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Live -- and love -- goes on even when the world is at war. Readers share their stories of wartime romance.
By Special to the Times
Published August 28, 2005
The Peter Ferraras, back then
Jitterbugging into matrimony
It was 1944 when we met at a USO in Pratt, Kan., where I was stationed with the 2nd Air Force in training with the B-29 bomber. She was just 16 years old, attending the local high school, and was a junior hostess at the USO.
On my first visit, I noticed this "5-foot-2, eyes of blue" cutie who was dancing away and having much fun with the GI stag line, when it became my turn to cut in. Needless to say, she was really a good dancer - especially when doing my style, jitterbug - and I hated to give her up to the next airman.
One night I happened to be dancing with her when an intermission was called, so I asked if she would like to have a Coke. We went up to the lounge, and it was then that she noticed a ring that my mother had given me. I told her it was my birthstone. She asked what month, and I said "October." She promptly told me the October birthstone is opal and my ring wasn't an opal. She told me that October was her birthday month, so I asked, "What day?"
She said, "October 21," and I exclaimed that mine was also the 21st.
Well, she must have thought, "This GI is really giving me a snow job," so I showed her my military ID card, which didn't impress her in the least. It was only after several dances that I finally got her to believe that we did share the same birthday, but I was four years older.
Soon after that, I was transferred, but I called her whenever I could. During one of the calls, I proposed that we get married, but she wasn't sure her parents would approve. In a later call, I asked them for permission and they agreed. Knowing that she was still going to the USO, I sent her an engagement ring through the mail - just in case some GI got too friendly with her.
We were married on June 17, 1945, the year she graduated from high school.
-- Mr. and Mrs. Peter B. Ferrara Sr., Belleair Bluffs
|Hildegard and Donald Swanson.|
I am German and spent seven years of the war in Berlin, through bombings and Russian occupation - stories that the History Channel doesn't talk about.
I met my future husband, a sergeant in the Air Force, in June 1945. He left for home, in Rochester, N.Y., the next year. Then the letter came to me that he wanted to get married. At that time, no German woman could marry an American. We were still the enemy.
It was April 1947 before I got permission to come to the United States. Five hundred dollars had to be put aside in case he did not marry me; that was for the return trip. We married on May 17, 1947. It made the front page of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, my being the first war bride in Rochester.
-- Hildegard Swanson, DunedinLove grows, letter by letter
I enlisted in the Navy right after the Pearl Harbor attack. I was a senior in high school in Pittsburgh, and I was sent to boot camp in Newport, R.I. The second time I was on liberty, I followed a pretty girl wearing an evening gown to a dance for servicemen. There I met Marie Olsson.
It was Feb. 5, 1942, and four weeks later, on March 5, I proposed and she accepted. We did our two-year courtship by letters, as I was at sea and she was at home, working at the Navy Torpedo Station. When the Navy gave me 16 days to travel from a ship to a school, we married in Trinity Church in Newport on May 21, 1944.
-- Allan G. Dahlgren Jr., Palm HarborSentimental journey
Plymouth, Devon, England, where I was born, was a beautiful seaside town before the war. I was in school when the war started, age 16. We were badly bombed. Our first major incendiary attack was in 1940, followed by the "blitz" and the 500-pounders that were merciless.
The town was full of servicemen of all nationalities. There was excitement in the air. The Americans brought light to our precarious life and taught us to jitterbug. My first husband, a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, was killed in 1944. He was one of the crew on the bomber Lancaster. We were married March 1944, and he was killed in October. On the rebound, I married an American sailor and had two lovely daughters, Chris and Patty.
After the war came another ordeal: saying farewell to my family. My sister, mother and auntie came on the train with me and my 3-month-old baby to the bus that would take us to the GI brides' camp. My mother was very upset, and I cried all the way to the camp. We boarded the Erricson in March 1946, and the Statue of Liberty was a delight to see. The band was playing Sentimental Journey. This tune brings it all back to me still.
-- Patricia Sallet, Pinellas Park
Julian and Pat Alexander
I went into the Army on Dec. 23, 1943, and after basic training landed in England on Jan. 9, 1945. We were taken to Wallasey in Cheshire to prepare to go to France. During our indoctrination talk, we were warned to stay away from the Tower Ballroom, so naturally a group of us went that very night. We saw a group of girls across the room. One of them winked at me and later walked by me and "accidentally" dropped her handkerchief. I gave it back to her, and that's how I met Pat Browne. I walked her home that night (21/2 miles) and met her at the Tower many times over the next five weeks.
