The letter came in the spring of 1945. It was from my mother’s friend, Ruth, stating that she was going to Seattle on July 1.
Ruth, who lived in New York, was married to Jack, who served with my dad in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.
So, Ruth’s stated plans to go to Seattle really meant that the Navy ship, where both men served, was going into port in Seattle.
Had Ruth been more exact in stating the ship would be in port for repairs, the letter would have been censored. Reading between the lines, my mother knew this meant she, too, needed to go from Greensboro, N.C., to Seattle to see her husband, R.J. Simmons.
At that time, my mother, Louise Simmons, was employed by a company that made military uniforms. Giving up her position was an easy decision. Convincing her in-laws of the necessity of making a cross-country trip alone on train based on hearsay was a hard sell, especially since V-E Day had occurred on May 8, 1945, ending the war in Europe.
Louise Simmons was determined and head strong. She planned to travel by train across the country and then register with the Red Cross and/or the USO Office to locate her husband. In preparation for her trip, my grandmother helped her sew money in her underwear for added security and lectured her young daughter-in-law on other safety tips.
There was no hopping on a plane for a quick cross-country flight. The trip across the states by train was a grueling 3½ days and nights, with neither restaurant cars nor sleeping berths. At one point, she wove herself through the arms of chairs bolted to the floor in the woman’s restroom, just to get a few winks of sleep.
One of my mother’s most difficult challenges was warding off unwelcomed attention from service men traveling on the train. She confides that her secret weapon was stainless steel balls in a bag that she carried in her purse to keep the men away. Also, she prominently displayed her wedding band and firmly announced that she only had eyes for one man: her husband.
After 3½ days and nights, she arrived in Portand, Ore., and caught a train to Seattle. Although weary from the travel, her heart was full of hope and love at the thought of finally seeing her husband again.
What my mother did not know is that Dad was meeting every train that carried passengers from the East. As she found out later, Dad had called his parents’ home in North Carolina and learned that Mom was traveling by train to find him in Seattle.
When she arrived in Seattle, she heard someone calling her name and was preparing to hit the thin, sickly looking man with her weekender bag when she realized that it was her husband.
Dad had lost more than 30 pounds, due to perpetual seasickness, and was hardly recognizable to her. Once she overcame the shock of his poor health, she was overcome with joy.
Mom stayed in Seattle for 3 months while Dad’s ship was undergoing repair to the hull. It was in this time period that the emperor of Japan announced the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the Allies.
My parents were in Seattle for that wonderful nighttime victory celebration. Knowing that the war had ended made Mom’s return to the East easier. Months passed before Dad finally returned to Norfolk, Va., to be discharged.
My parents enjoyed 67 years of marriage before Dad passed in 2010, but she still continues to miss him every day.
When my mother tells this story, I am amazed at her bravery, resourcefulness and tenacity. Turning 21 in 1945, she was a young woman living in perilous times. Her love and dedication to her marriage was monumental, something to be admired in this modern day of easy divorce. Her determination to travel such a distance without the assurance of her husband’s presence was amazing. Her story not only gives a personal glimpse into history, it also gives a snapshot of a remarkable young woman.
Robin McRae lives in Mount Pleasant and is a retired school counselor who previously worked in Berkeley and Charleston County School districts. She is married and has two adult sons. McRae volunteers with the American Red Cross and Meals on Wheels. She plays league tennis, and enjoys gardening, reading and travel.