My publisher tweeted this sweet blurb.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Be inspired by the romantic love stories of America’s greatest generation in ‘War Bonds’ by @CindyHval.
Military spouses are experts at saying goodbye. Separation is a fact of life, and no one knew this better than the men and women featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”
During World War II, these couples’ farewells were fraught with fear. There would be no emails. No texts. No FaceTime with the family. Letters and scant phone calls or occasional telegrams had to suffice.
But, oh, the reunions! Most of the 36 couples profiled in “War Bonds,” vividly remembered and described the moment they saw their spouses when they finally came home.
In the past six weeks, three of those brides experienced their final reunions with their husbands. This time they won’t have to say goodbye again.
Melba Jeanne Barton died Nov. 30. She and Don were married 67 years before he died in 2013. That eight-year separation marks the longest time they’d spent apart.
She’d met Don at a Grange dance two months after he’d returned from flying B-29s in the Pacific theater. He’d endured a horrific loss when the plane he piloted was hit in battle, and his young navigator was killed. Decades after the experience his eyes still filled with tears when he spoke of it.
“He was a nice kid – a real nice kid,” he’d said.
You might think Melba Jeanne would be immediately smitten by the dashing pilot. After all, he shared her Christian faith, and he was a great dancer. But Don was a farmer, and Melba Jeanne swore she’d never marry a farmer.
“Feeding chickens and milking cows – none of that stuff appealed to me,” she said.
But Don’s patient persistence and promises that she’d never have to do farm chores won her hand and her heart.
They raised three daughters on their family farm. And Melba Jeanne discovered the best benefit to being a farmer’s wife.
“On the farm, your husband is never far away. We’ve always done everything together,” she’d said.
Bonnie Shaw died on Dec. 5. She met her husband, Harvey at Central Valley High School when he was home on leave and visiting his siblings.
Despite his uniform, Harvey was just a boy himself. “I got stupid and quit school right in the middle of my sophomore year,” he recalled. “I just didn’t think. A few months later, I was in the Navy.”
He said goodbye to his family and set sail on the USS Kwajalein, but Bonnie didn’t forget about him. He returned home in 1946, and when Bonnie and her boyfriend broke up, Harvey wasted no time.
“When we finally got together, we just really fell in love,” she recalled.
And just like sailing the Pacific, their courtship wasn’t without bumps. Bonnie was a devout Catholic and Harvey was not. Unbeknownst to her, he began taking instruction at St. John Vianney, and they wed there in August 1950.
They spent 64 years together. Harvey died in 2014, not long before “War Bonds” was published.
When I’d called Bonnie shortly before his death she said. “He’s not doing very well, but he asks me to read him your column, and every time I do, he smiles.”
We both cried a bit then.
Bonnie gave Harvey nightly back rubs and the last words they whispered before falling asleep were “I love you.”
“Harvey is my heart,” she said.
Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.
To know Betty was to love her. A prolific writer and avid letter-writer, Betty’s fierce intelligence and sharp wit delighted all who knew her. I treasure the letters I received from her.
In fact, she won her husband’s heart through the mail.
They’d met on a blind date in 1943, and when Dean Ratzman shipped out with the Navy, she told him not to get his hopes up.
He ignored her warning and treasured both her photo and the letters she wrote to him while he was at sea.
“You can find so much more about someone in letters,” he’d said.
They married in 1946 and spent 73 years together until Dean died in 2019.
Fit and active, the couple attended many “War Bonds” events, gladly meeting folks who marveled at their lasting love.
The last time I spoke with Betty shortly after Dean’s death, she wanted to know all about my sons and my cats. Then her quavery voice broke a bit.
“Oh, I miss Dean. I miss him so much,” she said.
I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.
The “War Bonds” brides are at the heart of what made our country great. They endured separations and rationing. They tackled nontraditional jobs and learned new skills, to keep our country going during the war. They gave their husbands something to fight for and a reason to come home.
While I celebrate each couple’s heavenly reunion, I can’t help but think our world is diminished by their absence. I know my little corner of it is.
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.
Sometimes I get the best emails. This is one of them. God bless teenagers like Michael from New Jersey.
Hello, my name is Michael and I am a sixteen year old high school student from New Jersey. Over the past two years I have been interviewing Great Depression survivors, World War II and Korean War veterans.
I have been doing this because I love history and one day I would like to write a book on the men and women from these events. I read your article on World War II veterans from your book who have recently been passing away. I just wanted to say that you have had an opportunity many men and women will never experience. So many men and women take the last men and women from World War II for granted and sadly they will not be around for much longer.
I’m counting on Michael to write that book. So cool, that someone this young values the stories of the very old.
I was so delighted to see this photo of Harold (Tom) and Shirley Tucker celebrating their 72nd wedding anniversary on November 12 at North Hill Christian Church in Spokane.
The Tuckers are featured in chapter 36 of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.
Long may they love!
Hungry for history? In love with the past?
Now you can indulge that interest anytime and anywhere.
My friends at Nostalgia Magazine recently launched an app available for android and iOS devices.
They’ve also included an excerpt from War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.
“The Luck of the Draw” can be accessed via the app or the website.
I got to witness something very special today. High school students from Barker and Spokane Valley Tech schools interviewed members of the Greatest Generation at Harvard Park Retirement Community.
The interviews came about as part of a history/language arts unit. The students were taught basic interviewing techniques, chose to read 1 of 3 books about WWll (including Radioman and The Bellygunner by Spokane author Carol Edgemon Hipperson) and then paid a visit to Harvard Park.
The students were thoughtful, well-prepared and so appreciative. It was really moving to witness the respect these kids gave to their elders and how much they seemed to value spending time with them.
Afterward a student said, “This is so much more valuable than the average history class. You get a sense of what it was like during this time– it paints a picture for you.”
Story coming soon in the Spokesman Review.
Christy Woolum, who teaches school in the Inchelium school district in Washington, sent this photo of student, Nathan Loer, reading War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.
She writes, “I think this student deserves extra credit for reading your book in class.He proudly showed off the story about his great- grandparents.”
I absolutely agree!
One of the reason’s I’m so passionate about this book is evidenced in this photo. Younger generations need to know about the sacrifices and struggles their grandparents and great grandparents endured during and after World War II.
Though not geared toward young readers, War Bonds is certainly appropriate for them to read. If it’s not in you school library, don’t you think it should be?