He thought she was a skinny kid, and he didn’t want to be seen with her.
She thought he was “just another boy.”
But first impressions aren’t always lasting. On July 11, Charlie and Mable Mitson would have celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary – and for all we know they did, just not here on this earth.
Mable died on June 3 and Charlie followed 18 days later on June 21. Finally, Mable got to go somewhere new before her husband. After all, she’d followed him through 22 moves, during his many years of military service.
I first met the Mitsons in 2010 when I featured them in my “Love Story” series for The Spokesman Review. I followed up with them a few years later, when I included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”
Visiting them in their South Hill home was always a delight. They were both quick with a quip, finishing each other’s stories, and teasing each other when one remembered something differently.
Charlie sometimes deferred to her because he said, “she’s older than me.”
Mable was born in July 1924, Charlie in September.
They met at church in Coeur d’ Alene, and when those first impressions wore off, they quickly became a couple. They married when they were both just 17.
Charlie had landed a $40 per week job at the newly opened Farragut Naval Station and said, “I decided I could afford to get married.”
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, leaving his wife and infant son behind.
Charlie served with the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. His World War II service included a grueling Italian ground fight, the invasion of Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the occupation of Berlin at war’s end.
Mable said, “I remember him telling me, ‘You just had to go over the dead and dying and keep moving.’”
Still, Charlie counted himself lucky. His only injury came from a piece of shrapnel that struck his leg. He shrugged. “I didn’t even know I was hit, ’til someone said, ‘You’re bleeding!’ They put a bandage on it, and I just kept going.”
He mustered out in 1945, but he didn’t stay out long. In 1949, he was accepted into the Air Force Aviation Cadet program and launched a 30-year career as a military fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions as an F-86 pilot during the Korean War, and 100 combat missions over North Vietnam as an F-105 pilot, before retiring as a colonel at 54.
“I followed him everywhere,” she said.
She did more than just follow. She was a consummate hostess, often entertaining military personnel all over the globe. And she was the ever-present centerpiece of their family, which grew to include five children.
Their retirement years were just as busy as their military years, as they deeply invested in their church, their grandchildren and in numerous volunteer activities.
Charlie credited their abiding friendship as the key to their loving marriage.
“Make sure you have a good solid friendship before you get married,” he’d advised.
Mable said having a positive attitude helped her endure their many wartime separations.
“Wherever he was I always knew he was coming home,” she said.
So, I’ve no doubt she was expecting Charlie to arrive at any moment during the 18 days that passed between their deaths.
In “War Bonds” Mable recalled how they were separated for a year and a half during World War ll. She went to meet him at the train station, wondering how the war had changed him, wondering if she’d recognize him.
“Did you spot him among all those soldiers?” I’d asked.
Her face lit up.
“I did. Oh, I did!”
And Charlie never forgot that first glimpse of her after their long separation.
Though the station must have been bustling with travelers, he said, “I saw her standing on the staircase. As I remember it, she was the only one there.”
I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what Charlie experienced on June 21 when once again he was reunited with his bride.
Order your copy of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation here.