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November 21, 2003

That was an interesting piece about Willard Andrews and his Army service in this newspaper last week. It brings to mind a "small world" story that you may have read in this column some time ago. It's one of my favorite World War II yarns. During that period, in the 1940s, just after we had dropped the first and second atomic bombs on Japan, I was on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia on special assignment from the official military newspaper, Stars & Stripes. With staff artist Earl Wolf, I was writing feature stories about some of the South Pacific isles that had been bypassed as our U.S. military began the long road to Tokyo and ultimate victory. At the time I was there, Guadalcanal and-other jungle beaches in the area had become service centers for the Army, Navy, Air Force and other elements of our military might. Most of them had been the scenes of ugly, brutal battles between forces of this country and the Empire of Japan, but that time was long past. They were tranquil places by the time we got there. Earl and I were preparing for an early departure back to our 'home office in Honolulu as the war wound down, and the kind of news we were seeking was subordinated by the GI readers because all they wanted to do was go home by then. That's also all they wanted to read about.

On New Caledonia, in case you have not visited there, the only town of any consequence is Noumea. The island itself is a very pleasant place, mild climate and very friendly people. Most of them were and are descendants of French folks who had been deported years ago from their native country for various law violations and shipped off to New Caledonia for stays of varying length. They were European in their manner, their customs and their thought processes. Noumea was a very civilized town. It had one restaurant, a library and a few other civilized, features. (The only "meal" on the restaurant menu was steak and egg.., for breakfast, lunch or dinner.)

One pleasant day in the early autumn, I stood outside Noumea's only hotel, trying to decide my next move. Shortly I heard a voice speaking my name, and I turned to find Willard Andrews, a good old Perry boy, smiling at me from just a few feet away. Thanks to the Army, our paths had crossed at that unlikely juncture when neither of us knew the other was there. We exchanged pleasantries, and I wired a brief story about the incident to this newspaper. Since then Willard and I have reminisced many times about that day, which just may reinforce every "small world" incident you've ever heard.

The mailbag last week also contained a similar happening from a few years later while Perry's Don Stoddard was visiting his cousin, Wayne Stoddard, in Arkansas City, KS. They were about 18 years of age. Don recalls that once when he was spending a weekend there, Wayne said someone had set up a portable skating rink on the north side of Ark City and they decided to check it out. Imagine Don's surprise when it turned out that someone he knew, Bob Kennedy from Perry, operated the rink. Bob was surprised, too, but he let the cousins skate free, and in due time they found some girls to skate with.