Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lost lovers reunite

From our stories by Maureen Wallenfang:

"He fell in love with her in the summer of '42, in the months before he went off to war.

Don Spooner, then 21, and Shirley Brown, then 17, spent their last day together on the shores of Lake Michigan. He snapped one last wistful photo of 'Shirl,' as he called her, sitting on the sand.

She was his first true love, but he didn't propose because he didn't know when, or if, or in what condition he would return.

'We talked about getting engaged before I went overseas, but if I came home without an arm or a leg, it wouldn't be fair to her,' he said.

They wrote for about a year while he was an Army medical corps driver stationed in New Hebrides in the South Pacific's Mariana Islands.

But communication broke off when he became ill with malaria and hepatitis, and was shipped to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. 'I pert near died,' he said. Mail traveled very slowly, by boat, and he wasn't able to write for many months.

He was gone for a total of three years, and after they lost contact, she made the decision to move on and married another.

The two never spoke over the next six decades, but it wasn't the end of their long-ago love story.

Last month, Spooner discovered two 78-rpm records in his old army trunk. The records, plus some caring co-workers and modern technology, helped connect the dots.

On Saturday, the two will see each other again for the first time in nearly 66 years."

I felt fortunate to spend some time with the couple on the first day they had seen each other since they were separated by war.

"'I felt like the years had just disappeared,' [Shirley] said about what she felt when [Don] answered the door. 'It was like seeing him again in the old days.'

There were no tears, but plenty of smiles and a few jokes about perhaps ordering an oxygen tank. They sat on a couch in his living room holding hands."
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