Longevity in Military Service and in Marriage

By Candace George Thompson

The Magic Formula: Romance + Service + Adventure + Fun

As Valentine Day approaches I’ve been thinking about my deceased parents’ love affair and what made their marriage work so well. How did my father Rex’s 30-year career in the Air Force influence their 66 years of marriage? I know there were bumps in the road that tested the resilience of their relationship. What were the ingredients of the glue that bound them together? I believe it was a combination of their sense of romance, service, adventure and fun.

Romance: Rex courted my mother Bettie with patience and persistence – and lots of flowers. Although Bettie might have been out with another boy on Saturday night, Rex accompanied her to church on Sunday morning. He sent her Easter corsages for three years before they became engaged. On the 1942 Easter corsage, Rex’s note read, “The fourth Easter and I love you more than ever.” Rex continued to wire bouquets even when he was navigating his B-24 squadron on bombing runs from the UK. Bettie saved the cards that arrived with Valentine roses, writing notes on the back, “One dozen fragrant red roses from my love. Wish Rex could have seen them.”

Service: Rex served his country as an Air Force officer for 30 years and his church community throughout his life. Our family joined a local church every time we moved. My father served as a deacon, a moderator and an all-around handy man.

Bettie managed on the home front, giving birth to two of their three children while Rex was overseas. She helped organize a Sunday school on Okinawa in 1947 and taught Sunday school for most of her life. She participated in local Parent/Teacher Associations and was a leader in the Officers’ Wives’ Club.

Adventure: Bettie and Rex approached each change of station as an opportunity to make new friends and learn about another part of the country or world. In 1944 when Rex started basic training, Bettie left Indiana to follow him to Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Kansas, traveling alone by bus and rooming with strangers who would become lifelong friends.

In 1947, Bettie, Rex, my 8-month-old sister and I (2 years old) were living in a primitive Quonset hut in Okinawa. Bettie had previously reported to her mother in Kentucky that three dependents in our housing area had died of Encephalitis. Addressing her mother’s worries, Bettie wrote, “We’re happy here and wouldn’t think of leaving [early]. I repeat – we’re happy. We want to be here. When we come back to the U.S. we’ll try to go to Germany. As long as we’re able and Uncle Sam buys the tickets we’re going to see whatever we can.”

My parents’ chose to live off-base whenever possible. They wanted to become part of the local community, meet locals, live and worship with them. I believe they had an additional reason for choosing to live off-base: They were proud to be associated with the U.S. Military and wanted the “townies” to see that military families were regular people – not to be feared or discriminated against just because they weren’t putting down roots.

My parents’ adventures continued after retirement as they explored the world, often flying Space-A. Several of their trips were prizes Mother won from her hobby of entering sweepstakes and contests.

Fun: Both of my parents valued fun and loved to laugh. They found joy in the simplest pleasures – a ride to the beach, poker for pennies, reading poetry at the table after dinner, and making new friends. As stern and rigid as my father’s rules often seemed, he could laugh at himself and enjoyed being silly or the butt of warm-hearted jokes.

Rex claimed they were still having fun when he was Bettie’s sole caretaker as she slipped deeper into Alzheimer’s disease. Their 66-year love affair ended when they died a week apart in 2007.





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