Is there anything better than a love story with a happy ending?
Some residents at Vinson Hall and the Arleigh Burke Pavilion, retirement communities in McLean that house mostly retired military personnel, have been able to stay together through times of war and peace, moving their families across the country and around the world, sticking together in the promise of “for better or for worse” for an entire lifetime.
For example, William Thomas, M.D., who lives at Vinson Hall with his wife, Helen.
“We were married in 1952, so we’ve been together for 53 years,” Thomas said.
He credits “a destiny that shapes our lives” for meeting Helen.
“I was disabled in 1945, a young doctor with the Marines after World War II, and I had a lovely girlfriend who lived in this area,” Thomas said. “We corresponded the whole time I was overseas, but she was almost too good for me. I had to do things on my own, so eventually we broke up.”
He went to a party one night and saw a pretty girl who didn’t seem to be wearing a wedding ring. He started talking with her and was disappointed to find out she said she was, in fact, married. He didn’t believe her until a few weeks later, when she invited him to a dinner party thrown by her and her husband.
“I met my wife at that party,” Thomas said, a bright smile spreading across his face. “She looked like a spinster the way her hair was all done up, but later than night we went swimming together, and I got an extremely different opinion of her,” he said with a laugh. “It was love at first sight.”
A widow of the war herself, she had three sons when she and Thomas married. “One of my stepsons was an infant when his father died, so I’m the only father he’s ever known,’ he said. “They’ve all done well despite me. They all have doctorates and married well. My wife is smart, too, but she doesn’t let it show.”
Helen is currently resting in a hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery, but their marriage remains happy and intact.
“We’re friends, that’s the secret,” Thomas said. “We’ve had a good life together. She always had a happy disposition and puts up with me and my frailties. I’m lucky to have her.”
BEVERLY AND John Moe have a similar story of love at first sight, meeting in the same small town in North Dakota where John grew up and Beverly attended school.
“I had just graduated from flight training school with my silver wings, crushed hat and uniform,” he said. “She was the new girl in town.”
She had just moved into town that summer and was throwing a thank-you party for the girls in Grand Forks who had taken the time to show her around and help her get settled, Beverly said.
“Jack and two other fellows came over to the party around 11 p.m.. They crashed my party,” she said with a laugh.
“That’s true, we broke into her party,” he said. “We couldn’t find any other girls because they were all at her house, so we went there to find them. Beverly and I went on three dates, and then I ended up overseas and we didn’t see each other for 19 months.”
During that time, the youngsters, all of 19 when they met, got to know each other through long letters sent overseas.
“I think it was quite romantic,” she said. “That was part of our lives at the time. All the colleges had military trainees, we all had brothers or friends serving. Then again, living in North Dakota, we didn’t have any fear of being invaded.”
But when the men came back into town, “The college average dropped 2 percent. It was great,” she said, chuckling at the memory of her former self.
Her mother suggested she work for one year before marrying John, which was all right by him.
“I had to get a house first and have money to support her,” he said. “It was during that time, and while I was finishing school, that we really got to know each other.” The two were married in 1948 and had two children.
“I remember I was extremely nervous. My knees were shaking,” he said. “It was a lovely wedding.”
John was recalled to serve during the Korean War, leaving behind his wife and daughter.
“It was a difficult time. My dad had just died. I was pregnant. He got recalled into the Air Force, and after we got to Chicago, his brother died,” Beverly said.
But, inevitably, he was able to retire from the Air Force after coming home from both Korea and Vietnam unharmed, to a happy, loving family.
“Being in the Air Force helped us a lot, more than if we’d lived in the same house on the same street in the same neighborhood for 50 years,” he said.
Their theory on a happy marriage?
“Being friends is a good secret,” John said.
“We have fun together, which isn’t to say we didn’t fight, but you know what’s important,” Beverly said. “He makes me laugh, we have a good time.”
“We probably like each other better now than we did when we met,” he said, a beaming smile on his face toward his lovely wife.
IN JULY, Cmdr. Knox Singleton and his wife, Marjorie, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and the large extended Swedish family they gained by hosting an exchange student.
