All Write

What Better Way to Say I Love You?

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.

🛒Order -> https://t.co/CKQZunJl8N
#ww2#historyhttps://t.co/C04PN4TnTM

All Write, Columns

The Final Reunion

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.

Bonnie and Harvey Shaw, 2014

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.

Bett Ratzman with Cindy Hval at a taping of “Spokane Talks,” 2016.

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.

Betty Ratzman, Cindy Hval, Dean Ratzman at a “War Bonds” event, 2015.

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.

All Write, War Bonds

Last ‘War Bonds’-featured couple die 18 days apart

Mitson wedding photo low res

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.

And Mable?

“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.

CHARLIE AND MABEL
Mabel and Charlie Mitson Nov. 16, 2010. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com

Order your copy of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation here. 

 

 

 

All Write, War Bonds

Oh my stars! Love Goodreads reviews!

I’ve been working so hard on my latest book project that sometimes I neglect to check on my first book baby.

Thankfully, my youngest son is a Goodreads user and prompted me to read this latest review.

Here’s an excerpt:

I started reading War Bonds a few weeks ago, and began to read just one story each night as a way to end the day on a happy note. Cindy Hval wrote a series about the Pearl Harbor Survivors Associations for the Spokane Spokesman Review. What people couldn’t get enough of were the stories that featured couples married 6 or 7 decades, so she compiled 30 of these stories into a book. These are couples who met or married during or shortly after WWII, building a life together and keeping love alive in their marriages. Each story is only a few pages (with wonderful then and now pictures), but each speaks volumes. These are people who lived through uncertain times, but knew what they wanted, what they needed and pursued it. They were brave and courageous in tumultuous times, and faced adversity matter of factly. Most importantly, they did all this together. This was indeed the Greatest Generation, and maybe they still have something to teach us. The advice seems so simplistic, maybe we really do overthink things sometimes. Some advice:

When you get married, you stay married.
Be considerate and respectful of each other, but don’t forget to have some joy and laugh a little.
Why squabble with the love of your life?

You can read the full review on Candy’s Planet or on Goodreads.

Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts about War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. 

And for readers who just post stars– those are fantastic, too!

It’s wonderful to know War Bonds is being read, enjoyed and talked about.

All Write, Columns

Losing my heroes

Ray, Milt, Dean, Harold.

Their names are as old-fashioned as the values they held dear – patriotism, service, commitment and lifelong love.

In the past few months, four members of the Greatest Generation died. Three of them are featured in my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

“I’m losing all my heroes,” I said to my husband.

“But aren’t you glad you found them?” he replied.

Actually, most of them found me whether through the newspaper or mutual friends. And one by one they shared their stories with me and with my readers. Stories of war, wounds, absence and loss, as well as tales of love found, new generations birthed, homes built and communities enriched.

Ray Garland’s recent death generated a lot of media coverage and rightly so. He was the last surviving military member of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association. His eyewitness account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and his compelling memories of surviving brutal battles and freezing cold during the Korean War are a vital part of our historical narrative.

On the day the story I wrote about Ray’s death was published, I got a note from a pastor in Coeur d’Alene telling me about the death of Milt Stafford.

Stafford, who before the war had never set foot outside of Idaho, served in Africa and Italy during World War ll. In “War Bonds,” he recalled the invasion of Sicily – the first time he saw dead bodies strewn across a battlefield.

“I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t want to see,” he said. “It was hell on wheels.”

But it wasn’t battle memories that made the combat vet cry, it was the memory of a little girl.

“Her parents had been killed by the Germans, and she came to the camp begging for food,” Stafford recalled.

He thought she was about 3 or 4 years old, and he and his buddy Willard “adopted” her. They fed her, clothed her and when the shelling started (which it did most every day) they made sure she was in the foxhole with them. They never knew her name.

When the war ended, Stafford took her to the U.S. embassy in Milan. He never saw her again, but she haunted him.

“I think about her every day,” he told me. “I wonder, did she find a family? Is she alive?”

Chpt 2 Milt with little girl, Italy, 194

Milt Stafford with little girl. Italy 1944.

I would have been honored to attend Stafford’s memorial, but I had another funeral to attend that day.

Dean Ratzman, another “War Bonds” alum, had died.

Spending time with Ratzman and his wife, Betty, always involved lively banter and engaging conversation.

Several bouts of dengue fever while serving in the South Pacific had damaged Dean’s heart, and when he proposed to Betty, he told her that doctors said he likely wouldn’t live past middle age.

“He told me the doctors said he wouldn’t live past 40,” Betty recalled. “Then he asked me to marry him. I told him, ‘You’re not going to get out of it that easily!’”

As I hugged Betty at the funeral, I could only imagine the enormity of her loss. The couple would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in June.

