When Robert Harvey and Mary Louise Thompson met at a San Diego State fraternity party, likely sometime in 1939 or ’40, they had no way of knowing the significance their chance introduction would carry more than 70 years later.
He was attracted to the smiling brunette with the volleyball player’s figure and she thought the former footballer was handsome and nice.
Subsequently approaching her for a date, Harvey was impressed that the pretty Phi Kappa Gamma sorority member recalled his name.
What Thompson didn’t tell him was that she had met four Bobs at the party and figured the odds were good that he had been one of them.
Before long the pair began dating on a regular basis. Harvey took a job as a San Diego police officer continuing his course work part time, but the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he and some fellow officers volunteered to go to war.
Harvey landed in the Army Air Corp, a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Stationed at Eagle Field near Dos Palos training to be a pilot, he kept in touch with Thompson.
A hot pilot
At San Diego State, Thompson was helping geography professor Lauren Post put together a newsletter they sent to Aztecs on the home front and to those fighting in foreign locales from North Africa and Europe to the South Seas. At least once when he was on leave, Harvey came home for a visit and helped his sweetheart make copies of The Aztec News Letter.
Upon returning to Eagle Field, he sent his own letter to Professor Post, affectionately called “Doc” by former students. It appeared in the first anniversary edition issue number 14 of the newsletter dated April 29, 1943 and read, in part:
“Just received #13 A.N.L. Probably by the time you get this I will have my first solo (flight) out of the way and will be well on my way to becoming a hot pilot, as the guys here call it.
“I never realized when I was helping Mary Lou Thompson mimeograph The Newsletter that the fellows appreciated them so much until I started receiving them myself. Keep up the good work, Doc!”
Wedding bells and tragic news
Just over two months later, Robert Harvey and Mary Louise Thompson were married Sunday, July 4, 1943 “at a beautiful double ring ceremony in Grace Lutheran Church,” as reported in the San Diego Union newspaper.
After the war, Harvey, then a pilot, returned to his job as a police officer resuming his classes part time at San Diego State.
In 1947, the couple’s first child, Carlynne, came along followed two years later by a second daughter, Michele. But the family was separated by war yet again when Robert Harvey was called by the Air Force to serve in Korea. There he flew B-29 bombers and rose to the rank of captain.
It was on Halloween, October 31, 1952 that Mary Lou Harvey received the worst news of her life on what should have been one of the family’s most joyous occasions. That day she had given birth to the couple’s third child and first son, Clyde.
Still in her hospital room, she received word that her husband’s plane had gone down in the East China Sea during a mission.
Captain Harvey’s body was never recovered. There was never a grave for his family to visit. Years later, when their mother died, the Harveys’ grown children scattered her ashes off the coast of San Diego so that at least their parents would share an eternal resting place in the same ocean.
War memorial remembrance
That might have been the end of the story for the young couple who had met all those years ago at the campus party if their eldest daughter, Carlynne Allbee (’71), had been less curious.
In June, Allbee, an Aztec alumna herself who had read about the SDSU War Memorial, contacted the Alumni Association to see whether her father might qualify to have his name listed on the monument.
"She had met four Bobs at the party and figured
the odds were good that he was one of them."
After an investigation of university and U.S. Department of Defense records, the Alumni Association’s War Memorial Committee voted to add Robert Harvey’s name to the monument. It was engraved on October 4 in time for the annual War Memorial Ceremony held October 12 at Aztec Green.
All three of Robert and Mary Louise Harvey’s children attended the event along with their two grandsons exactly 60 years to the month after Robert Harvey’s plane went down.
They were among more than 100 SDSU alumni, campus administrators, staff, faculty, student veterans and others who paid tribute to Harvey and 227 other Aztecs who lost their lives in service to their country including five killed in recent wars whose names were added at the same time as Captain Harvey’s.
For the Harveys’ descendants, the somber ceremony was both a tribute and a family reunion. Allbee wore her father’s flight wings, her sole surviving possession of her fathers’ retrieved from the ashes of a 2003 fire that destroyed her home.
Her brother, Clyde, and nephew, Clyde Junior, came from Minnesota bringing Captain Harvey’s military medals and a bound, embossed copy of all the issues of The Aztec News Letter.
A family surprise
After the ceremony, family members posed for pictures next to the monument. Then they were invited to the Allan Bailey Library at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center for a surprise; Nine letters written by their parents — five from Bob Harvey and four from Mary Louise Thompson — were spread out on a table for them to inspect.
The letters were discovered by Robert Ray, head of Special Collections and University Archives, who located them in a trove of thousands of non-cataloged and non-digitized historical items.
They were among more than 4,500 letters received from servicemen, servicewomen, and their families during World War II as part of Dr. Post’s Aztec News Letter project now housed in the library’s World War II Servicemen's Correspondence Collection.
The Harvey siblings and grandchildren had not known they existed. They read them all and were given copies as keepsakes by Ray.
"I recognized my mom's handwriting,” Allbee said, “but I had never seen my dad's handwriting before.”
The letters revealed details previously unknown to Bob and Mary Lou’s children and grandchildren, including the Aztec connection at the couple’s 1943 wedding. A very special guest had been in attendance.
“Apparently it was the teacher in charge of this newsletter — Post,” said Allbee. “It was he and his wife involved in the wedding and they did songs. All that was in the letter. We never knew that.”
But not all of the information was new. Some of it merely confirmed what the Harvey children had always known.
“Seeing the letters here in the library, as my husband said, it shows why Mom never remarried because she was so proud of my dad and loved him so much," said a tearful Michele Harvey. “I knew that my mother and father had a great love story that ended too early, way too early."
But more than 70 years after Bob and Mary Lou first met and fell in love, their story, like the stories of so many others reflected in the long-ago newsletters, resonates beyond their family circle.
"It is our past and so (the collection of letters) is significant simply for that - to honor and to understand those who served in World War II,” Ray said. “The people who wrote these letters were the same age that students are today and at the time they had hopes for a college education, they had hopes for a family, for a profession and that was all torn away from them.
"It shows why Mom never remarried
because she was so proud of my dad
and loved him so much."
“But they served. They served willingly, nobly and the letters are significant because they're letters from people who express hopes and fears and concerns about the battles ahead and the trials they would be going through and their longing for being back in touch with their friends and their families.”
Overwhelming and wonderful
The Harveys’ children were both astonished and grateful the letters had been saved.
“The same day my father died I was born,” Clyde Harvey said. “He’s been gone for 60 years and that San Diego State would even have these letters in their possession, now that’s overwhelming. That is awesome.
“It’s been exciting to be here and being overwhelmed by the generosity of the university and the Alumni Association. We appreciate that very much. Please just share our appreciation for being able to give our dad a final resting place.”
"Today was wonderful,” Allbee agreed. “Everybody has made us feel so wonderful and it's been such a great celebration of our parents’ lives. That the alumni and everyone would do all of this, it makes me proud to be an Aztec."
Just like her parents.