A Baggage Car in Phoenix

Prologue: In early May, 1943, a twenty-year old woman was traveling from San Francisco back to her pre-war home in Houston. As the train stopped in Phoenix, she disembarked and while strolling along the platform she came upon the baggage car with its wide door fully open. Inside she saw the flag draped casket of Seaman First Class James Savage, USN. Even though she knew it was aboard, seeing it was a jolt. This pregnant gal was accompanying the body of her husband for burial. Her name was Madlyn Savage. She was my Mom.

Before the war, Madlyn met Malcolm Cummings in Sunday school. They were an item, but when he went to the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), and probably as a result of miscommunication, she moved on, and relocated from Houston to Los Angeles where she worked at the Western Union office in The Ambassador Hotel. While in California, she met James Savage. She called him Jimmy, his family called him Gino. He was a man who looked at the bright side of life, and the age of twenty-seven, he died in a San Francisco hospital from pneumonia he contracted while standing watch in inclement weather. A little over six months later his son, James Scott Savage was born. He went by his middle name.

After Jimmy’s death, Malcom continually wrote to Madlyn. Their relationship was re-established and in April, 1945, Madlyn and Malcolm married. He loved Scott as his own and adopted him, giving him the name Cummings. Scott was smart and witty and was accepted into USMMA. After graduation, like my Dad, he held a naval reserve commission and sailed as a merchant marine officer for over thirty years, the last several years as Master, “unlimited tonnage, any oceans”. As a seafarer, he was the best of the best, and was honored by the academy’s alumni association with its Silver Mariner award in 2005.

Malcolm and Madlyn had five other children, three sons and two daughters. One daughter lived only one precious day before passing away, and the next and last baby was born when Madlyn and Malcolm were thirty-eight years of age. That’s me.

My Dad was an observer of all things serendipitous, so his hand is on mine as I write this: Five weeks after turning eighteen, I enlisted. In the month of May. In the United States Navy. And as luck would have it, in Phoenix…I took the oath blocks away from where thirty-five years and two weeks earlier my Mom had considered her future while standing on the train station platform taking in the reality of the flag covering her sailor.

And now, knowing what I know, I affirm the “greatest generation” included the wives, the widows at home as well.

Lest we forget them.

Epilogue: In November 1991, Madlyn passed away at age sixty-nine; in February 2009, Malcolm passed away at age eighty-seven; in September 2020, Scott passed away at age seventy-six. From beginning to end, Savage/Cummings men sailed on U.S. flagged vessels over a span of more than fifty years, and Madlyn was there except the last four years.

Jimmy and Madlyn are buried a few feet apart in a Houston area cemetery.

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