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‘Adventurous spirits’ reunited – international tale has a happy ending in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. — Patty Hoenigman searched for years for where her great aunt, Elizabeth Crump Enders, was buried.

Enders, a Red Cross volunteer during World War I, died in 1961. She and her husband, Gordon Enders, met during the Great War and traveled the world, but Hoenigman, who lives near Austin, wanted to learn their whole story.

“I didn’t know them, and I wanted to understand why I didn’t know them,” Hoenigman said.

Eventually, Hoenigman, 62, found Elizabeth’s ashes at the home of the daughter of Gordon Enders’ second wife, in Albuquerque, about a year ago – and turned up the life stories of the couple that could be ripped from the pages of National Geographic or a pulp adventure novel.

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Gordon and Elizabeth Enders met after a plane crash in France. Other real-life scenes in their biographies take place in India, Shanghai and Afghanistan. For good measure, the French Foreign Legion and Chiang Kai-shek have roles.

The grave of Gordon Bandy Enders at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. The ashes of his wife and fellow adventurer Elizabeth Crump Enders will be buried with him on June 30. (Courtesy of Patty Hoenigman)

New Mexico is part of the final chapter. Gordon moved here after Elizabeth died and lived in the Duke City until his death in 1978. A veteran of three American wars, Gordon was buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery with his fellow soldiers.

Now, nearly 40 years after Gordon’s death, Elizabeth’s ashes will be buried with Gordon at the national cemetery on June 30. Hoenigman said she and her husband would likely be the only ones in attendance since the world explorers Gordon and Elizabeth never had children.

In order to find out more about the Enderses, Hoenigman said she used the four books they wrote – two by Gordon and two by Elizabeth – as well as newspaper archives and genealogy websites, among other sources. She provided the Journal with some excerpts from those books.

Iowa birthplace

Gordon B. Enders in his military uniform during World War I. (Courtesy of Patty Hoenigman)

Gordon was born in Essex, Iowa, in May 1897. His parents, Presbyterian missionaries, moved the family to India and lived near the Tibetan border when he was young. Hoenigman said two men were like “gurus” to Enders while he was there, and taught him the ways of the world and several different languages. He also developed an interest in airplanes as a boy.

According to an excerpt from one of Gordon’s books, “Foreign Devil: An American Kim in Modern Asia,” Gordon left college in Ohio and became a pilot for the French Foreign Legion during World War I. He was transferred to U.S. forces once America joined the war.

On one wintry day in 1917, Gordon wrote, his plane fell 3,000 feet from the sky and landed near the French village of Savenay. “The left side of the plane crumpled and I had no parachute,” Gordon wrote. “I was reported dead; but days later, in a small local hospital, Elizabeth Crump found me alive.”

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Elizabeth, born in May 1879 in Monclair, N.J., was a “Gray Lady” for the Red Cross who provided non-medical care for soldiers. She also wrote letters to family members of American soldiers who were wounded or killed in combat.

“I fell in love with her, and we were married in the Hotel de Ville in La Rochelle (France) on April 22, 1919,” Gordon wrote.

The couple moved to China after World War I and were based in Shanghai, Hoenigman said. “They were both very adventurous spirits,” Hoenigman said. “They were very courageous people and were very interested in the world.”

Gordon became a manager for Carnation Milk in China, and would travel through China and other countries for work, yet still managed to pursue his interest in aviation. He writes in “Foreign Devil” that he went to a military air base in China in August 1927 and came upon a group headed by Chang Wei-jung, who was the air marshal for Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek.

Gordon writes that he followed these men for two years and taught them how to fly while still working for Carnation. Chiang Kai-shek was in “desperate need of American planes,” so Gordon wrote that he was asked to purchase them, which put him in Chiang’s good graces.

“I resigned from the milk company, came back to the United States to make arrangements with an airplane manufacturer, and sold China the first large fleet of American airplanes ever to go to the Orient … .” Gordon wrote. “With the friendship and support of the air marshal, I then became a technical aviation adviser to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, a post I held for two years.”

Elizabeth Crump Enders is pictured in her Red Cross uniform in May 1919, not long after she married Gordon Enders. (Courtesy of Patty Hoenigman)

Elizabeth, for her part, wrote two books about her travels in China, “Temple Bells and Silver Sails” and “Swinging Lanterns.” She would later travel the U.S. giving lectures on the customs of Chinese women. “They were rather amazing books when they came out because people just didn’t know anything about inland China,” Hoenigman said.

Return to U.S.

The Enderses came back to the United States after spending 16 years in China. Gordon got a job as a world history professor at Purdue University in Indiana, but he later re-enlisted in the Army. “Being a professor wasn’t as stimulating for him,” Hoenigman said. “He had an adventurous spirit. He didn’t want to be in just one place.”

Gordon was assigned as the first military attaché in Afghanistan during World War II, Hoenigman said. Gordon also served in the Korean War and won the Legion of Merit for his work with the Republic of Korea.

The Enderses lived in Fort Meade, Md., in the late 1950s.

Maynard Creel lived next to them when he was a boy, but moved away in 1960, a year before Elizabeth died, when he was in fifth grade. In an interview this week, he said their quarters were full of Asian decorations and said Elizabeth would sometimes wear a kimono.

Creel said he visited with Elizabeth often and she would sometimes give him treats. “She was a very nice lady,” he said.

Creel’s father was a sergeant when Gordon was a colonel for the U.S. Army. Creel said he didn’t see Gordon much, but he always thought he was an interesting man. “I’ve always been fascinated with the guy,” he said.

Elizabeth died on Feb. 13, 1961, at 81. Gordon retired from the Army a few months later and moved to Albuquerque after that. Hoenigman said Gordon had visited the Duke City in the 1930s and said the Sandia Mountains reminded him of where he grew up in India. He had planned to move there with Elizabeth in retirement.

Gordon met Liz Garrahan in Albuquerque and was married to her for 16 years. He drove himself to the hospital one day with chest pain and never made it back home. He died Sept. 2, 1978, at 81. Hoenigman said she didn’t know his exact cause of death.

Hoenigman said she’s been researching the Enderses for four or five years now. The effort to find Elizabeth’s final resting place took off after she found a letter Elizabeth wrote to the president of Purdue University and saw that her address was in Maryland’s Fort Meade.

She said people there helped by checking local cemeteries for her grave, and several churches assisted, as well. “There have been so many people who have helped me for this,” Hoenigman said. She was also able to get Elizabeth’s death certificate from the state of Maryland, but she still had no idea where she was buried.

Finally, Hoenigman got a break when she found a family tree posted online by the grandson of Gordon’s second wife and contacted him. She later found out that Elizabeth’s ashes were at Liz Garrahan Enders’ daughter’s house. “They were just sitting there,” Hoenigman said with a laugh.

Hoenigman said she can’t express how excited she is to have the Enders couple together and put a happy ending on a romance that began 100 years ago.

“I feel like this is the purpose of my life,” she said. “It’s something I really can’t explain.”

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