Air Force veteran seeks long lost love: After 67 years, he just wants to know ‘how she made out in life’
ST. PAUL — After 67 years, Fields Arthur realizes it's a long shot.
In 1951, Arthur was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Osceola, Wis., taking a nine-month course in radio mechanics. On Saturday nights, he and fellow airmen would head to downtown Stillwater for dances.
One night Arthur, then 22, met a telephone operator named Tina Anderson. She was 19 and lived in Stillwater.
A few months later, Arthur was shipped almost overnight to Korea and lost touch with Anderson. Now, at the age of 89, Arthur wants to find out what happened to her.
"I'd like to talk to her one more time," said Arthur, who lives in Lakeside, Calif. "I'd like to see how she made out since we parted company. I'm just curious. I have a lot of time on my hands."
Arthur reached out to the Stillwater school district last month to ask for help. District employees searched yearbooks and alumni directories, but couldn't find a record of a girl named "Anderson" or "Andersen" who had the first name of "Tina, Christina, Bertina or any other creative variation we could think of," said Carissa Keister, a district spokeswoman.
Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, said the young woman likely worked at the new Bell Telephone building, built in 1951 on South Second Street in downtown Stillwater. "It was just before you go up Chilkoot Hill, across from what is now Grand Garage," he said. "That's where the switchboards were."
Saturday night dances were held regularly at the Elks Lodge, Stillwater Armory and Canteen Hall, Peterson said.
Arthur, who was stationed at the 674th Air Craft Control and Warning station in Osceola, said he is not sure which dances he attended.
"Do they still have those dances in Stillwater on Saturday night?" he said. "We met every Saturday for almost three months. Four of us went together. We thought if there were some single girls there, we might be able to dance and have some fun."
There was a live band, but Arthur said he and the others were disappointed to learn they played mainly polkas. "None of us knew how to dance to that type of music," he said. "They did a lot of that in Wisconsin and Minnesota."
'Save a slow dance for me'
Arthur said Anderson caught his eye, and he asked her to dance a slow dance. "We danced three times that night, with long breaks in between dances," he said.
When it was time to leave, Arthur asked Anderson if she would be back the next week and asked her to "save a slow dance" for him. "The second Saturday, we also danced three times," he said. "The third Saturday, we sat together and had more time to talk."
Over the next 10 weeks, the couple "had a great time talking and dancing the slow dances," he said. "I never did figure how to dance the polka."
Anderson started calling Arthur in Osceola when she was on work breaks. "She somehow figured out the number of the pay phone at the barracks," he said. "Some weeks, she would call twice. I really enjoyed those calls."
After attending the dances for about three months, Arthur got word in mid-November 1951 that he had graduated. The next day, the commanding officer said two airmen had to go overseas.
"I was one of them," Arthur said. "It was terrible news."
He broke the news to Anderson on Saturday night that he was probably going to Korea.
"I told her that we would have to keep in touch and somehow get back together," he said. "I hoped that I would be stationed someplace close to Stillwater when I returned. She said, 'Is that a promise?' And I said, 'Yes.'"
On his way back to the base, Arthur realized he didn't have Anderson's home address or telephone number.
"All of our contacts were at the dance hall," he said. "She had a good friend who used to sit with us. Her name was Jane, but I don't remember her last name. They were both telephone operators."
Arthur tried to reach Anderson from Korea, but had no luck. He even wrote a letter to a friend in Osceola, asking him to look in the phone book and call every Anderson and Andersen and ask if they had a daughter named Tina.
After he returned home to San Diego in January 1953, Arthur called the phone company and asked if they could help him find Anderson, but he was told that was private information that could not be given out.
Arthur was next assigned to Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso, Fla., where he met and married Ann Flanagan, who also was in the Air Force. The couple had three sons. Ann, a librarian, died in January 2016 at the age of 85.
"We had a good life," said Arthur, who had a long career in federal civil service. "We were married 62 years. I just always wondered what happened to Tina. I'm curious to know how she made out in life."
On the phone from California last week, Arthur said he was willing to pay for an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, hoping someone could tell him what happened to his young love.
Reporters assured him that we don't operate that way. No one can buy an article.
But who can resist a great love story?