Flame rekindled after 63 years
August 19, 2002
Life began anew for 81-year-old Bev Smith in February when he married his high school sweetheart, Jean. They’d been apart for 63 years.
“We went together for about 18 months,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “She was 16 and I was 17. Then we split up. I don’t remember why, but we went our separate ways. I married and so did she.”
Smith spoke from the breakroom at the Nevada Railroad Museum, where he works 38 hours a week, helping with the restoration of the McKeen Car. He’s soft-spoken, with silver hair and blue eyes that light up when he talks about his new wife.
Both are alumni of Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. Smith graduated in 1939 and remembers a smog-free city skirted by orchards. He said the school was very mixed racially and he studied alongside Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics and Italians.
“We all got along,” he said.
Gas cost 9.9 cents per gallon and a round trip to the beach cost $1.
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“Venice Beach had a roller coaster, fun house, more stuff like that and Long Beach was in a harbor, so there weren’t any waves,” he said. “We’d bake ourselves in the sun. We’d get terribly burned. A cloudy day was considered the worst — I’m paying for it, now.”
Canadian-born, Smith moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 3. They lived in a small community called El Serena and his father was a motor man with the Los Angeles Transit Line.
“Pasadena was all orchards then,” he said. “Then the developers came and ripped them all out.”
Smith met and married his first wife, Shirley, during World War II and together they had three sons, Tom, Jerry and Mike. All now live in New Mexico.
He served as an Air Force crew chief, primarily as a mechanic for a B-29 in Alamogordo, N. M. Designed in 1940 as a replacement for the B-17 and B-24, the planes were sent to the Pacific where their range made them suited for the long flight to Japan.
“I was stateside the whole time,” he said. “I wanted to go to the South Pacific, but they considered me ‘essential personnel.'”
Though far from the front, Smith did witness some history from Alamogordo.
“We were stationed near White Sands when the first nuclear bomb went off,” he said. “They said an ammo dump blew up, but that wasn’t any ammo dump and we knew it. There was a huge flash and then the mushroom, but we were far enough away. I don’t think anyone had any ill effects.”
Smith moved his family to Los Angeles after the war and ultimately took a job as a PBX operator with Pacific Telephone, but the marriage didn’t last.
Through the years, Smith would see Jean through mutual friends and at class reunions. The flame was rekindled last October, when he attended a class luncheon in Southern California. She was widowed and Smith’s second wife, Kit, died of cancer in 2000.
“I went down to see her in Escondido, then she came here in January and we decided to get married,” he said. “It’s worked out well. We’re both very happy.”
Retired from Pacific Telephone since 1980, Smith moved here from Paradise, Calif., in 1990.