CHpt 18 Dean Ratzman 1943

Dean Ratzman, 1943

Some months earlier, I’d read about the death of Harold Smart.

When I interviewed Harold and Peggy Smart in their Pullman home, Harold was still so smitten with her, that even after 70 years together, he didn’t let go of her hand, and frequently interrupted our conversation to say, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Sadly, Peggy died before “War Bonds” was published. Harold was nervous about loaning me their photos to copy for use in the book.

“You’ll bring them right back?” he asked. “They’re precious to me.”

Reading his obituary, I was delighted to discover a sweet connection. When Harold had moved to Orchard Crest in Spokane, he met Louise McKay, a “War Bonds” widow, and they became friends.

Chpt 22 Harold Smart, 1943Harold Smart, 1943

How wonderful to know these two with so much in common had found comfort in their friendship.

While the loss of these men saddens me, I know how lucky I’ve been to have met them. Heroes can be hard to find, but I’ve been blessed to know so many.

All Write, War Bonds

New War Bonds Review on Goodreads

I’m so appreciative of readers who take the time to share their thoughts about War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

Mar 14, 2019 Mel rated it really liked it

Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning th
Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning the plane lurched and trembled. Like a goose hit in the wing by a volley of shot, we plummeted into the Pacific with terrifying finality.”
The plane smashed into the water, shattering on impact. Cascades of water tossed him about like limp seaweed…..
Some gruesome details are shared, but not many. Obviously some of the men had PTSD, something that wasn’t really known about or properly dealt with back then.
pg. 207 Tom says, “That’s where I kissed her for the first time. The wind came up and blew my hat off. Down it went, into the sand pit. She’s a powerful kisser to blow my hat right off!”

In the Afterward, the author tries to define what is so special about these couples. She says she found several qualities the couples shared: friendship, respect and commitment.

The couples definitely had a mettle that couples today do not seem to have. We currently, sadly, live in a throw away society and that seems to go for relationships as well; not just marriages, but long lasting friendships. Something that also stuck out to me in this book, was the strong familial relationships, which I think also reflected in the strong marriages. Also, the women didn’t freely give themselves away, if you know what I mean.

I highly recommend this book.

All Write, War Bonds

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I rarely blog book reviews, but this lovely book has a World War II theme and I adore a good love story with some deeper historical contexts.

Plus, we just watched the recently-released Netflix movie and to my joy the movie was wonderful and very much in keeping with the book.

Until I sat down to write this, I hadn’t realized that the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, died before the book was published and that her niece helped her finish it.

The added poignancy made the story feel that much sweeter.

So. Surprise!

This isn’t a book review. Just a recommendation to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society AND watch the movie. You’ll be glad you did.

 

War Bonds

War Bonds Hero Dies on Memorial Day Weekend

War Bonds Louie Anderson

On Sunday, May 27, Louie Anderson slipped the bonds of Earth and flew to be with his beloved Barb.

He and Barbara enjoyed 71 years of marriage and because they lived close to my home, I got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

The photo below watched over me from my filing cabinet as I wrote War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

Louis and flight crew 1944 low res

It shows Louie and his flight crew looking impossibly young and irrepressibly confident. Their 22-year-old leader, first pilot Louis Anderson sits on his haunches in the front row, far left. The photo was snapped as the 10 young men prepared to depart for Chelveston, England. It was May 1944 and the crew of the G-model Flying Fortress eagerly anticipated getting their licks in against the enemy.

Thirty-five missions later, Louis returned home, having lost only one of his original crew. Amazing because he said, “There was only one mission that we didn’t get shot at.”

Below is an excerpt from their chapter, “Keeping Time.”

“A ship in our left wing got hit,” Louis said. He and his men watched in dismay as the ball turret gunner fell from his turret and hung suspended by his foot. Many B-17 crew members considered the ball turret the worst position on the aircraft. The gunner was confined in a sphere fastened to the underside of the plane.

Louis cleared his throat. “I had to explain to the fellows that he was no longer with us.” After 45 seconds the gunner fell from the aircraft.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty talking the crew into getting back in the plane to fly a mission the next day,” he continued. “We had to have several conferences with the chaplain to explain that the gunner hadn’t been hanging there, suffering.”

When Barbara died in November, Louie’s already declining health, worsened.

He just wanted to be with her.

And he got his wish, but not before he was awarded a special Quilt of Valor made by the quilting group at Fairwood Retirement Community. Barbara was an avid quilter and she would be delighted to know of Louie’s gift.
He received the quilt, Saturday. He passed away Sunday.

And on Memorial Day I will be thinking of them both.

War Bonds with the Andersons at Fairwood

 

 

War Bonds

She found love in the right place

When Janet Hegdahl, 16, found out her family was moving from Portland to Spokane in the fall of 1955, she didn’t jump for joy.

