Everybody Has a Story: Getting hitched kept running into hitches for military couple

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“That’s the guy I am going to marry. I just met him tonight,” Judi thought. She told me much later, on our honeymoon, that the premonition overwhelmed her. She was to have another premonition about me, months later.

That first meeting took place at a “Hi-Bye” in the officers’ club at Camp Darby, a small U.S. Army base near Pisa, Italy. Since military personnel change locations often, a “Hi-Bye” is a party to say goodbye to those leaving and meet the new people arriving.

I was escorting my date down the “Hi-Bye” line when suddenly, in front of me, was a woman who fit my definition of beautiful! We shook hands, and my date quickly pulled me to the next person in line. I didn’t have a premonition — little did I know that my wild and free days as a dashing young lieutenant were numbered. I soon found out that Judi was the civilian administrative assistant for a crusty old colonel whose entire command had just been transferred from Germany to our base.

Within a week or so, we were dating. She was from Oregon and loved Europe, art, dancing and my Texas accent. We soon became inseparable — but life was hectic and dynamic. There were just too many dating options available to both of us, and eventually we had a spat and decided to break up.

Well, we both dated others and remained far apart at that small base and close-knit officers’ club, until I began to miss her and stopped going as much, tired of watching her from afar. She stayed on my mind.

Finally, just to try to get on with my life, I decided one evening to surprise her with a visit. It was dark and chilly out when I knocked on the door to her apartment.

She opened it with candles glowing in the background, her long dark hair shining and draped over a rich red turtleneck sweater, and wearing that special light perfume I loved. I froze, almost sure I had interrupted another gentleman’s visit.

“It’s cold out, come on in,” she said. “I was expecting you.”

“Tonight?” I stammered.

“Yes, tonight. I just sensed you were coming.” A whirlwind of intense weeks later, I asked her to marry me. My pounding heart calmed when she said, “OK.”

Our engagement caused excitement and surprise at the base. Everyone assumed we would have a big wedding at the base chapel with a fancy reception at the club afterward. I secretly took a train down to Naples and bought a set of rings there. Then I returned to her apartment late in the evening, acting exhausted and flopping on her couch. She offered me a drink and I said, “No, just a glass of ice, no water.”

She gave it to me with a questioning look, and I said, “Here is some ice for you!” and dropped in both rings. To this day she loves those rings.

All went well until it was discovered that the treaty allowing U.S. military bases on Italian soil did not permit weddings at military chapels. They had to be performed off base, following civil procedures. The base chaplain said to go through that civil ceremony first, then have a big wedding on base. We went ahead, but disaster soon happened.

One special rule back then (since abolished), was to “post the banns.” The marriage needed to be posted in writing for three Sundays beforehand, so there was time for any objections. But Judi and I told the local Italian official that she was scheduled to fly home to Oregon to attend her sister’s upcoming wedding.

“She does not need to be here to post the banns,” he told us with a friendly smile. “I will allow you to sign for her.” We thanked him and continued with our plans, until she flew home. I arrived at his office on the appointed day and discovered him gone on vacation, with no way to contact him. His assistant told me in halting English, “I can’t authorize that, only he can. He might fire me!”

I returned to the base and called the chaplain to say the civil ceremony had been canceled. He said, “You have to get married on schedule. There are too many invitations out and plans made.” Soon the base commander called me, saying, “I’m giving you emergency leave to fly back to the States, find Judi and marry her, fast.”

Three days of trains, planes and automobiles later, I was waiting at Judi’s parents’ home near Albany, Ore., when all arrived back from her sister’s wedding reception. Once everyone was over the shock, I announced, “We have to get married, so we can get married.”

It was pointed out that Oregon had a two-week waiting period between license and wedding, but Washington’s wait was only three days. We happily drove up to Vancouver, only to discover that Washington had just changed its law to match Oregon’s. Dang! We drove back frustrated, knowing that Judi was scheduled to fly to Dallas on her way back to Italy, in order to meet my mom for the first time. A phone call determined that Texas only had a three-day wait to get married, so off we went. My mother was brought to tears both to meet Judi and to see her son again.

Judi and I got our license and were married by my pastor, with many family and friends attending on short notice. (Some probably began counting the days, but our first child was born two years later.) We soon returned to Camp Darby, secretly as husband and wife, impatiently waiting for the day we would get married again.

It went off without a hitch. On Aug. 25 of this year we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. On Sept. 9 we will celebrate our, hmm, 100th?


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