It's never too late to do things right.

A group of Navy veterans - many them married decades earlier by a justice of the peace - renewed their wedding vows in a joint ceremony at The Citadel Friday.

"It's a fresh start," said Colvin Cochrane of Mount Pleasant, who celebrates his 61st wedding anniversary this month and was one of 19 couples renewing their vows in Summerall Chapel. "We figured it might work this time."

Cochrane and the other men served on the submarine Seapoacher. When planning a reunion in Charleston, several noted they had married in Charleston. Some noted they had never had a proper wedding at all, having eloped before going to war. So they decided to renew their vows before a minister.

"I got my first real marriage at 81," Cochrane said. "Now we're officially married."

Roseann Halbert of Rock Hill wore a white wedding dress and clutched a red rose. Husband James stood next to her in his chief petty officer uniform. She said she wore the dress because she got married in her street clothes after they eloped last time.

The Rev. Frank Seignious, an Episcopal priest, conducted the ceremony. He called his sermon "Battle tested, still standing."

"You are truly heroes," he told the couples. "You are the reason America has the values it does today."

Cochrane hitchhiked from the Navy base in Norfolk, Va, to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to marry Joyce more than 60 years ago. After getting a marriage license, they found out they had to wait a three-day cooling off period.

"We didn't want to wait," he said.

So he borrowed a car and drove them to a justice of the peace in Mississippi. Then he left her at home to finish high school and hitchhiked back to Norfolk. Eventually they were able to live together.

When asked the secret of a long-lasting marriage, Joyce had a quick answer.

"Being apart six months out of the year, probably," she said.

Cochraine didn't disagree but added another factor.

"We worked together, that was the main key thing," he said.

The Seapoacher was sold to the Peruvian navy after it was decommissioned, according to Vincent Sotille Jr. of Mount Pleasant, Cochrane's son-in-law and an honorary member of the Seapoacher group. He and a group of veterans traveled to Peru in 2008 to find out what happened to it. They connected with fellow sailors in Peru and tracked the sub to its final resting place at the bottom of the ocean off the coast.

"It was an emotional experience," Sottile said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.