Suddenly we were put on alert to ship over to France and restricted from talking to any civilians. Thanks to an understanding and helpful chaplain, I managed to get several messages to her. For the next eight days, every evening after dinner we were marched from where we were billeted about two blocks to our headquarters to watch movies. In this travel, we passed a convent with about a 4-foot wall around it. I managed to get in the back of the formation and, as we passed the convent, I flipped over the wall to meet Pat, who was crouched on the other side. After talking, hugging and kissing, I would sneak up the back stairs to watch the end of the movie. This went on for seven of the eight nights till we shipped out March 9, 1945.
Many letters went back and forth over the next few months until I asked Pat to marry me. She sailed to this country, I met her in New York and we were married in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 6, 1947. We celebrated our 57th wedding anniversary last year. We have four children, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren - all because, back in 1945, Pat winked at me and dropped her handkerchief!
-- Julian Alexander, St. Petersburg
|Lilianne and Thomas Thomsen.|
I was 19, living in Massachusetts and engaged to a sailor from New York. My girlfriend wanted me to go to a USO dance, where an extremely handsome sailor asked me to dance. What a wonderful evening. We started dating, and we fell in love right away. I then discovered he was engaged to a girl from Kansas. We broke up and he was on leave. The following week he wrote me, said he'd broken up with his girlfriend and asked me to marry him. I said yes right away, and we were engaged 19 days before we married in January.
-- Lilianne Thomsen, Spring Hill"Mother, I am bringing a sergeant home'
I was in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific. I was injured on Okinawa by a bomband lost most of my hearing, so I returned to Los Angeles. While waiting for a cab, I heard voices and saw two male Navy lieutenants and two female Marine sergeants. By now, the cab had approached, and as I was about to get in, the Navy guys said that it was their cab. I set my little satchel down and said that I just finished fighting the Japs, I was not afraid of two Navy officers and I was getting into that cab. The two female Marines calmed the situation down, and since the cab had one of those side seats, we were all able to get in.
We went to the Trocadero, where the Ink Spots were playing. The sergeant that I liked sat to my left, and to her left was the Navy lieutenant she had a date with. They were holding hands, and under the table I was playing footsie with her. The Navy guy did not dance with his date. So I asked if I could dance with her, and he said okay. While dancing, I made a date for the next night and she accepted.
The next night I picked up the Marine sergeant (by the way, her name was Shirley), and we got a cab to Van Nuys where I had an uncle and aunt living at the time. The cab fare cost me $100. I did not know that Van Nuys was so far. My uncle and aunt said that we would be married within two weeks, and we denied that. However, Shirley got a leave of absence and went with me across the country to Atlanta,where my parents lived. When the train stopped for an hour in New Orleans, we got off and I called home. My mother answered the phone and I said, "Mother, I am bringing a sergeant home."
She said, "What's his name?" and I said, "Mother, it's not a he; it is a she." My mother was very straightlaced, and I think she passed out on the phone because my dad then picked up.
Guess what? We had a big church wedding in the Druid Hills Methodist Church in Atlanta.
-- Earl G. Goodman, ClearwaterMy name really is Smith
My story begins in New Zealand, May 1944. World War II was in full force. Like the rest of New Zealanders, I went to work each day, carrying my emergency kit of scissors, bandages, iodine and a candy bar, though how these would suffice in a dire emergency is cause for speculation.
Weekends I did volunteer work at the American Red Cross, and there I met my future husband. He introduced himself: Oden Smith. Smith? To my way, all Yankees had funny names, and Smith seemed "way out." Was this a good old Yankee line I'd heard about?
I introduced myself: Dorothy Brown. He didn't bat an eye. Later on, when he showed me his identification and photos of his family, I was terribly embarrassed. His name was Smith. To his genuine amazement, I confessed my name wasn't Brown. We had a good laugh. We were young, 18 and 19, and knew each other for three weeks.
He left for distant war shores. We wrote constantly, photos included, and I corresponded with his Illinois family. One year and seven months later, he returned to America, and for the next year, we kept writing. After this year back home, he wrote and asked if I would consider a trip to Illinois. Little did I know that another year's wait was in store.
