Please join author Mark Cronk Farrell and me, Wednesday, April 13, for a discussion of her latest book, “Close-Up on War.” It’s the amazing story of Catherine Leroy, who documented the war in Vietnam through compelling photos.
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.
Ken and Carolyn Lewis
War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation tells the stories of WWll heroes both at home and abroad. But those aren’t the only heroes I’ve met.
Last week I met Ken Lewis. He was wounded during his first tour of duty in Vietnam and scheduled to be flown out. But before that happened the unit of South Vietnamese soldiers he was serving with was ambushed 400 yards from the base. Caught in a crossfire every single soldier died. “Eighty seven men, wiped out,” said Ken.
And he wept.
“He’s never talked about this before,” his wife, Carolyn explained, shocked by his openness.
But that’s not the heroic part.
After Ken got home, their 18 year old son enlisted and called to tell them he’d received orders for Vietnam.
“You aren’t going,” Ken said. “Absolutely not!”
He been there, you see. He didn’t want his son to live through what he’d endured.
His son balked. “Dad! I’ve got orders!”
“No,” said Ken. “No.”
He called a friend in the Pentagon and said, “There’s no way I’m going to let my son go to Vietnam– send me instead. I will go back.”
And he did.
His son was sent to Alaska and Ken did another tour of duty in Vietnam.
And I know I’m supposed to be a hard-boiled professional journalist, but tears filled my eyes and I sat in my car and wept after this interview.
“Greater love has no man than this….”
If you can’t wait until February to read some of War Bonds– you don’t have to!
Chapter 31 “So Nice To Come Home To” from War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation is featured in the current edition of Nostalgia Magazine. The magazines should be in newstands next week!
“So Nice To Come Home To” is the story of Charlie and Mable Mitson. They married in 1942 and recently celebrated their 72nd Anniversary!
Charlie was a career military man, serving in WWll, Korea and Vietnam.
You don’t want to miss their amazing story!
If you live in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area you can find the magazine at Rosauers, Yokes (north side), Auntie’s, Corner Door Fountain and Books, Barnes and Noble, Albertsons (south side).
Went to return some photos to Charlie and Mable Mitson this week. Their story is told in chapter 31 of War Bonds.
Charlie, pictured here in France, 1945, served as a paratrooper during WWII. After the war he entered the newly formed Air Force and became a pilot. He flew combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam War.
When I arrived Mable gave me a hug. I asked where her husband was. She said,”Oh, he’s installing a hot water heater at our grandson’s house.”
Charlie is 90.
There’s a reason we call these folks the Greatest Generation.