A Bushwhack Wedding, an Ambush Reception: A Vietnam Vet's Love Story

Mikey Diaz. | Photo: Douglas McCulloh

What did you do for Valentine's Day? While working on a story about a Huey helicopter at March Field Air Museum, I unexpectedly spent the afternoon at an "Ambush Wedding Reception," a loving revenge for the "Bushwhack Wedding" which united Mike "Mikey" Diaz, a veteran of 35 years on the LAPD and one tour of Vietnam, and Kim Bartholomy, the woman he met on a train, and who helped him raise his three sons.

Bushwhack, you ask? Ambush? What? It's lingo borrowed from his Vietnam days and it starts with a bushwhack from last year. As Mikey explained it, in December 2012, Kim's brother died, which got her thinking about the formality of their relationship. Shortly afterward, in the house they had shared for years, Kim told him that in the next two months they should apply for a marriage license. Somehow, Mikey didn't think this meant wedding. But on Valentine's Day last year, she informed him that they had an 8 a.m. appointment in the San Bernardino County Courthouse, and that after they filled out some paperwork, they would both head off to their jobs. Mikey wore his work clothes -- he's the Director of Logistics and Security at the museum, where vintage aircraft and military history are displayed in a series of hangars next to March Air Reserve Base, and so he gets dirty now and then.

Kim sat in front of a bank of computers at the courthouse, he recalled, typing in both of their mothers' maiden names. "I looked around and saw people wearing corsages, guys wearing bow ties. I said, 'Wow, honey, some people are actually getting married today.' Kim was typing, says, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Wait, are we getting married today?' She says, 'Yeah.' I said, 'You have rings?' She said, 'Yeah,' and reached over. Clunk." He motioned her slamming down a small box on the table near him.

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And so they entered Wedding Room #1. Since he'd been a policeman for 35 years, his last station Hollywood, friends found it hard to believe he hadn't suspected anything. They had been together for 14 years. This. to him and his buddies, was a bushwhack, of sorts.

They met on a Metrolink train, him riding every day from Upland, her getting on at West Covina, for the journey to their jobs in L.A. Kim works for the County of Los Angeles Assessor's Office. Mikey's second wife had just left him. "She walked out on me and our three boys -- they were 3, 4, and 8," he said. "When I was in the LAPD Academy, they told us you'll have 2.5 wives."

His friend Jeff Houlihan, Curator at March Field Museum, laughed and said, "Yeah, when she met him, she said, 'I'm the .5.'"

Kim Bartholomy and Mikey Diaz stand at their ambush wedding reception. | Photo: Douglas McCulloh

Mikey was 49 years old, riding the train, and Kim was 36. She had never been married, and when they began dating, told him how much she wanted children of her own. But he wasn't willing to have more kids, and so they broke up briefly. Then, Mikey reminisced, "One morning, she got on the train, and she came up to me..." He began to wipe his eyes, and his mouth trembled. "She said, I'm gonna honor your wish. I'm gonna walk beside you and raise your kids like they're my own."

Photo: Douglas McCulloh

"Oh, he always cries," Houlihan said, and then the other employees at the museum laughed and agreed.

Everyone was in the hangar where the so-called "Ambush Wedding Reception" was set up amid restored aircraft, military trunks, a picture of Mikey in his Vietnam days from 1960-70 in Phan Rang on the wall behind the cake. The hangar door was open with the view to the tarmac at March Air Reserve Base, where President Obama would be landing in an hour on Air Force One, and everyone said, "So nice of him to stop by for your wedding reception, Mikey."

Fourteen years he and Kim had been together, but without the license and the rings until a year ago. That day, Mikey called the war veterans restoring helicopters and planes in the hangar beside this one. "I just got married," he said, still bewildered. Then he drove to work. The men had been at Industrial Metal Supply -- within the hour they'd made him a custom ball and chain.

It lay on the table, near the flowers, while across the room, Kim shoved cake into Mikey's face as punishment for the revenge of this ambush reception because she doesn't like surprises.

But what about her bushwhack last year? That's different, she said to him, with a look that would scald paint, and everyone clapped.

About the Author

Susan Straight was born in Riverside, where she still lives. Her latest novel is "Between Heaven and Here." She teaches at UCRiverside and works with photographer Douglas McCulloh to document the Inland Empire.

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