For those at home, war occasionally made for short marriages and long memories.
Sometimes when I look at the old black-and-white photo from my wedding in June 1943, it’s as though the people in it are strangers. Was the young woman in the dark dress really me? Did I actually marry the beaming soldier so handsome in his uniform? We were wed for such a short time that it seems like someone else’s life, not mine.
I met Frank Huston in August 1940 when I was 16 and he was 17. I had been a volunteer at a church conference in Fort Wayne, Ind., and afterward my girlfriends and I went on a picnic before traveling to Berne, Ind., to stay with friends. Frank and his buddy George were at the park, and after eyeing us for some time, they came over and started a conversation. Frank singled me out.
Frank was from Beckley, W.Va., and he and George were working nearby for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Aside from thinking Frank was a nice-looking fellow, I sensed he was lonely. He wanted my address so he could write to me. Later that week, Frank and George came to Berne to see us again, and when I returned to my home in Bluffton, Ohio, a little later, it was with the suspicion that Frank Huston was going to be more than a pen pal.
I was right. We corresponded, and then, at Christmastime, he traveled to my home to meet my family. My parents liked Frank right away, and I was growing increasingly fond of him.
Frank turned 18 in September 1940, and by early 1941, he knew the draft was imminent. So in April he joined the Army and was sent to Fort Riley, Kan., for training. I wrote to him regularly, and he came to see me on every furlough he got. His plan was to finish his year in the service and then build a life with me.
Pearl Harbor, of course, changed everything. After completing cook-and-baker school at Fort Riley in early 1942, Frank went to Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division. Frank knew he was headed overseas, and he was determined that we be married before he left. In September 1942, he sent me an engagement ring through the mail; when he came home in November, I said yes. We picked June 2, 1943, as our wedding date.
When we went to get the blood tests for our marriage license, we discovered that Frank was anemic. We knew it wouldn’t change the Army’s plans, so we didn’t let it change ours. We were married in a simple ceremony in Findlay, Ohio, and then traveled by bus to Beckley to spend time with Frank’s family before coming back to Bluffton for a few days with mine.
Only eight days later, on June 10, Frank left to rejoin the 6th Infantry Division, which by now had moved to California. In July we decided I should visit him there, but before I could make arrangements, Frank’s unit left for Hawaii. Then in January 1944, the unit was sent to New Guinea.
Frank sent me a letter in June saying he hadn’t felt well but not to worry. A month later, I received a letter from Frank’s commanding officer letting me know that Frank had been hospitalized—without telling me why! A telegram from the Army followed in September saying that Frank was very ill, but that they were doing all they could for him.
Then, in October I received a telegram with news no woman wanted to hear about her loved one in the service. Frank had passed away on September 28, 1944, just eight days after his 22nd birthday. The anemia discovered during our blood tests turned out to be deadly aplastic anemia. Frank had contracted “jungle fever”—what we now know as malaria.
Devastated, I felt drained of life. My only comforts were a letter from Frank’s chaplain telling me that Frank made peace with God before he died, and word I received from my cousin’s wife, whose friend from Paulding, Ohio, was one of Frank’s nurses in the hospital. This woman said Frank was optimistic to the end.
We held a memorial service for Frank, and later I traveled to California to get away from everything. I returned to Bluffton in June 1945, and in 1947 I met and married Paul Marquart, a veteran of the Army’s 6th Armored Division. We had 45 wonderful years together. Paul was always respectful of my loss of Frank and supported my decision to bring Frank’s body back from New Guinea in 1949.
When I look at photos of Frank today, I realize my feelings for him are different from those I have for Paul. After all, Frank and I never had a chance to build a life together. But the pictures remind me of a soldier I once loved enough to marry, our brief marriage and the eight days we spent together as husband and wife.
Originally published in the March 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.