I Pedaled Hard for Western Union
Patricia Calvert Collins
In the early 1940's when World War II began, I was 16 and working as a carhop at a drive-in. Before long my brother was sent overseas with the 82nd Airborne Division, and my boyfriend went with the 101st.
Many of my friends were enlisting and I wanted to do my part. So I quit my job and became the only messenger girl for Western Union in Merced, California. My "uniform" was a Western Union cap and my transportation was a "Victory Bike", no frills, thin tired and lightweight.
I still remember how proud and important I felt as I pedaled furiously to deliver telegrams to families whose sons and daughters were in the service.
In many cases the messages was good news. But, other times my heart was heavy as I handed a parent or wife an envelope stamped with a star – the dreaded symbol that meant, “missing or killed in action”.
I recall listing for the train to come into town with soldiers aboard. *I’d zip over to the depot and slowly ride my bike past the open windows, picking up mail they had written along the way. I’d rush to the post office so their mail could get on its way a little sooner.
Even though stateside, I was once “wounded in action”. One stormy night I had a telegram from a service boy who was on his way home and wanted his folks to pick him up at the station early the next morning. I was pedaling as fast as I could to get it delivered.
Suddenly, I heard the sirens that signaled “lights out”. The next thing I knew, I was flying down the road in total darkness. I hit a bump, flipped off my bike and was knocked out.
When I came to I was on a sofa in a strange house. “you all right honey?” asked a sweet woman peering down at me with anxious eyes. I said I was but didn’t know how I got there.
She explained that her husband had been on his way home when he heard the sirens and decided to park the car and walk. Along the way, he tripped over me in the middle of the road! He picked me up and carried me to their home.
That wonderful man had then gone back to get my bike and was in the garage fixing it when I regained consciousness. When the “all clear” sounded, he drove me to deliver the telegram and then took me home. That was a perfect example of the neighborly attitude of the time.
Reflecting back on those days, I miss them so much. We were a nation who cared for one another then, a loving, sacrificing family with one goal in mind – to bring an end to the war and get our fighting men and women safely home once again.
I was proud to do my part by helping people keep in touch with their loved ones.