There weren't any planes flying. Ship passage was as scarce as hen's teeth. Finally, in November 1947, I paid first-class fare to be in a cabin with 20 women, three decks down, on an old ship, the USS Marine Phoenix. It had been condemned just before the war, then hastily converted to a troop ship. At noon, Dec. 4, 1947, I finally arrived. It was almost four years since we had seen each other.
A short time later, we married. That day the Chicago area had been blanketed with a coat of new snow. It was a simple ceremony in my new in-laws' living room. The minister stood in front of a glowing fire, and a friend played the wedding march. Family and good friends clustered around, smiling.
-- Dorothy M. Smith, Homosassa
Eileen and Salvatore Cerniglia cut the cake topped with both U.S. and British flags.
My name is Eileen Cerniglia, and I am a British war bride. I met my husband at a dance on a Friday night in London. It was at the end of 1944. He asked me to dance, then told me he was going to marry me. I thought he was just a crazy Yank but to humor him, I agreed to a date Saturday. The weather was bad that day, so I did not show up. We met again at the same place several months later, we dated and when he returned a week later to Germany, we corresponded. We were married Feb. 16, 1946.
-- Eileen Cerniglia, Port RicheyWaiting, always waiting
I was a war bride. It was hard to plan a wedding because sailing dates of ships were top secret. My fiance was a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y. We had to change our wedding plans three different times (from Cleveland to New York), and the ceremony was finally held in the chapel at the academy at Kings Point.
Wanting to do my part for the war effort, I went to work for the U.S. Office of Price Administration, in the Empire State Building in New York City.
The men sailed under secret order as the cargo (I learned later) was high-octane fuel for aircraft. Weeks and months went by with no word. As wives, when we came home from work, we were always in dread of the yellow envelope containing a telegram that was stuck under the door and contained the words "We regret to inform you ... " The greatest joy was finding an airmail letter with its red-and-blue-striped border in the mailbox and the knowledge that at one point in time, the ship had made its way safely into some port.
-- Edna Kelley, St. PetersburgAmid the chaos - Helen
I first met Helen in 1939 when we were students at the art school of what was then called the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. That summer I learned to fly J-3 Cubs at Floyd Bennett Field with the Civilian Pilot Training Program. I was to receive my pilot wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve and was to spend the next year on active duty.
Five days before graduation, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, and all our lives changed.
My first assignment was to Westover Field in Springfield, Mass. Helen and I had been in touch by mail and telephone while I was a cadet, but we had planned for her to take a train from New York so we could be together at the big New Year's Eve party at the officers' club.
On the morning of Dec. 31, 1941, I was on a reconnaissance mission over the storm-plagued North Atlantic, looking for submarines. We returned to Westover and landed about 1 p.m. I was greeted with the news that I had been ordered to transfer to Langley Field in Virginia. What had been planned as a wonderful evening at the officers' club with her brand new second lieutenant with his silver wings was not to be. She spent New Year's Eve at home alone in New York, and at midnight I was still waiting in an airline terminal at Norfolk, waiting for transportation to get me to Langley.
The next morning I became co-pilot of a brand new B-17E, which my pilot and flight engineer had flown from the factory in Spokane, Wash. We left the following morning for MacDill in Tampa, and at 3 a.m. Jan. 4, 1942, I was on my way via "Project X" to Trinidad and probably to the Philippines.
As the first year of World War II was winding down, the 19th Bomb Group veterans were shipped back home, and I was included. We were all granted leave, and I traveled by train with a group going east across the United States. I took the 20th Century Limited from Chicago to New York to meet with Helen at Grand Central Station. I had sent a telegram to her, and as we disembarked, we all rushed to see our loved ones. My buddies were hugging their families, but there was no Helen. I was crushed! When I called her, she was shocked that I was at Grand Central. She had not received the telegram. It did not take her long to arrive and give me that long-awaited hug and kiss, just like in the movies ... under the clock.
In the next few minutes, as we rode to her home, I proposed and she accepted, on one condition: I was to shave off my mustache. On Dec. 20, 1942, we were married in Amherst, Mass.
-- Paul Eckley, ClearwaterWar over, prayers answered
World War II had ended in the Pacific, the ship Wakefield had docked in San Diego and this long-awaited message from a beloved Marine (1st Division) finally arrived at my home in Ohio. At age 22 then, and 81 now, it still seems like only yesterday that he stepped off that train at the Akron depot! Prayers were answered.
