I was just turned 21, had been “of age” for about three weeks. It was June 22, 1972. It had been raining, raining..there was a hurricane off the East Coast somewhere, and I remember hearing that some people were killed.
Paul and I had decided that, to save money, I would go home to my parents in West Virginia from Lakehurst, NJ to await his return near the end of that year. He was deployed on a DLG, a ship made for helicopter landing and takeoff. He had left from from Fort Dix one sunny morning a few days before. I had cried my heart out, and I remember vividly him turning and waving from the stairs up to the plane.
That day, June 22, I had spent puttering around home, and I bought and sent Paul a card for our first wedding anniversary on July 2. Someone had made a pot of chili which was simmering on the stove. I remember taking a shower, washing my hair, and as was the custom in those days, rolled my out of control curls onto giant pink curlers, in the vain hope of some straightening. I went to our finished basement to watch “I love Lucy. I remember hearing someone at the door, and my father’s voice, sounding…odd…coming from the top of the stairs to tell me that someone wanted to see me. I ran up the stairs, and went to the front door. I saw a blue sleeve through the window, looked Navy to me, and I had a thought that Paul had been sent home for some reason or another. I opened the storm door, and there stood, like in a movie, an officer and an enlisted man..
I don’t remember for sure, but I think I started screaming. I remember neighbors coming out of their homes to see what all the fuss was. The officer, a “Casualty Assistance Officer”, was nice enough, and looking back, I expect he hated his job. He carefully explained to me that Paul’s helicopter had crashed at sea, and he had been “lost”, that they were searching for him, and we would know more when he did.
How can I use words to explain, or tell, or show..what happens to a 21 year old girl when her beautiful young husband is gone forever? What this moment in time did to me for the rest of my life? What repercussions, fallout, changes, mistakes there would be. I weep as I write this..it seems so fresh still. I remarried several years later, had a son, got my college degrees and taught school. But I never forgot. I could still practically build in my mind all the time we spent together. His life, and death, has shaped my entire adult life. I’m okay…I became a widow again about 4 years ago, a heart attack this time. I started receiving my VA benefits again, and insurance. I do okay, I have found some happiness with a wonderful man. But I know I got cheated out of a life with Paul. We were so young, so in love..would it have lasted? How many children would there have been? Grandkids. Vacations. Christmas trees. Heartbreaking.
I join with all the other widows on this site, and hope that all of us may someday heal, move on and find happiness. Peace to all of you.