My Miami story began on March 24, 1944, when my father’s B-24 Flying Liberator, the “Thunder Bay Babe,” was shot down while on a mission to bomb the railroad marshaling yards at Steyr, Austria. Flak hit one of the bombs over Mostar and the plane exploded. Out of a crew of 10, my father was one of the four survivors.
He was captured by the Germans and interned at Stalag 17-B in Krems, Austria. In April 1945, he was liberated by advance units of General George Patton’s Third Army. After 13 months of captivity he was sent to Miami Beach to regain his health.
My mother had moved to Miami Beach in 1944 to recover her health after a battle with rheumatic fever. She was working as a telephone operator when she met my father on a blind date. Six weeks later, on Oct. 18, 1945, they were married at St. Patrick’s Church in Miami Beach by Father Francis Dunleavy.
They moved to a small cottage in Coconut Grove across the street from the fire station. My father worked for Burdines, Morgan Pianos on Biscayne Boulevard, Truly Nolan and then Eastern Airlines. My parents moved to Hialeah, to a small flat-roof house by the race track. My dad’s supervisor at Eastern Airlines wrote a letter to the phone company asking if they could install a phone line to my parent’s neighborhood. My dad was a flight attendant and his supervisor needed to reach him by phone.
My father had served as an altar boy in his youth and was very familiar with Latin. During his time as a POW, he studied foreign languages and became fluent in German, French and Spanish. Capt Eddie Rickenbacker, the president of Eastern Airlines, heard about this young flight attendant who spoke fluent Spanish and made sure my dad was part of the flight crew that accompanied him on his tour of South America. My dad also served as an interpreter.
My maternal grandmother, Gladys Long, moved to Miami in the late 1940s. She lived in an apartment at 1706 Salzedo in Coral Gables and later an apartment at 510 Valencia, also in Coral Gables. Later she would buy a small house at 3651 SW 13th St.
She got a job with the Dade County Building Department and worked on the 15th floor of the old courthouse. The Dade County Jail occupied the upper floors of the courthouse.
My father taught me how to drive a stick-shift car in the Woodlawn Cemetery. He said we could not hurt anyone there.
I was born Oct. 11, 1951 and my parents Jack and Valerie Newman adopted me through the Catholic Charities Bureau.
My mother, an only child, depended on my pediatrician, Dr. Wesley Nook, for advice on how to raise me.
I recently attended Dr. Nook’s funeral at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove. He was 100 years old.
The first house I remember living in was at Oak Avenue in Coconut Grove. I went to kindergarten in an old stone building in Peacock Park. I walked to Coconut Grove Elementary School to attend the first grade. I remember going to Liles Pharmacy, the Florida Pharmacy in the Engle Building and best of all, the Krest Five & Ten store next to the elementary school.
In the late 1950s my father got a new job as a traveling salesman for Northan Warren Co., selling nail care products and cosmetics to women.
We moved to a new house at 8770 Caribbean Boulevard in Whispering Pines. This was our first house with central air conditioning! I rode my bike with friends to Perrine Elementary School.