By Cindy Martin
For West Virginia South
World War II Marine Sgt. Jimmie Mallamas was home on furlough when he spied Gloria Mills working as a teleprinter operator at the Western Union office in Beckley. Immediately, he was stung by Cupid’s arrow. Jimmie strode into the office, asking for help locating a friend’s address in the city directory, an excuse to get close to Gloria and ask her for a date.
Although their courtship was brief, Jimmie was smitten. The military called him back, even before his furlough had ended. To Gloria he wrote: “Gloria, do you think you love me enough to wait for me?. . . I’d marry you today if I thought I didn’t have to go overseas again. War is hell . . . It isn’t the fighting and hardship in combat that hurts. It’s being away from the woman I love . . . that hurts the most.”
Gloria knew about hardship. Born on July 7, 1923, in a log cabin in Barn, WV, her birth delayed her parents’ departure to Besoco. They were all packed up and ready to move, when Gloria decided it was time to come into the world. She was Johnny and Thelma Mills’ second child. Their love was great but their possessions were few. Her nomadic family resided awhile in Spanishburg, then Morgan’s Ridge, and finally settled in Egeria, where her grandfather owned a couple thousand acres of land.
“We lived in the country and walked over two miles to Mr. Brammer’s Country General Store,” Gloria explained. “You could get anything from chicken feed, sugar, flour, salt, to lining for homemade caskets, there. Every spring, we’d stock up on dry goods. The entire wall was covered with shelves. Buttons, bolts of fabric, sewing materials, and shoes filled the shelves. Well, when it was about time for school to start and to get ‘school’ shoes, box after box was opened but, alas, there were not any shoes my size. I ended up with a pair of boys’ dress shoes. They were good shoes. They lasted all winter, but I was embarrassed and awkward in those shoes and I HATED them!”
As soon as Gloria got her first job, she bought shoes with purses to match. Today, she has floor-to-ceiling shelves of shoes with a plaque that reads: “She who dies with the most shoes wins.” One of her most prized possessions is her very own pair of Cinderella slippers. “I am a ‘shoe-aholic,’” she confesses. “I used to say I had more shoes than Imelda Marcos.” The shoes are carefully labeled and each pair sparks a memory of an event or special occasion she and Jimmy shared.
Gloria graduated from Egeria High School in 1941 and she earned an accounting certificate from Beckley College, before working for Western Union as an operator.
Jimmie, too, knew the meaning of hard work and perseverance. His father came to America from Italy in 1911. His mother, Mary Kallopi, came here from Austria with her mother when she was only 5 years old. When she and Mr. Mallamas met and married, they chose to make West Virginia their home. All of the Mallamas men served their country: James Mallamas Sr. in World War I while all five sons fought in World War II.
Jimmie attended Woodrow Wilson High School and was an excellent student, but when Pearl Harbor erupted, he and hundreds of other young men felt compelled to enlist in the military. He trained as an engineer and was a member of the Marine Parachute Battalion that served under the leadership of “Red Mike” Edson, holding off and destroying more than 1,000 Japanese troops under Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi in the Battle of Bloody Ridge. For five days, Jimmie was missing in action. He never gave up.
Gloria did wait for her hero.
On February 9, 1947, Jimmie wrote, “In two weeks darling I shall be home for good. No more broken dreams, doubts, or good byes… I shall never leave you again. All my love always, Jimmie.”
They wed on April 18th, 1948, in a beautiful fairytale ceremony. For the next five decades, Gloria and Jimmie lived life to the fullest. Gloria continued working for Western Union. Jimmie attended West Virginia Tech and later worked with an engineering firm out of Richmond, Virginia. After that, he switched to architecture and designed a number of custom homes before getting into heavy construction, where he built roads and bridges, and strip-mined coal.
The skills Jimmie learned in the Marines came in handy. Jimmie actually built his own plane. “'Flying and planes stayed in his head from the time his mother helped him build model planes until he left this world,” Gloria wrote. “… He took one flying lesson, bought a Cessna 172, got his private pilot’s license and later his instructor’s license.”
Jimmie would fly all over the United States to work, so Gloria would often have to take him or drop him off at the airport. “People used to say he’d ‘buzz’ the house,” she said, laughing “Our little Chihuahua would know it was him and would be ready to hop in the car and go after him. I learned to drive that way. I wasn’t much on those curves, but driving back and forth to the airport, I learned fast.”
Once when Gloria was on vacation, she flew with Jimmie, who was working on a job site in Derry Township in Pennsylvania, where he discovered a treasure trove of buried bottles. Together he and Gloria collected baskets and baskets full. Over the years, they collected thousands of them and displayed them on shelves in their basement. “… some medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, beer bottles, milk bottles, and more.”
Sadly, Jimmie Mallamas passed away in 1997. He was 72. His love for Gloria never died.
Since his death, Gloria has busied herself with purposeful pastimes like completing the text for “The Keaton Mills Family Cemetery Egeria — An Era of Family Stories and Cookbook.” She worked tirelessly to restore the family cemetery at Egeria and preserve it for future generations. “Young and old, we all gather there each year on the Sunday before Memorial Day,” she stated proudly.
For years, Gloria has had a doll collection. “On our second Christmas together, Jimmie was walking me home from work, when I spotted the most beautiful porcelain doll with blonde hair and blue eyes in the window of New River Supply. He bought it for me for Christmas, and that started my collection. I sort of looked at it as an investment. I supposed I loved them so much because I didn’t have many dolls as a child.”
So, Gloria Mallamas, collector of bottles and dolls, shoes and recipes, had also clung to the boxes of letters her beloved Jimmie had written to her while he was serving overseas. When Gloria spied those, she knew what she must do. “I had to write this book,” Gloria explained. “I needed to go on one more journey with my Jimmie. He was such a unique, caring individual, and I didn’t want him forgotten. When I sorted and organized the letters into year, month, and date, and started typing them, people would say, ‘Doesn’t that make you sad?’ Yes, sometimes it did make me sad, and then, at other times it would make me glad. I was with him again.”
Gloria wrote and published “A Marine’s Letters — A Love Story (When Life Was Real).” According to the book’s publishers, “‘A Marine’s Letters’ lends a rare and intimate glimpse embroiled in the grind and peril of war. The letters, addressed to his family and girlfriend, shed light on the experiences of the life of a marine raider in the South Pacific. Letter after letter will take you through a critical phase in history and how the young man lived his life later.”
Doris, one of Gloria’s closest friends, noted, “Gloria and Jimmie were the most beautiful couple I have ever known. Their love glowed and filled every room they entered and those who were around them.”
Gloria has donated Jimmie’s uniform and military memorabilia to the Veteran’s of All Wars Museum on Harper Road in Beckley to be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.
Her book is available for purchase at Amazon.com, in print and e-book editions.