“I’d just gotten a job at the library,” she recalled.

She’d also discovered boys.

“I was really interested in boys, a little too interested,” Janet said. “I was looking for boyfriends in all the wrong places.”

Her unhappiness about the move melted away the first Sunday her family attended Trinity United Presbyterian Church. That’s when she saw Jack Arkills singing in the choir and thought church just might be the right place to meet a guy.

Jack noticed her as well and made a beeline for her as soon as the service ended. He was the youth director and Sunday School superintendent, and he wanted to invite her to the youth meeting that evening.

“The Italians have what they call a thunderbolt,” Jack said. “It’s when you see someone, and it’s instant recognition.”

He smiled at Janet.

“It was instant for me,” he said.

She felt the same way.

They both attended Lewis and Clark High School and saw each other between classes and after school. On one of their first dates, they saw the movie “High Society,” and when Bing Crosby crooned “True Love” to Grace Kelly, it became their song.

From their Riverview Retirement Community apartment in Spokane, Jack sang, “I give to you and you give to me, true love, true love …”

Jack already had a connection to Bing Crosby – he’d caddied for Crosby at Indian Canyon in the late ’40s.

“Bing was a big tipper,” he recalled.

In May 1957, Jack dashed into the downtown library where Janet was working. It was the day of the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, and he was scheduled to march with his National Guard unit.

It was also Janet’s 18th birthday.

“I had a ring in my pocket,” Jack said.

He proposed.

She said yes.

And off he ran to march in the parade.

Jack had graduated from high school and was working for the Great Northern Railroad.

“I wanted to go to Whitworth and be a minister, but pretty soon I was making more than my friends who were teachers,” he said.

Janet had received a scholarship to Eastern Washington University, so they married March 21, 1958, during spring break.

She sewed her tea-length lace wedding gown, and they said their wedding was the last one held at Trinity United Presbyterian, which soon closed its doors.

They settled in an apartment in Browne’s Addition, and almost a year after their wedding, their son, Chris, was born.

“We had a 2-week-old on our first anniversary,” Janet said, smiling.

Thirteen months later, son Scott arrived and Janet’s college education was put on hold.

Daughter, Amy, completed the family in 1962, and they settled into a house in the Garland District.

The family made First Presbyterian their church and it quickly became the center of their lives. Janet became the church librarian, a position she still holds, 55 years later, and Jack joined the choir, and yes, he still sings in it.

Their lives took a drastic turn in 1966 when Jack was severely injured in a train derailment. He was on top of the train to tie a handbrake and got knocked off during the derailment.

“I landed on my back on the track,” he said.

He broke his arm and had six fractures in his sacrum. For two long weeks, he had no sensation in his legs.

“They said I’d never walk again.”

Janet, 25, didn’t know how to drive, but a neighbor taught her during her frequent trips to the hospital.

With three children, a mortgage and her husband’s recuperation uncertain, Janet returned to work at Spokane Public Library. She ended up working at all three Shadle branch locations, as well as the Indian Trail branch.

“I’ve always been addicted to reading and to studying,” she said.

Indeed. She started night school, picking up a class here and there, until 25 years after she began her college career, she graduated from EWU.

Meanwhile, Jack was able to return to work on the railroad. Not only was he able to walk, he started to run. And run. And run some more. Eventually, he ran five marathons.

The family moved to the South Hill in 1979, and when the kids flew the nest, Jack and Janet built their dream house – a passive solar home on Moran Prairie.

In 1987, Jack was diagnosed with polymyostis, a rare inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness. He retired from the railroad in 1991, though the disease eventually went into remission.

He’s always been the head cook in the family.

Janet laughed.

“I’d put something on and go off and read and wouldn’t you know it? It burned,” she said.

She retired from the library in 2004. Her career spanned the years from handwritten check out cards, to bar codes. From card catalogs to digital catalogs, and she relished every minute.

For many years, the couple have been members of Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization and hospitality service with the mission of improving intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence via homestays.

The Arkills have traveled across the globe, including stops in Australia, France, Germany and Tasmania.

“We love to travel,” Janet said. “We’re both extroverts, so we love to host people here, too.”

Jack survived a bout of esophageal cancer, and 14 years ago they moved to Riverview, where they continue to be active and involved.

Janet marvels that the move to Spokane which she so despaired of, ended up giving her the love of her life, and she sees the hand of the Divine at work.

“The Lord led us together and He’s kept us together,” she said.

Looking at Jack, she smiled.

“We’re best friends.”

As for Jack, the thunderbolt that hit him more than 60 years ago, hasn’t worn off.

“So many couples say they fall out of love,” he said. “I don’t get it. I guess I never fell out of love.”