“We met at the Seattle Naval Air Station,” Knox said. “That was a time when people from all over the country and all over the world were marrying each other.”
They met in the office Marjorie was working at as a communications officer, entrusted on occasion with secret information that had to be transported by armed personnel.
“She was an expert pistol shooter. In high school she took a rifle shooting course to get out of physical education,” he said.
“We had a ROTC program at my high school, and all the boys took rifle,” she said. When asked if the course ever came in handy in her married life, she laughed and asked, “I got him, didn’t I?”
“She got a blue ribbon for rifle and got expert level for carbine, pistol and rifle,” he said. “When I met her mother when she came to visit, she brought along a pistol, too.”
The couple dated on and off for a while, until one night, when Marjorie was standing night watch, Knox received orders to transfer to a base in South Carolina.
“He called me that night and asked me to marry him,” she said. “I told him I needed to think about it and he should meet me for breakfast the next morning.”
The next morning came and he met with Marjorie and her mother, visiting once again, pistol intact, at the base.
“I told him I’d marry him, and we did, the next day,” she said.
“I realized when I got those orders I didn’t want to live without her,” he said.
“You know, he hasn’t always felt the same way since, but he got stuck with me,” she said, chuckling.
The Singletons have two children and two grandchildren. They also have Olaf, an exchange student from Sweden, who lived with them for a year when their two children were young.
There is a picture in their apartment, taken in Sweden a few years ago, of the Singletons, their children and grandchildren, surrounded by Olaf and his entire 53-member extended family. The sea of smiling faces, mostly blond heads with shining blue eyes, is an example of the close relationship they forged with their student and his family throughout the years.
“I think that was the single most interesting thing that happened to our family,” he said. Olaf has been invited, along with his family, to join the family to celebrate Cmdr. and Mrs. Singleton’s anniversary this summer.
“I think he’s the nicest person in the whole world,” she said of her husband of many years.
“I never would’ve made it to where I did if it wasn’t for her,” he said.
AND FINALLY, there is Gen. Herbert “Bert” and Virginia “June” Sparrow, perhaps the most inspiring couple, not because of the story of how they met but their incredible longevity.
“Well, I was staying at the Army post, and he was a brand-new West Point graduate, and my sister, who lived there, knew him vaguely,” June said. “I was there on my own, and when I first got there, there was a scavenger hunt, which they had often in those days, and he escorted me.”
The scavenger hunt was not very successful. “We only found three or four things on the list,” but the evening itself was a smash hit, so to speak.
“We were more interested in each other,” she said. The couple dated for three months before getting married on Sept. 29, 1934.
Last September, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
“I wrote a letter to her parents on the West Coast after we got married,” he said. “We were on our honeymoon at Chimney Rock.”
“I always wanted to marry a West Pointer,” she said, and coming from an Army family, she was prepared to be an Army wife.
Between deployments to the Pacific, Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines during World War II, the Sparrows spent a total of 3 1/2 years apart.
“We wrote back and forth while he was gone,” she said. “It was hard, but I had the children, which made the difference.”
The trick to having a marriage that has spanned seven decades is to take things one day at a time, he said. “The years just float on by,” he said.
“We like each other well enough to continue being married.”
The couple was interviewed for the retirement home’s newsletter last fall and listed 12 different hints and tips for newlywed couples. Among the things on the list, “Never let the sun go down on your anger;” “Keep your sense of humor;” “Be happy!” and, perhaps most important, “Love one another.”
Bert Sparrow said he knew he wanted to marry June “the second time I saw her. We’ve had a very happy marriage, with three children who gave us a total of 10 grandchildren and so far the grandchildren have given us 11 great-grandchildren.”
“I still think he’s pretty nice,” she said of her husband.
“I’ve been pretty lucky so far,” he said of his wife.
They may be slightly older and wiser now than they were when they met on a blind date in 1934, but the love that holds them together is apparent in the way he helps her out of her chair, holding her cane parallel to the floor while she grabs it and pulls herself upright for a photograph.