LOUISE: Love & War
This is a story I wish I could have shared on Veterans Day. It’s a story of life and death, beauty and horror, celebration and grief. You see this story took place in the middle of the Vietnam War. And though war is never pretty, there are precious moments, sacred things that often happen during those times.
Carl and I were dating in college when he was drafted into the United States Army. We were already planning to get married so on the very day he left for Basic Training, Carl slipped an engagement ring on my finger. We planned to marry as soon as he got permanent orders, providing it wasn’t Vietnam. Otherwise, we would wait. Not my idea! Carl didn’t want to leave a young widow in case he died on the battlefront. I argued that I wouldn’t love him any less simply because we weren’t married, but Carl was adamant. We were young. We were in love and he wanted to protect me.
Finally, word came at the end of AIT training—Carl got Europe. He called me at college and asked me to come to the base and get married. He was shipping out that weekend. No leaves for anyone not going to Southeast Asia. Not even a two or three-day pass, so I went. We were married in a little Army chapel at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri with a handful of soldiers as our guests. Carl in his dress uniform and me in a borrowed wedding gown.
After the ceremony everyone gathered in the tiny kitchen for cake and coffee while Carl’s buddies told me how they planned to sneak him out of the barracks had his commanding officer denied him a 12 hour pass to get married and spend the night with me. Suddenly, they realized this was the last event they would attend together. The next day, those not going to Southeast Asia would leave for their final destinations. Since most didn’t know exactly where they would be stationed, they wondered how they would keep in touch with each other. It was quickly decided that everyone would take my address and send me their permanent contact info and I would send it on to the rest of the guys. Carl was a bit hesitant to let these men write letters to his new bride, but only a little.
So that’s how I came to hear from young soldiers in Vietnam, as well as the States and elsewhere. Some of them wrote to me (with Carl’s knowledge) the whole time they were overseas. They were lonesome and somehow, having attended our wedding, I seemed like a family member to them. I got letters telling me how bad things were in Vietnam. Everyone was always in a rush and one young man was injured by a grenade. In December, one of the soldiers wrote that his fiancée married someone else that Christmas. Another sent a letter near my first anniversary, telling me our wedding was one of his best memories. And some? Well, some never wrote. They lost their lives in Vietnam.
Today, as I look at that wedding picture, with soldiers in the background, I thank God that I was able to marry the man I loved and spend 45 years with him. I also thank God for those young soldiers and remember that freedom is never free. It comes at a high price. Some paid with their lives and we should never ever forget their sacrifices. On this Independence Day, thank God for our freedom. Thank God for America!