War Bonds

When Opposites Attract

She was an only child. He was one of seven.

He was a Catholic. She was a Protestant.

She joined the Air Force. He joined the Navy.

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

The adage “opposites attract” certainly applies to Becky and Harry Flanigan.

They met as children growing up in the same neighborhood in New Albany, Indiana. But Becky had no intention of dating Harry, two years her junior, let alone marrying him.

Harry, however, had other ideas.

In their Kendall Yards apartment, he grinned as he recalled his first sight of Becky. His speech has been impaired by a stroke, but he communicates with hand gestures and short sentences.

“I was 4 years old when I met her. I was 11 when I knew I wanted to marry her,” he said.

It seems when he was 4, a button popped off his snow pants, and Becky’s mother sewed it back on for him. That’s how they met.

At 11, he was stricken by polio and from his bed near the living room window; he watched Becky and his older brother walk to school each day.

“I told Mom I was going to marry her,” he said.

But marriage would have to wait.

After high school, Becky went to nursing school at Ball State University. When an Air Force recruiter came to talk to the soon-to-graduate nurses, she and three friends signed up, and were soon sent to Minot, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Harry, who hoped to be a doctor, attended St. Louis University until he ran out of funds. After working for the Army Corps of Engineers for a couple years, he enlisted in the Navy.

In 1966, he was attached to the Marine Corps unit in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He and his fellow corpsmen sent up and ran the field hospital there. He doesn’t talk about his experiences in Chu Lai.

When asked if he lost friends during the war, he hung his head and buried his face in his hands.

Becky said, “He brought home a machete and once I asked him where he got it. He said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

One of the first things he did after returning home was to call Becky and ask her for a date.

“I said yes,” she recalled. “Then I told my mother, ‘What have I done?’ I’m older than he is. I’m taller than he is. And now he knows I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night.’”

It was March 25, 1967, and when Harry picked her up, she was relieved and surprised to find he’d grown.

“He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the last time I’d seen him,” she said.

Her mother waited up for her, and when Becky returned she told her mom she’d had a nice time, but wasn’t interested in seeing him again. Harry planned a career in medicine, and she definitely didn’t want to marry a doctor.

The next day he brought her an Easter card.

“He was charming as all get out,” Becky said, smiling.

He must have been, because they got engaged on April 16.

Coming from a large family had its disadvantages – namely little sisters.

“I had no idea he was going to propose,” Becky said. “But we stopped by his house and his little sister said, ‘Do you like your ring?’”

There went the surprise.

The boisterous Flanigans were a bit overwhelming.

“He invited me to a family party, and there were 100 people there,” she recalled. “I wanted to run away.”

She didn’t, and they married Aug. 12.

“His mother told people at our reception, we wouldn’t last six months,” Becky said.

Then she grinned.

“She did eventually apologize, but it took her 30 years.

Harry enrolled at Indiana University, but was disappointed when he wasn’t admitted to medical school. Even though his grades were excellent, he was told the university had no interest in retraining him from his military experience.

He studied business instead and took a job with Union Carbide after graduating in 1970.

Becky gave birth to their daughter, Amy, in 1971, and the family embarked in a series of moves across the country as Harry rose in rank and responsibility within the corporation.

Tragedy struck while they were living in California. Harry, age 46, suffered a stroke. His carotid artery had dissected and life as they knew it changed forever.

The stroke affected his speech and partially paralyzed his right side.

“The last thing he said to us was ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

His prognosis was grim, but Becky said, “He felt since he beat polio, he could beat this.”

Harry, a driven, Type A, workaholic, channeled all of his energy into recovery, making it his full-time job. He learned to walk, to drive and to care for himself, though speech remained an issue.

But despite his amazing strides, he couldn’t resume his career.

“The worst day of his life wasn’t the day of his stroke, but the day they retired him,” Becky said. “He loved his job, the people, the travel. …”

Harry nodded.

Their daughter was attending law school at Gonzaga University, so they decided to move to Spokane. They’ve never looked back, because soon they had three grandchildren to dote on, including a grandson who is now attending the United States Air Force Academy.

When he could speak more clearly, Harry told Becky, “I think the stroke is the best thing that happened to me. It slowed me down, brought me to a stop and allowed me to appreciate my family.”

With his left hand, Harry, 75, gestured upward.

“My grandkids and Amy lift me up,” he said.

As to his wife of 50 years, well, he’s always believed marrying her was his destiny.

He curled his left arm into a muscle-flexing pose.

“She’s strong,” he said.

Becky, 77, said, “People ask me if I’d do it again and I say, ‘Yes, in a heartbeat.’”

When asked why, her eyes filled with tears.

“I guess it’s just true love,” she said.

“Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “Yes.”

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