me your message.”

“Marilyn, I know who you are.  I’m just so excited to hear from you.  I’m trying to get a hold of myself.”  Laughter.  And puzzlement.  “Marilyn, was your husband the Robert Gries with Veterans Air Express in 1945?

“Oh, yes!  Veterans Air Express.  He certainly was. Your name sounds familiar.”

Later in the conversation, Marilyn Gries said again, “Your name sounds familiar.”  When I told her one of the Veterans DC-3’s was named after me, she thought maybe that was the connection.

Tuesday.  Two days earlier.

The librarians at the New Mexico State University thought I was moving in.  I arrived Tuesday with a shopping bag stuffed with two buoyant black pillows, a briefcase and bag of Famous Amos cookies leftover from my visit the week before.

The library allows me to use their subscription to Ancestry.com.  I often pan gold from its records in my search for the Veterans Air founders.  But Tuesday I got unsuccessfully stuck on Robert Terwilliger – a name so unusual that I expected an easier time of it.

I needed a break and switched back to Robert F. Gries. His military records were encouraging:

  • Branch: Air Corps
  • Place of Enlistment: Newark
  • Year of Birth:  1921
  • Nativity (that means where he was born):  New Jersey

You may not think that was much to go on — but your name is not Gaye Lyn Gravely!  That “Air Corps” designation pushed me to the edge of my pillowed-seat.

My heart stopped.  As written, this August 2014 obituary was saying Marilyn Gries still lived in that same town!

The search line from there wiggled & squiggled…and, as often happens, brought me to an Obituary.  Howard P. Gries was described as “…devoted son of Marilyn Gries…and the late Robert Gries…” Could it be the same Robert Gries who, I believed, was part of Veterans Air Express???  Marilyn’s town was given as the same town where I already knew the man I believed to be part of Veterans Air had passed away.  My heart stopped.  As written, this August 2014 obituary was saying Marilyn Gries still lived in that same town!

(If you followed that last paragraph, good on you!  Convoluted as it is, I wanted to give you a sense of how this research “goes.”)

The place of residence for Howard’s wife, was given.  And so I tracked down her phone number (I have my ways!!!).  I felt leaving a message for their daughter-in-law might be the more gentle way of contacting Marilyn. That was Tuesday.

Thursday evening I got the call.

And for 30 minutes, Marilyn Gries regaled me with stories of her husband and the other men at Veterans.  And, in between, she was very interested in my findings to date.

Now…back to my headline…and the best part of Marilyn’s story!

Veterans Air Express first “hostess.”

Very early on Saturday and Sunday mornings “in season,” I would go to the airport with Bob and be hostess to the passengers flying from Newark to Miami.  I would greet and seat them.  It was great fun.

“So, did they get you a uniform?” I asked.

“No, and I didn’t go on the flights.  I’d greet and seat the passengers.  Get them comfortable.  The aircraft was still set up Army style, so seats were against the side and passengers sat facing each other across the center aisle.”

Bob Gries was trained as a navigator in the Army Air Corp.  He flew 33 missions in World War II with the 392nd Bomb Group.  And he flew as Navigator for Veterans Air Express.  But Marilyn says he was so good with figures and management that he spent much more of his time performing those duties for Veterans Air.

I will continue Bob’s story soon…and link you to it.  [Link added…click here.]  But for now, this is Marilyn’s story.  A huge hug from me to you, Marilyn, and to Cindy for listening to another of my “out of the blue” phone messages and contacting her mother-in-law for me.  Marilyn, you are my greatest found treasure!!!

UPDATE:  Photo of Marilyn & Bob posted today (8/30/2015) was obtained during my visit with Marilyn Gries in Florida earlier this month.


 

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Then & There…

A RECOMMENDED READ and irreplaceable for me: "Memories of the Jing Bao & Beyond," Authors Choice Press, 2001. Written by our own JACK Z. STETTNER - Veterans Air Express Co-Founder, Investor, Pilot and Operations Manager. As well as his considerable WWII experiences, Jack's book revealed new details about Veterans Air Express...plus the spirit and character of this organization that Jack obviously loved!