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Sailors unite 66 years after Korean War-era service

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon assigned to the Mad Foxes of Patrol Squadron (Robert Sullivan/Flickr)

Several weeks ago when the phone rang at her Bollier Avenue home, Louise Babcock almost didn’t answer.

She figured it was a “robo” call, but she read aloud the name on caller ID display. “Robert Ayers,” she said.

Her husband, Jim, recognized the name. “I was in the Navy with a Robert Ayers,” he told her. So, she handed him the phone and he answered the call.

That’s when a very happy coincidence ensued.

On the line was Jim’s Navy buddy from 66 years ago, from an era when both were stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., during the Korean War.

The caller, Bob Ayers, had undertaken a quest to locate anyone who had been in their unit all those years ago, a total of about 200 men. Jim Babcock was the first one he found, after consulting an internet page created by members of their squadron VP 5, one of the oldest squadrons in the U.S. Navy, also known as the “Mad Foxes.”

“I was flabbergasted,” Ayers said when he found Babcock. The two shared stories about their service on that phone call.

Those were the days, they agreed. During a conversation in his Niagara Falls home this week, Babcock recalled how his commander arranged to fly him home so Jim could make it back in time to marry Louise, his high school sweetheart. It was 67 years ago.The commander’s plane lost an engine over the ocean and crash crews were waiting for its landing.Thankfully the plane made it out of the sky intact, and not a drop was spilled from the case of whiskey Bob was bringing home for the wedding celebration. Their happy marriage led to two daughters, Rhonda and Becky and three sons, Brian, Gregory and Kevin; and eventually, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Back in their Navy days, Ayers, who now lives in Ocala, Fla. worked in electronics and Babcock worked in munitions. They had known each other well enough that Ayers had taken Babock to his family home in Virginia for a visit when both had time off. He also took Babcock to a square dance, an experience which may have resulted years later in Jim and Louise’s long-time hobby of polka dancing, which until the pandemic led to them dancing regularly on a local TV show, called “Polka Buzz.”

During the first phone call, the two old friends shared some details of their lives and talked about a reunion with their wives. By happy coincidence, Jim and Louise, who had been housebound for about a year due to COVID-19, were planning to get vaccinated and head to Florida with their daughter Rhonda Arsenault of Grand Island, to be with daughter Becky Holka, in the Villages in Florida, so they could hug them and their two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jim, a retired Niagara Falls firefighter, who also spent 30 years in the Naval Reserve, was fully vaccinated against COVID and looked forward to seeing his old friend. But Louise was having trouble getting a vaccine in time. It appeared that Jim might be heading to Florida alone, but Louise prayed for help getting a vaccine and received a phone call from her pharmacy, Niagara Aphothocary, in the nick of time. “God was working on the whole thing,” she said, smiling.

Seeing their daughters and their families after a year in quarantine, made for a spectacular trip, but the reunion of the two Navy guys made the trip very special.

The couples toured a military park, had drinks and snacks afterward, and then joined the Babcocks’ family for dinner. “We just talked and talked,” Jim says of the time with Bob Ayers and his wife, Jan.

After such a successful experience, Bob Ayers is going to keep looking for guys from his squadron, so there may be more surprise phone calls to others and more reunions ahead. The couples are looking forward to that and the guys hope that more of their former Navy pals will decide to answer the phone.

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(c) 2021 the Niagara Gazette

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