Following the Heart

The lieutenant said, “Sorry Private Baer, there won’t be any available seats on military flights to England for at least a week.”

“Sir, isn’t there some way you can get me there?" I pleaded, "I can’t wait a week and I can’t afford a civilian flight.  I've gotta see her.  Please.”

The sympathetic officer opened a desk drawer and flipped through some documents. “Maybe there is a way...”

I crossed my fingers.

“Here we are.” Pulling out a document, he said, “There's most probably a seat on a map surveillance plane flying to a small airport just outside of Glasgow, Scotland.  It’s leaving in an hour.”

“Is Scotland near England?” I asked.

“Sure, they’re neighbors,” the lieutenant assured, “Both in Great Britain.”

“Oh, so this Glasgow must be really close to Portsmouth,” I excitedly said, “I’ll take that flight.”

That had happened in the summer of 1964 at the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Air Force Base space available office in Germany.  Why so desperate to get to England?  It all started--six months earlier, and that's where the beginning of my story also starts:


It had been my second winter stationed in Germany, and after an especially hard month of military duties, our squad was awarded a rare R&R vacation for a few days at a ski resort in Garmish.  It was there that I successfully struck up a conversation with a girl sitting by herself in the resort coffee shop.  Our initial mutual interests in each other were similar; her in Amercans and mine in girls.  Patricia Lynn Shaw was my age (19) and a little shorter than me.  She had sparkling light brown eyes, shoulder-length silken brown hair, a dimpled smile, a pert figure, and more than anything she had an incredible interest in me!

Our spontaneous meeting quickly turned into a whirlwind one-day romance.  It was love at first sight!  For the first time in my life, a woman clung to me--belonged to me.  Patricia had been the woman I dreamed of, my dream come true.  I was struck by the new, never-before feelings that had overwhelmed me.  Admittedly one of the feelings was a desire caused by the lack of women in my horny army life, but that was definitely not an overriding desire in my feelings for Patricia.  However, it was a real desire, a desire impossible to fulfill in Garmish--at least not at that time.

Patrica had been a nurse at a British military hospital in Gosport, a small unassuming town bordering Portsmouth, England.  She was vacationing with her parents--and unfortunately, staying in the same hotel room with them--and sadly, leaving the next morning.

That one heavenly day together with Patricia--enjoying the likes of falling in the soft snow; cheek-to-cheek dancing at a disco; sipping Irish coffee in a candlelit cafe; came to its inevitable end in front of her hotel.  Patricia had promised her parents she would be back by two—it was three.  Reluctantly, breaking out of our passionate goodnight kiss, we parted at the hotel entrance.  The next time I would see Patricia would be six months later, in England.

In the beginning, a flurry of letters passed between us.  There was hardly a mail call without my name being called out.  We wrote about everything—home, jobs, funny incidents, made-up poems, nonsensical stuff...  But though I had no doubt of our love, neither of us had ever committed ourselves to writing the three sacred words, I love you.
Though unsaid, it had been mutually assumed that someday I would be making a trip to see her in England.  As the weeks and months went by, mail from Patricia had gradually trickled down to one or two perfunctory-sounding letters a month—then there were none.  Unable to stand the silence, I applied for and was granted a two-week leave—boy, would Patricia be surprised! 
Portsmouth turned out to be much farther from Glasgow than I had imagined.  It took a full three days of hitchhiking—fish & chips; B & B; Scotch called whiskey; warm flat beer; not to mention the tons of friendly people and good times before I reached my destination.  The last leg of my quest had been with a Lorry driver that was going to Portsmouth.  Cruising along the motorway—flying high over the cars—I dozed off dreaming of Patricia flinging herself into my arms.  The airbrakes hissed as the truck stopped, immediately waking me from the sweet dream to the sweeter reality of the trucker’s words. “We’re here.”

“Portsmouth?” I anxiously asked.

“No, Gosport,” the trucker grinned. “You said your bird was at the Royal Naval Hospital.” He pointed to an old brown building in the near distance. “That’s the building over there.”

My probable future--a mere fifty yards away. “I'm finally here!”  I shouted as I jumped out of the cab. “Hey man, thanks for going out of your way.”

“No, problem, Yank.  I enjoyed our talk,” he said, putting the truck in gear, “it was just a few minutes off my route, and I thought it would be nice to help hasten your happy surprise.  Good luck.” 

I gently slammed the cab door shut, waving to the trucker as he pulled away.

Pushing through the doors of the Haslar Royal Naval Hospital, I had immediately been impressed with the building’s historic 200-year-old structure that Patricia had written about.  Broad high windows filled the place with light.  A big clock high up on the wall chimed four.  My steps echoed throughout the expansive hall as I walked up to the reception desk. 

“I would like to see Nurse Patricia Lynn Shaw,” I said.

“Your name and purpose?” the receptionist asked.

My heart skipped a beat, I said, “Robert Baer and Nurse Shaw will know why.”

The receptionist made a couple of calls, and after some secretive-like whispering telephone conversations, said, “Nurse Shaw is waiting for you in room number five, just down the hall.”

I stood in front of the door to room five, took a deep breath, knocked, and without waiting for an answer, entered.  Patricia, in her pure white uniform, was on the far side of the large barren hospital room, sitting sideways on the broad windowsill of a grandiose window, her petite profile silhouetted against it.  The dream of Patricia running up and hugging me was not realized.  Like a motionless statue, without looking at me, her lips moved, and coolly said, “Hello, Robert.” 


I stopped in the middle of the room. “Patricia…”

She looked at me and robotically continued, “Don’t say anything.  Please listen.  I am sorry I haven’t been writing you, that was really bad of me; however, I never imagined you would be coming here without giving notice.  I am very sorry your time and money have gone for naught.  I have been seeing a wonderful man for the last few months--a British sailor.  We are engaged to be married.

My heart fell out of my chest and broke apart at my feet. 


Paying no attention to the broken pieces, Patricia continued, “We are very much in love and the wedding will be in September.”

I quietly said, “Goodbye Patricia Lynn Shaw,” picked up the pieces of my broken heart, stuffed them in my chest, and walked out of the room, out of the historical naval hospital, and out of Patricia’s happy new life.


That evening I was at a local pub drinking Patricia Lynn Shaw out of my mind.  I still had ten days of leave to spend, but without Patricia, nothing to do--nothing to look forward to.  Suddenly a young British maiden appeared next to me, and interrupting my dreary thoughts, said, "New here, huh?  You look like someone died."

"She's alive in the hospital," I replied.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she sincerely said, "Is she very sick?"

"Nah, she's not sick," I answered, "she works there."

Her eyes widened, "Your accent..." she warmly smiled and said, "You're American, aren't you?"

Welcoming the change of mood, I returned her warm smile and answered. "Yes."

"I'm interested in Americans," she purred.

And I'm interested in women, I thought.  My leftover leave time was starting to look good.

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Robert Red-Baer

1950-Went to Tinton Falls Elementary School, N.J.
1962-Went to Monmouth Regional HS, N.J.
1964-Graduated US Army NCO Acadamy, Germany
1971-Graduated University of Hawaii with honors
1973-Red Heart Follies (Hawaii)
1975-Japan Prime Minister's Award (Video), among many
1985-Professor Edogawa University, Chiba Japan
2010-Retired in Japan