-- Margaret Seifert, New Port RicheyHis girl was his will to live
It was December 1940 and the new manager of Walgreens was to start his first day. He was 22, handsome and all business. His name was Murrel Vinecore. Knowing her boss was new in town, Leona Fierke sent Murrel a Christmas card, as a gesture of kindness. This is where the story of love, sacrifice, missing in action and a prisoner of war begins.
"There was something very special about her," Murrel would often tell me. Leona was 20, blond and beautiful. They really were a match made in heaven and fell deeply in love. It was Aug. 26, 1941, when Murrel was drafted. They both wanted so much to be married before he left, but Leona's dad was strict and forbade it, telling her she could wait until he returned.
Cpl. Murrel was a gunner with the 1st Armored Division. It was Nov. 8, 1942, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt made the decision on an allied invasion of North Africa. In February 1943, Kasserine Pass became the focal point in the North African campaign. The Germans attacked during a sandstorm. Murrel and all the other soldiers fought bravely and desperately against superior German weapons, tanks and troops. Murrel's division lost 98 tanks. Murrel was hit with shrapnel in the leg and captured at Faid Pass.
The War Department had compiled a list of all war casualties, and Murrel was not listed. However, he was not listed as a prisoner of war, either, and his whereabouts were not known. Leona had not given up hope that Murrel was alive, but she prayed hard and waited for nearly six weeks before a telegram arrived at Murrel's home, informing his parents that he had been captured and was being held at Furstenberg, Germany, at Stalag IIIB. The news of his capture was bittersweet as the family rejoiced that he was alive, but what Murrel was about to encounter during the next 27 months was kept in his soul for many years.
The Russians finally freed the prisoners, those who were fortunate to survive. These men were living relics of the sadistic treatment by the German captors. Murrel's 27 months of starvation were coming to an end.
On June 12, 1945, Murrel was back in the United States and on to his hometown of Elgin, Ill., on June 15. Seeing his girl, Leona, was his will to live. They were married 22 days later, and instead of a honeymoon, the U.S. government gave all war heroes a three-week, all-expense-paid vacation in Miami. Murrel and Leona enjoyed every minute of that trip, and Murrel slowly began to gain weight. The love between them grew deeper.
I was married totheir son, Jack, in 1973. Jack was killed in a car accident in June 1980. Although it has been 25 years, I have remained very close to Murrel and his wife all these years.
-- Diane Roy, New Port RicheySecond chance with first love
I enlisted in October 1943, at 23 years of age. We were sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Dec. 13. Upon completing basic, we were invited to a dance at the Coast Guard station on base. While dancing, I was "cut in" by a young sailor and, to my utter surprise, it was Fred Bomonti, to whom I had been engaged when I was 18. We had had a fight and broke up, and he had enlisted in the Coast Guard. I did not know he was stationed at Lejeune, but he knew I was coming there when I enlisted.
As he was my first - and only - love, I was shocked and thrilled. We took up where we had left off and two weeks later, after I was moved to Cherry Point Air Station, we were married, accompanied by my mom and aunt, who came down from Cleveland to be there.
On July 15, 1944, I was honorably discharged on a "499," which only another World War II veteran would know. A "499" meant "with child." My "499" was born the next year, on March 9, 1945!
-- Jean B. Bomonti, St. PetersburgA bombshell in uniform
I turned 18 in 1943 and on the following Dec. 30 received my "We want you" notice from the president of the United States.
While I was roaming around in France and Germany during the war, there was a beautiful lady who also was roaming around in England, France and Germany. This lovely lady eventually became the love of my life. Mercia was born Dec. 11, 1914, in Chatham, England. During World War II, she survived the bombing of London and removed hurt people from the streets and destructive aftermath.
In early 1945, Mercia was approached by an American OSS officer and agreed to relocate to France to work for our military. After the war ended, she was transferred to Frankfurt, Germany, in late 1945.
On the evening of Jan. 21, 1946, some buddies took me to a club to celebrate my honorable discharge. We ordered drinks and listened to a womanin uniform, with a friend, singing and playing piano. She finished, turned around, faced us and started to glance at each of us. When she stared into my eyes, believe me, the "love bomb" exploded in just 30 seconds! What an evening and beginning of 59 lovely years.
