BOONEVILLE — Over the course of three history-making wars, Ola Rea Mikles gave her husband a strong desire to come home safe.
Much of that inspiration for the late Lt. Col. Lowell Mikles came from his wife’s long-running love and friendship, as well as from the large painting of a smiling, bikini-wearing Ola Rea that decorated the side of Lowell Mikles’ B-17 plane during World War II, said the couple’s daughter, Anna Traylor.
The painting, titled "Drive It Home!," resembles the now-retro-style artwork seen on other planes and patriotic-style posters, and it provided comfort, hope and a strong sense of purpose for Lowell Mikles as he witnessed combat and other assignments in England, France, North Africa and Germany, she said. Ola Rea was Lowell Mikles’ "pin-up girl" and so much more, Traylor said.
"I think the painting on Dad’s plane was inspiring to him, yes," she said. "The painting, I think, is historic. You see lots of planes with paintings of women on them, and it’s so exciting that our mother was one of those paintings. She’s beautiful."
Ola Rea Mikles looked at photos of the B-17’s painting for the first time in weeks Tuesday. Her reactions ranged from that of a proud spouse to recurring flashes of shyness.
"Oh, I don’t think that’s me," said a laughing Ola Rea Mikles while pointing at a photograph of the painting. "I’m not so sure about that, you know."
Ola Rea Mikles laughed again before feigning disbelief.
"That was something," she said of the painting. "B-52 planes are really big now, but back then, the B-17 was a really big plane."
Lowell Mikles was so inspired by the painting that he was able to escape any kind of injury while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, his family said. He flew helicopters in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and he won a Bronze Star Medal for protecting his fellow soldiers during an intense battle on June 2, 1964.
"Dad used his own personal shotgun to protect his men," Traylor said. "He really wanted to protect his men. He was a great guy."
Lowell Mikles was awarded the Bronze Star of Valor after he crawled and ran for more than 100 yards in an attempt to draw Viet Cong gunfire away from his team and onto himself. The gunfire erupted while Mikles and his crew were investigating a fatal helicopter crash, state military records and family documents.
Putting the safety of his comrades ahead of concern for himself, Mikles eventually was able to get into a flanking position and single-handedly attacked the approaching Viet Cong, killing some, wounding one and capturing another, the records state.
"He was brave," Ola Rea said of her husband. "That was really something that he did."
Mikles went on to win more than 20 other medals, including the Army Commendation Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"I had a friend once who said, ‘You know, your father couldn’t wear all of his medals at once. There’s too many medals,’" Traylor said.
After he retired from the Army on July 1, 1967, Lowell Mikles worked as a pharmacist at Smee Drug Store in Booneville. A trombone player in school and in the Army, he took his job seriously, but he always left enough room for after-hours pranks with friends and families.
"Oh, he was a jokester; he had a wonderful sense of humor," Ola Rea Mikles said. "We once lived in both sides of a duplex, and there was a salesman going door to door selling insurance. Lowell answered the first door and said, ‘I don’t want any insurance, but my brother next door would be interested.’ So he closed the door, changed clothes fast and ran over to answer the second door."
Ola Rea and Traylor both laughed.
"Lowell opened the second door to the salesman and said, ‘What? I don’t want to buy any insurance,’" Ola Rea said before laughing again. "He was always doing things like that, and he could remember every joke. I would always laugh at the jokes, even if I had heard them before. He was really funny."
The friendship part of the bond between Ola Rea and Lowell Mikles, in a way, started when the two were just elementary school students in Magazine, Traylor said. It wasn’t until they were students at Magazine High School when their friendship took a romantic turn, and, in 1944, the two married before having five children – Traylor of Clarksville; Lester Mikles of Memphis; Barbara Brock of Fort Worth, Texas; the late Betty Singleton and the late Robert Mikles – as well as four grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
"I think Dad chased Mom and she finally said, ‘Yes,’" Traylor said. "Isn’t that right, Mom?"
"Oh, I don’t think so," Ola Rea said while smiling. "I really think it was probably the other way around."
Ola Rea added that she "really didn’t worry" about her husband while he was in active duty.
"You would think that I would have been worried sick about him, but I wasn’t," she said. "I knew that he would be OK. I knew that he would be able to take care of himself, just like that old saying, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’"