LIMA — In September 1943, the Allies gained a toehold on the Italian mainland while Soviet troops pushed west toward Germany. But D-Day was still nine months off; Nazi troops were rounding up Jews in Belgium and France and U-Boats still prowled off the East Coast. The United States had been at war for nearly two years and would be for nearly two more.
That month, at Camp Stewart, Georgia, pretty, dark-haired Mary Spinnati, graduate of Lima St. John’s High School and former employee of Nesbitt’s Candy Shop in the Public Square, became the wife of Sgt. John F. Dooley, of Waterbury, Connecticut. Dooley, The Lima News noted in announcing the marriage on Sept. 13, 1943, had just returned from a year’s active service in North Africa.
Spinnati’s wedding was part of a tidal wave of marriage during World War II as couples with no guarantee of a future rushed to the altar. U.S. marriage rates, which began a precipitous rise with the institution of a military draft in September 1940, skyrocketed after Dec. 7, 1941.
In Lima, Emmaline Maud Stines Crockett, Lima’s first registered nurse and enthusiastic cataloguer of local history, began clipping engagement and wedding announcements from The Lima News.
“Grandchildren of World War Two brides of Allen County and Lima may view with interest and curiosity in years to come the styles that were popular in ‘grandmother’s’ day, when they visit the display rooms of the Allen County Historical Society,” the News wrote in December 1945. “Newspaper accounts of weddings with the accompanying bride’s picture have been saved by Mrs. Charles Crockett, 77, of 518 W. Wayne St., through the past few years as a hobby.”
The four scrapbooks containing the yellowed newspaper clippings date from early 1942 into 1946 and give a glimpse into a life where the definition of normal had been turned on its head. For most young couples, the wedding and honeymoon would not be followed by setting up housekeeping. The groom, and at times the bride, would be returning to the military soon after the wedding. Normal married life was put on hold.
In the summer of 1939, Herbert Woodten was playing minor league baseball for the Lima Pandas of the Ohio State League. On April 5, 1942, Woodten married Marie C. Hetrick, who was graduated from Columbus Grove High School, attended Northwestern School of Commerce and worked as a secretary at the Allen County Health Department. “Sgt. Woodten is a graduate of Sea Cliff high school, Long Island, New York, and was engaged in professional baseball before his induction into the Army,” the News wrote. “He is now stationed at San Francisco.” Woodten, by then in his early 30s, would play for the Lima Terriers following the war.
Likewise, after Sgt. David Weaver, of Lima, married Eleanor Luyet, of Rossford, in December 1943, the News noted that Weaver, an aerial gunner, “has returned to Hammer Field (California) where he is stationed with the air force.”
As the war wore on, more and more brides also wore military uniforms. “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Leppla, Route 4, are announcing the engagement of their daughter, Sgt. Helen Pauline Leppla, WAC, to Sgt. Thomas P. Foard, U.S. Army, son of Mrs. Fred T. Foard, of near Hickory, N.C., and the late Dr. Foard,” read an announcement from July 2, 1944. “She joined WACs on Sept. 1, 1942, and is now assigned to the motor pool as supply sergeant at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.”
In September of that year, Navy Ensign Ruth Ann Reinman, of Leipsic, married Navy Yeoman Carl Koch Jr., of Lima, while Navy Seaman First Class Freda Mae Stiles, of Waynesfield, wed Marine Corporal Reuben Davis, of Jerseyville, Illinois.
Marriages between U.S. servicemen and foreign women, particularly English women, became common. In the fall of 1944, Private Vernon Winfield Stebleton, an Army paratrooper from Lima, married Nancy Cheshire of Leicestershire, England. The groom, the News noted Oct. 1, 1944, attended South High School and had seen action in the European and Mediterranean theaters of operation. “The bride’s father was killed two years ago while serving with British forces,” the story added.
In the year following the end of the war, many of these women arrived in Lima to be with their husbands. In March 1946, the news interviewed Mrs. Vera Houlker Caskey, the English wife of Bernard Caskey, a former Army staff sergeant. They were married in England in July 1944.
“Her trip over was very exciting, she claims, one of its most thrilling features being the entrance into New York harbor and the view of the State of Liberty,” the News wrote. “It is indeed a thrill I shall long remember.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.