WWII couple 70 years later | TahoeDailyTribune.com

WWII couple 70 years later

Isaac Brambila
ibrambila@tahoedailytribune.com

Every Sunday there was sunshine.

The water would have killed anyone who fell overboard within five minutes of hypothermia. There were sections of the USS Pocatello that were always underwater during that winter of 1943. The freezing atmospheric temperatures coupled with the equally cold sea interfered with radar signals, and the roughly 260 servicemen aboard the ship were only allowed to shower once a week for three minutes.

But every Sunday there was sunshine, Clyde Calonica said.

Funny enough, the day Clyde met Emily Calonica was a Sunday. It was the start of what is soon to be a 70-year marriage.

It happened after Clyde, freshly drafted to the National Guard at 18 years old, spent several months in the Bering Sea aboard the USS Pocatello during World War II.

After months in the freezing sea, the ship arrived in Seattle in 1944.

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"My first liberty was on Sunday, and there was not a place to drink," he said.

It was June, and the only place that served alcohol was at a dance hall by a local park where women and servicemen held picnics. In the later hours of the day, the young soldiers poured into the dance hall accompanied by the young women, who were not allowed into the establishment without a man to escort them.

That Sunday the room was packed.

Emily was not the first woman Clyde spoke to that day, but she was the last.

He came in and started a conversation with a couple of Italian men who were talking to a woman.

She thought they were insulting her and Clyde, who is of Italian decent, told her that they weren't. He told her they said she was the most beautiful girl in the bar.

She danced with him, but luckily for Emily, the music stopped within two minutes, and the young woman briefly lost interest and started a conversation with a friend.

He was standing in the middle of the dance floor and thought, "what the hell, I'm looking like a dumb bell standing here," so he went to the bathroom.

When he came out, Emily was there.

"I was across the great big hall. I looked up and saw him. He stood out," Emily said.

In a rush of confidence, with the next 70 years of her life unfolding in front of her without her knowledge, Emily said to her friend, "see that guy over there?"

"Yeah," her friend said.

"I get the next dance," Emily said.

"You think you're so clever," her friend answered.

"Watch me," Emily said.

When Clyde saw Emily, she was just standing there.

They struck up a conversation, and then they danced. After that day, Emily didn't need an escort to lead her into the dance hall, and every time Clyde left the base, it was to visit Emily.

"She had a good personality. And she picked me out amongst – God, that place was so full of guys, if you got drunk you'd never fall and hit the floor," Clyde said.

In times of war, when many servicemen saw no point in making long-term plans, the couple felt a sense of urgency. By November, they were married.

"If I went some place else we'd probably never see each other again," Clyde said.

Like with Clyde, the destructive power of World War II also put Seattle in Emily's life-path. Originally from Warroad, Minnesota, Emily traveled to Seattle to fulfill a patriotic duty the demands of the war kept men from fulfilling. She worked for Boeing helping to build warplanes. She was a bolter and attached wings to B-29s.

The assembly line was made up of mostly women, Emily said, and at first no one knew what they were doing, but demand forced them to learn quickly.

The end of Emily's patriotic duty came suddenly.

They had the plane hung and she was on one of the wings working on assembly.

"I felt like I had to go to the bathroom, so, luckily, I went," she said.

"I just got in the door and I fainted. Passed right out. When I woke up I was on a bed in the nurse's office. And she said, 'you're through.'"

"I said, 'what do you mean?' And she said, 'you're pregnant."

Had she not felt the need to go to the bathroom, Emily is convinced should would have fallen off the hanging plane and died.

That was 1946, and soon after the couple left Seattle.

They spent several years in Los Banos, Clyde's hometown, before the opportunity to move to South Lake Tahoe presented itself in 1959.

A friend of Clyde's approached him with the idea to look for construction work in Tahoe.

"He said, 'let's go to Tahoe,' and I said, 'where in the hell is Tahoe?'" Clyde said.

Clyde moved to Tahoe in March of 1959, and three months later the rest of the family, by then Emily and three boys, followed.

They built their home on their own.

Clyde worked in the mornings and continued to build the house in the afternoons. While Clyde wasn't there, Emily and the boys also worked. The strength from her working days never faded, and many times she received the building material and prepared things for when Clyde came home.

"The (deliveryman) used to come over and I helped him unload, and he told Clyde, 'you better tell you wife to be careful, she throws that stuff around like it's paper," Emily said.

More than 50 years later, the Calonicas continue to call that house their home, with its walls covered in family photos, art and other creations made by the family. It's like a museum in the middle of the woods displaying the history of their 70-year marriage.

The Calonicas had many different chances to leave South Lake Tahoe, but they never did.

"I don't think there's a better place to live than Tahoe," Emily said.

Clyde and Emily, now 89, plan to live in South Lake Tahoe for the rest of their lives.

Their 70th anniversary is on Nov. 24.

It is not a Sunday, but hopefully, there will be sunshine.

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