Normal Life & War Brides

Couple Married in Military ChapelWar dramatically alters people’s lives. Some will lose a loved one. Others will put plans on hold, or will rush into decisions before they lose control of their lives. And others will feel their lives change in subtle ways.

In World War II, as in most wars, young men and women do the fighting – at the same times in their lives that most are trying to marry and start their families. War challenges romance.

For example, Birdie Farr met her future husband, John, before the war started. They met through John’s sister, and as Birdie tells this charming story, John was sure he wanted to be with her long before she was serious about him.

Birdie and John waited until the war ended to get married.

Mildred HopkinsMildred Hopkins (left) was one of those who chose not to wait. She left her job at the Cornhusker Ordnance Plant to travel half way across the country and marry her Navy sweetheart. “I couldn’t do that now,” she admits. “Came from a little bitty town in York County [Nebraska] … Didn’t know anybody, rode clear to Norfolk, Virginia, had to get off in a big town… I think, ‘How did I ever do that?”



Sylvia LauderbaughSylvia Lauderbaugh (right) was a young British girl growing up in Liverpool, England, during the war. Little did she know she would end up marrying a “Yank.” She remembers how other English young women were fascinated by some of the thousands of “Yanks” who were living and training in England. Sylvia actually met her Yank, Louie Lauderbaugh, after the war ended. But the fascination was still there. “This is so much more freedom over here,” she says. “It is wonderful for people.”

When Louie was shipped back to the states in 1948, he proposed to Sylvia and sent for her. She left the seashore bustle of metropolitan Liverpool, survived a month on the stormy North Atlantic, and endured the long train ride to a small farm in the middle of the huge North American continent.

She admits she had never thought of herself as a farmer’s wife, but soon learned how to do her share of the chores. She and Louie have been back to England for visits, but after 54 years, Sylvia has no desire to leave this rural community.

There is a song lyric that says, “How are you going to keep ’em down on the farm, once they’ve seen Paree?” During World War II millions of American service men and women saw Paris and London and Cairo and the Philippines and many other places around the world, and one might expect them to want to continue to explore the world. But, amazingly, the exact opposite happened. The vast majority of service people simply wanted to go home.

The sentiment was captured in a song that was actually written by George and Ira Gershwin in 1924 and recorded in 1937 by Billie Holiday, “The Man I Love.” At the end of the song, she sings:

“We’ll build a little home
Just meant for two
From which I’ll never roam
Who would? Would you?
And so all else above
I’m waiting for … The Man I Love.”

For many, that song expressed the desire to simply get back to a normal life.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.

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