Ed Vining moved into Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez a few months ago from the Muir Oaks section of Martinez. He was born in North Carolina in 1925 shortly before his family moved to Montgomery, West Virginia. His father was a teacher and his mother was a housewife. He had two sisters.
Ed is certain of one thing: “my life didn’t start until I was 14” when the 1939-40 World’s Fair opened in New York. He wanted to see it, but his family wasn’t able to go.
It was 1940 before he started the trip. How did he get there? “I rode my bike,” he replied. What??? Montgomery is nearly 500 miles from New York City! “Were your parents okay with that?” I asked. “No, they weren’t okay but I coerced them.” When told it was a brave thing to do, his answer was “I wasn’t brave, just obstreperous. I wasn’t a bad kid.”
The plan was that a friend would go with him. But that fell apart at the last minute when the friend was biking to the rendezvous only to be spotted by his father, the town doctor, who was on his way to a late-night call. So, Ed peddled the distance by himself. He had taken some food and he bought more on the road, the side of which provided his bed at night wherever he was. He had enough money for food on the road and admission to the Fair. The trip took about 7 days. He stayed with an aunt in Brooklyn for several days before heading home.
The Fair was celebrated for its international exhibition theme, the “World of Tomorrow,” including among other things, television, which would not be in homes for another decade. But Ed’s priority was to see the then famous burlesque stripper and actress, Ann Corio, perform. But after biking all that way, the teenager was not surprisingly refused admission. However, he remembers being impressed with the General Electric exhibit which fired a lightning bolt across a large room and the Crosley car exhibit. The Crosley was an American made subcompact which started production in 1939 with ‘ahead of its time’ features such as disc brakes and an overhead camshaft engine. Popular during the war for its gas economy, it failed in the ‘50s when large cars became popular.
When Ed got home, he learned to fly an airplane along with going to high school. But everything had changed after Pearl Harbor. All the young men of military age left so a friend of his who was the son of the town’s fire chief, rounded up twenty 16-year-olds including Ed to serve as volunteer firemen.
“I kind of grew up in the year 1942,” he observes. After graduation, he joined the Navy. At 17, he was too young for flight training, so he became an aviation mechanic. Stationed at naval air bases in California for two years, in 1945 Ed was sent to Tinian, an island near Okinawa, famous as the airbase of the Enola Gay. Very few, in the services or out, knew about the atom bomb so all preparations were for a long, bitter fight on the home islands of Japan.
Before August, Ed was assigned as a gunner to a four-engine “Privateer” aircraft flying up and down the Pacific from Okinawa looking for Japanese ships. He flew only five missions in the Privateer as the Enola Gay had done its job. World War II was over for Ed and so many others.
Getting home was a small struggle because Ed and his crewmates had found and adopted a dog. The Navy would not fly the dog home or take it aboard a Navy ship. The crew went to the Merchant Marine ships in the bay, asking to hitch a ride home. They found one that would take them and off they went. After passing out a few souvenirs and fixing the ship’s ice cream maker, they were treated like heroes. 16 days later they were in the Bay Area and going through discharge at Alameda Naval Air Station.
When Ed arrived home, he was hired as one of the two paid firemen in the local department. In 1948, he started college near home and later in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he studied to become a fire protection engineer working on sprinklers, alarm systems and building construction fire prevention. Meanwhile, he got married and had a son and later a daughter.
Ed’s career started in New York City. The family moved back to Illinois where he worked for a company making explosives for use in the Korean War. The next stop was San Francisco where for 19 years he was chief engineer of a company that made and maintained fire alarm systems. That was followed by 13 years with a fire protection consulting company that eventually was bought by Ed and four others. After a few years, they sold the company and went to work for the new owners. Ed retired in 1984 and bought property in Martinez in the Muir Oaks area. He went back to work as a consultant, retiring again in 1996. During his time at the consulting firm he was often sent overseas. Visiting 10 countries, among his assignments was consulting with the Saudi Arabian Air Force on fire prevention for their structures. He also spent time helping Norway with safety procedures on an offshore oil platform.
In 2003, “I went to my real life” he says. He became a National Park Service volunteer advising on structural fire protection throughout the Park Service sites while others used their expertise on wild land fires, a different animal, Ed says.
“It was a wonderful job with the best people I ever met. Almost everything I did was fun,” he recalls. That included visiting 56 NPS sites from Texas to the Aleutians and from the East Coast to the Southwest and in between.
Working with the staff on the ground was very fulfilling for him. He would look for deficiencies in the alarm systems or construction issues and make suggestions. However, as time went on, the stonewalling on the executive level became too frustrating so he “retired” for a third time in 2013.
Looking back over 95 years, Ed feels he has had “a very good life. Except for the Navy, I’ve loved everything.”
Written by Harriett Burt, Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez Resident