During the evening, Mercia told us many delightful jokes. She kept us laughing. Later, we got into guessing her age because she looked very young (still does today). Most of the guys guessed about 20 to 25. I guessed 28 only because they had the lower years. Who won? I did! I always tell people that I "won" my wife. And believe me, this has not made a difference in our 59 wonderful years.
-- Mercia and Bill Tillman, SeminoleVinnie, Toots and me
I was 12 years old in 1939 when the war started in England. My sisters and I were shipped out of London to safety from the bombings. I was 17 years old when I met my love. He was a GI of Italian descent from Brooklyn, N.Y. I used to see him dancing at the YMCA with all the girls. He was a great dancer.
The night I met Vinnie, I was babysitting for my cousin "Toots," who was about 3 or 4 years old. Toots and I got to the "Y" a bit early. We stood at the doorway when who should walk in but this Italian GI. Toots said, "Got any gum, chum?"
He said, "Sure," and gave us gum. After a while, Vinnie asked me to dance. I said I couldn't. He said he would teach me. I was so embarrassed. We danced a couple of slow ones, and he asked if he could take me home. I said he would have to walk with all the family. So we walked behind them and chatted away, Mom giving us looks all the time. It was a long way to walk.
Next day was Sunday, and he asked if he could take me to the movies. He picked me up and gave me a brown paper bag. Inside was a corsage of sweet peas. I had never had a corsage before and didn't know where to put it. He pinned it on the lapel of my jacket. Before I knew it, we were engaged at Christmas and married the following May. I was almost 18 and he was 22.
Mom insisted I get married in white, but I didn't have enough coupons. So I borrowed Aunt Marie's wedding gown and rented the bridesmaids' dresses. Toots' gown was made from a nightgown and her muff from a pair of bloomers.
-- Ena De Lucia, HudsonThe letters in the suitcase
My parents had dated before my dad enlisted. They met when my dad, John Ochen, was 18 and my mom, Shirley Krale, was 15. As we were growing up, a suitcase of letters was occasionally alluded to. The instructions were that the letters were only to be read after the passing of both parents. Since my mom's death last year, I've been reading these letters. There are close to 200 of them.
-- Jan Sheridan, Palm HarborRough trip to America
I met my GI husband in Dijon, France, at the war's end. He was stationed in an old chateau with his company, in charge of German prisoners of war.
The Americans organized dances and parties for the French girls. What a treat after so many years of sadness, restrictions and privations.
My husband and I started dating, and after a few months, we were married. My husband was sent back to America, and I followed a short time later in the last shipment of war brides - Paris to Bremerhaven by train and by liberty ship with troops returning home. It was winter and the sea was very rough, and it was the worst 10 days of the trip. I was so ill till we reached New York, a couple of days in Ellis Island, then by train to St. Petersburg where my husband was waiting for me in his home town.
Genevieve Latto, St. PetersburgWait was worth it
As a new second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in 1942, I was working in O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Mo., when a cocky GI who was training as a combat medic came up to me and said, "Have I got a guy for you! He'll be on your ward next week."
I looked forward to that meeting with excitement and a little trepidation. But when he came in that morning, I swear it was love at first sight as I met this tall, grinning GI with the charming New England accent. It was a sort of magic that time has never dimmed.
We worked together on the ward for only a few weeks. He became part of the 60th Combat Team of the 9th Infantry Division. During the war I kept writing V-mails and he answered as he could.
My husband-to-be finished two years of college in Connecticut while I worked in VA hospitals in Oakland and Cleveland. We were married in 1948.
-- Phyllis A. Dick, St. PetersburgIt started with war stamps
My wife and I met in the ninth grade at Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. I arrived at the school to hear a request on the school's PA system for volunteers for the school bank. The duty was to serve as a go-between for the school bank and the classes to sell war stamps.
On the first day, I made my little speech during class. A gorgeous brunet wearing a green sweater, a white dicky, a plaid skirt, white socks, saddle shoes and a pageboy haircut offered to buy a 10-cent stamp. I came back to the class a couple of times a week and she kept buying the stamps.
We still get along. We've been going together ever since, and today I have the best wife in the whole world. We're 76 now, and I'm still selling her stamps.
-- Donald and Gloria Juceam, Brandon
[Last modified August 27, 2005, 12:08:21]
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