Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, this month, our United States leaders created the Continental Army, beginning a rich heritage of successfully defending the U.S. and my fellow citizens. Today, we appreciate the continued honor, loyalty and bravery of soldiers with an ‘Army Strong’ commitment to America’s core values and beliefs.
I’ve been around military men all of my life. My family tree is filled with dedicated mavericks that served in the U.S. Air Force, fearless leaders that served in the U.S. Marines, and brave warriors that served in the U.S. Army. (And if I have a relative that enlisted in the U.S. Navy that I’m not aware of I’ll let you know. I’m still working on the genealogy on my father’s side. :) )
Have you ever talked to a veteran about their loved ones? How about ask a military couple how they met and fell in love with each other? Well, I had the pleasure to meeting a few young at heart veterans and they had a lot to say about love and marriage. As a romance writer, I really enjoyed spending time helping them walk back down memory lane. (Yes, my creative mind happily went into overdrive plotting possible storylines with each conversation.)
It happened a few weeks ago when I attended an event honoring community leaders. I enjoyed picking the brains of some military couples but it wasn’t until an elderly man joined our table that the conversation became completely memorable.
He was in his nineties and asked me why I hadn’t taken a turn around the dance floor yet. I politely explained, “I’m unescorted, besides this table is too interesting to leave.”
He glanced around at my table mates and pulled up a chair. It was then that I learned everyone knew Earl and wanted him to tell me his love story too. At first he refused, stating it wasn’t a big deal, until one of the ladies stated,“C’mon
she’s an author like that Nicholas Sparks guy.”
Before I could state that I’m not as accomplished as Mr. Sparks, Earl cleared his throat and gave me a hard stare over his glasses. It reminded me of the look my grandfather gave me when he caught me, at age ten, poking around his garage. It was piercing and incredibly intense. “You really want to know about me and Sara Mae.”
“Only what you care to share.” I stated.
Earl sat back in his seat, folded his arms, and revealed his story of love and heartbreak. It was the summer of 1941, Earl and Sara Mae were high school sweethearts. She planned to attend classes at a university down south and he planned to enter the Army. He gave her a promise ring to seal his vow to marry her when he returned. She accepted. They wrote every week for the first eight months until her letters stopped.
His Army buddies told him his girl probably found a college man to spend her time with so he’d better worry about doing his job instead of nursing a heartache. Distracted soldiers easily get people killed. Earl embraced the advice, stopped openly fixating on Sara Mae, and became a leader of his company.
The next six months Earl’s family and friends tried to piece together what happened between Earl and Sara Mae. His parents reported Sara’s family moved closer to her university. His friends wrote that Sara had cut off contact with them too. All information seem to reveal his sweetheart had a change of heart and wanted to be left alone.
When Earl was granted a furlough he did the unthinkable. He headed to Georgia
to find his Sara Mae. He hadn’t accepted the fact that she didn’t want to speak to him and he couldn’t stop thinking about her until he knew she was with someone else. See, in his mind no one could love her the way he loved her. They never
had any big arguments, did nice things for each other, and always spoke the truth with loving kindness. So for her to just stop contact without an explanation was, well …cruel. Seeing her was the only way he could let go of the residue of their breakup.
He went to Agnes Scott College in Decatur before Christmas break and learned Sara was moved off campus to her parents' new house on the outskirts of town. He got the address and raced to her home.
Her father answered and remembered him the moment he removed his hat. They spoke in hush tones until Earl was asked to leave. Earl refused and told Sara’s father the police would have to forcibly remove him from the home because he’d traveled too far not to get answers.
Her father acquiesced and retreated upstairs. A few moments later Earl heard Sara descending slowly down the stairs and his heart quicken with each step. When she came into view he noticed she wasn’t wearing her brunette hair the way he remembered and her movements were shaky.
It was at this point in the story that Earl paused his account and shook his head before continuing. Then he stated, she walked towards him and meekly met his questioning gaze. As much as he tried to act like he wasn’t taken aback, the change in her appearance mystified him.
Sara Mae’s mother helped her to a seat and said, “Sara is doing better after the accident but it’ll be a few more months until she can attend classes on campus again.” Her father stood protectively beside his daughter.
Sara had been in a car accident that badly injury her right side and greatly scarred the side of her face. Earl walked over to Sara’s chair, kneeled before her, and pushed her hair away so he could see her facial scars clearly. He had seen many gruesome sights of war so there was very little that could make him flinch but all he could think was "how could God let this happen to his sweetheart?"
When his eyes began to moisten, Sara began to remove the promise ring from her finger. “You aren’t obligated,” she whispered. That’s when he covered her hands with his own.
“When I think of home, I always think of you, Sara Mae. No one knows my dreams better. My love for you was never conditional, it’s eternal.” He said, as he lowered his head and kissed her hands.
Earl recalled that they talked for a long time that evening and decided to married that same week. “It wasn’t out of pity or obligation. It was out of love.”
Sara’s mother helped her write letters again when he returned to his military assignment. As the years passed, physical and emotional scars faded and Sara Mae’s beauty returned but according to Earl, it was always there. They were married for fifty one years. What an inspiration!
The veterans and their spouses I’ve spoke to that evening told me many things about love and marriage. Here’s some of their relationship wisdom:
1. Reneging on a promise is cowardly. Think long and hard before making a commitment, then keep your word at all costs.
2. Don’t turn away from your partner. Nothing will erode a marriage quicker than seeking another person for emotional and/or physical gratification
3. Think before you speak, text, or email. Words can uplift and destroy if you can stop before you response and have empathy for the other person’s viewpoint your relationship will flourish.
4. Treat your partner better than anyone else. View your spouse with the utmost respect and lots of affection. There should never be a question in anyone’s mind how you feel about your partner.
5. Forgive each other. Don’t hold grudges and remember no one is perfect.
This will help you to move on from disagreements and appreciate each other.
6. Don’t give up. Marriage is an incubator for self-growth and self-awareness. There will be ebbs and flows in affection, good times and bad times, and seasons of couple activity and inactivity. The more you stick to it, the easier it will get and the more connection you’ll feel toward your spouse.
For people that care about U.S. troops, you can show your support by sending care packages and letters:
Select a soldier to receive your care packages at http://www.anysoldier.com/
Donate to Operation Troop Appreciation at http://www.operationtroopappreciation.org/
And for all of military couples and families waiting to be reunited, please know you’re in my thoughts and prayers. I appreciate your sacrifice.
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