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“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. . . . Love never fails.” — 1 Corinthians 13:7-8
Note: This devotional was originally posted on February 14, 2008.
Because we are approaching Valentine’s Day, which has its challenges and opportunities during deployment, I want to share with you a tender (yet powerful) story of a young Christian couple who kept their marriage strong and vibrant during World War II. Married for two days, they were separated by active duty for three and a half years (he on the front lines in Germany and she serving in the Pacific, in Papua New Guinea). When I met them in 1990, they had been married for almost fifty years. They went on, from that point, to live and love together another 10 years before he passed away. Recently I sat down with Louise, now living with her daughter and son-in-law, and recorded her story.
Louise and Eugene met while attending classes at Gardner-Webb College in North Carolina in 1940. . . . and Louise is quick to say that what attracted her to Eugene was that he was a good Christian and he always treated her like a lady.
But after two years of dating he was drafted, and it wasn’t long before he found out that he was going to be assigned overseas. Unbeknownst to Eugene, Louise had also decided to join the Army through the prompting of her brother. When Eugene found out that Louise had enlisted, he said that he thought it was a good idea. “I’ll know where you are and you’ll know where I am,” he said. Then over the phone from Delaware he asked if he could come down to where she was training at Ft. Stewart and “get married before I leave.” She said yes, as did her father and her commanding officer. They were married, both in uniform, in Savannah, Georgia, in January of 1942. Two days later he left for training to prepare for Germany. They did not see one another until the war ended in 1945.
Intrigued by her courageous story, I had to ask several key questions that evening:
Knowing that your husband was in combat every day, how would you pray for him?
Louise answered, “I would just turn him over to the Lord. I told Him that I couldn’t do anything but He could do it all.”
She added a story of witnessing to her bunk-mate, “Well, I had my Bible with me, and my bunk-mate from New York. . . she asked me one night ‘Louise, what are you reading?’ And I said, ‘My Bible.’ Then she said, ‘Why are you reading?’ And I said, ‘Because I like to and I get my strength from the Lord’. . . . . . . .I had to explain everything from beginning to end how I became a Christian. She said, ‘Louise can I see your Bible? I want to read it.’” Louise told her that the next time they would go to the PX she would see if they had a small pocket Bible. “So I bought her one. And when I would read, she would read.”
How would you and Eugene communicate with each other?
“He would write when he could, and I would write every night.” Louise told me that during one spell, she didn’t hear from Eugene for two months — and she had to go to her commanding officer to begin an investigation to try and find out what had happened. Turns out he, and others, were being hidden by a Belgium family after they were separated from their unit during the fighting in Bastogne. Louise heard from him again when he returned to his unit. Eugene and she stayed in touch with that brave family even after the war.
Did he ever talk about the war after he got home?
“A little bit, but not too much. He wouldn’t. . . He was mum on a lot of stuff. Whether he wanted to forget. . . .I don’t know. . . .So I just let him talk when he wanted to. . . . In the summer time, if it came a thunder cloud, I would have to put him in a car and go to ride. He thought it was guns shooting. It took him a good while to get over that, but he did.”
When you would write a letter to him in Germany, when would he get it?
“Sometimes it would be a couple of months. . .sometimes the mail would be slow because it would go over on a ship.”
Did you ever get lonely?
“Oh, more times than I had fingers and toes.”
How did you get through that?
“Prayer. Reading the Bible. I’d pray and I’d read, and I’d pray and I’d read. I’d get through. And he had his Bible. . . . .he would write about how he would ask the Lord to guide him. One time he asked me where I was reading in the Bible and when I answered him I told him. And he wrote back that he was reading up with me.”
So you kinda’ read through the Bible together?
“Yes. He read mostly in the New Testament and he would tell me where he was reading and that way we could keep up with each other.”
Did you ever think, “This is too hard. I don’t know if I can make it?”
“No. I was totally committed. . . .to my job, to my commanding officer, and to my husband. And I knew he was like me. I never doubted him.”
What would you have to say to these service members and their spouses today?
“If they’ll trust in the Lord. . . .if they’ll put Him first. . . they’ve got to put Him first before themselves and trust Him and He will take care of them. But they’ve got to believe. Commitment is the main thing. Be committed to your husbands. . . and husbands, be committed to your wives. It’s a two-way street.”
Louise was not in New Guinea during that entire time of their wartime separation, as she was called home in 1944 because her father was dying. The Red Cross helped get her back home to be with him before he died. Arriving back in the States, she was discharged at Ft. Bragg. She hurried home to her father’s bedside. At that point, however, he was in a coma—and she is not sure if he ever knew she was there. After that she stayed with her mother and alternated with visits to her in-laws until Eugene came home a year and a half later. She describes his homecoming, “My mother-in-law was sweeping the back porch. And we heard an awful commotion with her hollering (we thought she had fallen), so we ran out to see what was wrong. . . . .and there stood my husband!”
Married two days, and separated by war for three and a half years with letters as their only means of communication. Perhaps you know a couple like this. Perhaps your grand-parents lived this. Perhaps you have a story similar, as the cycle of deployments has become so stressful throughout the years.
Where do you turn? Try turning, like Louise, to prayer and your Bible.
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”
— 2 Thessalonians 3:5
Questions to share:
1. Do stories like this give you greater confidence in your marriage? How?
2. Can you use your circumstances to witness to someone close by — like Louise did with her bunk-mate?