When Clint Bownds picked his boots up off Texas soil and stepped onto the train to Florida, he couldn't have known how long it would be before he ever saw San Antonio again.
It was January 1942, and the long road to boot camp was just the beginning of an unknown journey with little in the way of home comforts.
"We were told when we left home to just have the clothes on your back" Bownds laughs. "We wore the same clothes for three weeks."
But when Clint Bownds bravely set sail into World War II via the United States Coast Guard, he did bring something from home that the other guys didn't have: a twin brother.
"That's us," recalls Bownds, sitting at a table filled with old albums. He points to a faded black and white photo.
"We got into a lot of trouble and stuff."
A week after hearing about Japan's surprise attack on U.S. soil, Clint and twin brother Clifton Bownds, both Burbank High School graduates and members of the National Guard of Texas, signed up for the Coast Guard.
As he tells it, the brothers went down in history as the first twins to join the military service after Pearl Harbor.
"We didn't want to sleep in mud holes anymore in the infantry" Bownds remembers. "It was that simple."
Floating the waters on board a Coast Guard vessel was dangerous enough, like the time two enemy planes pierced through the sky, threatening a hospital ship.
“They came (flying) in, and I was the only one who picked it up,” Bownds says. “All of the sudden, I just turned my gun around and fired. They never got to the hospital ship.”
There was the time a mast broke and crashed down during a violent storm, striking Bownds and nearly killing him.
There was the surreal moment when a massive pontoon separated, crippling the ship he was on, leaving them alone and vulnerable to Japanese attack for days.
Then, there was the Okinawa invasion.
But there were some lighthearted moments, too.
One day, the two twins were completing a drill when they were ordered back to the barracks.
"They got us in there and they brought in a birthday cake that my sister and mother had sent us," Bownds says. "You know what it's like when you have 90 guys in a barrack and you get a birthday cake? We had to have two of the biggest guys to keep the others away from us."
For most of the chaos of war, however, Clint was separated from his twin.
And as for the agony of not knowing if the other was OK: "All you really had time to do was worry about yourself," Clint admits.
Ultimately, the Bownds boys would make it out of World War II.
A LUKEWARM WELCOME HOME
After witnessing the massive ticker tape celebration in New York’s Times Square, celebrating the end of the war, Clint was discharged from the military in California and hitchhiked his way back across the country to Texas.
And as more celebrations swept the country that year, one might expect a ceremonious welcome home, but when Bownds arrived back in San Antonio, the reception was anything but warm.
“I walked into the house and my mother came out of the kitchen,” Bownds remembers. “She looked at me and said, 'Oh, it’s you.' And went back into the kitchen.”
The greeting from dad wasn’t much better.
It would take a green-eyed angel by the name of Faye to offer the warmth that had been missing.
“She called and welcomed me home and it just happened,” Bownds smiles. "It sure wasn’t the clothes I wore. I had dungaree pants and a black shirt. I didn’t offer very much.”
After only three months of courting, Clint popped the big question that began a romance lasting more than 63 years.
NEARLY 90 YEARS OLD
Over the decades building a life together, there were three daughters, 8 grandchildren and 12 great grandkids. There was a 50th wedding anniversary celebration and there were many more birthday celebrations with his twin brother Clifton who passed away several years ago.
And now, as yet another milestone approaches, his 90th birthday, Bownds admits he’s doing pretty well these days.
“For a person who's had three prostate surgeries, five heart surgeries and four hernia surgeries, that is,” Bownds grins.
Sitting at a table sprawled with large photo albums chronicling a long life filled with extraordinary experiences -- the first in his family to graduate from high school, spotting and shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific, proudly boasting four great-great grandchildren -- is there anything left undone?
“Yeah, get rich!” Bownds laughs. Upon a little more questioning he finally 'fesses up: “I always wanted to touch a glacier.”
Don't count him out.
At 89 years young, Mr. Bownds may move a little more slowly, but that bright gleam in his blue eyes shows no sign of fading soon.