World War II

A San Francisco bus ride

... USO connections from the Mirror to San Francisco

from AnnMarie Patterson

This story is from a reader who stumbled onto an article written in the March 1999 Mirror by Bernadette Mahoney titled "The Home Front--and the USO". Bernadette's original story has several wonderful photos from the era.

I got on the bus in San Francisco, California and sat down behind the driver. I had just had my 30th birthday, so I was about the same age as my mother was during WWII. A man of about my mother's age was sitting across from me. A look of  growing astonishment lit up his face. After no more than 5 seconds he said, rather loudly, "MaryAlice!!"

Mother taught me never to be rude. And here in front of me is a man calling my Mother’s name. How odd. Well, what’s the harm? "No. Not Mom."

"Well, you look just like her", he said. I thought he was nuts,  My mother was extremely attractive but I favored my Dad’s looks---a bit more Irish and a lot less glamorous. But I was powerfully curious about this man. "So you know her?"

"MaryAlice Hurley. Boston USO Buddies Club." He paused and smiled, looking off in the distance as if he were re-living a wonderful moment in life.

Mentally, I was on the floor; a TKO by a man I’d never met before. “Ahhhhhh.yes. Mom spoke of it often.” She was quietly proud of her war service which included work as a civilian QuarterMaster secretary, private secretary to a tire manufacturer, and the Buddies Club.

"I went through Boston four times during the war and each time I went to the Buddies Club. The last three times were to lay eyes on MaryAlice." He paused again and smiled even more broadly. "Know her? Not really. But I will never forget her".

It was my turn to smile. As I was growing up I had gradually realized that Mom had that ‘unforgetable’ effect on people.

"So how is MaryAlice?", he asked. I rapidly examined my conscience. Telling this fellow that Mom had died would simply ruin his day.

"Well, after the war she had four kids and a great husband. And bought a house in Florida, out of the snow."

"GOOD!" he said, "she deserves all the good stuff she can get. Y'now, she didn't know it but she kept me alive in a foxhole during The Bulge." "May I tell her that, now?" "Sure. My name's Al McCarthy."

"Mr McCarthy, I have to get off the bus, now. But I will tell her. You can be sure of that."

For the rest of the day I thought about Mom and her USO Buddies Club. How astounding to be confronted by a fellow that knew her thirty five years ago!! How flabbergasting to think that a young man’s experience in Boston with the USO would have such a lasting impact that the old man would feel compelled to talk with a stranger on a bus in San Francisco.

It was about two years until I got back East and went to the cemetery, but I kept my word and told Mom about Mr. McCarthy. I'm pretty sure that she smiled ... and cried despite the smile.

Now, as I write this account for the benefit of posterity, I have loaded a photo of my Mom into my computer’s screensaver.

And I googled “USO Buddies Club” to see what I could find. (It was as if Mom was insisting that I do it.) The very first item that came up was a postcard illustration of the Boston Buddies Club. I snatched it up and it will be in my family album by next week.

God and the Universe work their miracles in mysterious ways.

Thank you for your story. Thank you.

(AnnMarie Patterson)

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