This is the story of Frank and Jean, an American couple separated in 1944 by WWII.
They had been married for a few years when the war began. They met in 1932 when they were 16 years old and had their first date at the Fox Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, on a Sunday afternoon. They married in 1937 at the age of 21. Frank worked as a baker and cake decorator in his family’s bakery. Jean was working, too, but mostly praying for a baby. They went to Perpetual Help devotions every Tuesday to pray for a baby and that Frank could find a way to work in construction, his dream. At the devotions, they met Larry and Louise Bannes, and Larry thought he might be able to help with the construction dream. He helped get Frank a union card and hired him to work with him at Gamble Construction as a carpenter cub.
Jean spent lots of time helping her sister Dorothy (Dot) with her two little boys, Victor and Bobby, and her sister-in-law Helen with her small daughter and son, Terry Jean and Bobby. And she desperately wanted babies of her own, preferably enough to field a baseball team. But she and Frank continued saying novenas and waiting to be blessed.
The draft of WWII didn’t want Frank right away due to his flat feet, and they called him three times before finally accepting him in 1943. At that time they asked if anyone wanted to go into the navy instead of the army, and Frank volunteered. He was first sent to Farragut, ID, for boot camp, but only made to do three weeks of marching training because he had carpentry skills, and they needed him right away. Next they sent him to San Diego for “Ship Repair” training. There was a housing shortage there due to the influx of sailors, but he was able to rent a garage and send for Jean. However, they weren’t there long before he was sent to Clearfield, Utah, of all places, to help civilians pack up equipment to go to the Pacific. He worked a night shift building shipping boxes with 50 other carpenters. They found a room in a boarding house in nearby Ogden and Jean worked in a bakery factory. Soon, however, everyone began saying that his unit would be transferred overseas. So in May he reluctantly escorted Jean home to St. Louis and then returned without her to Utah to await the order to transfer.
Their letters pick up here, and she writes to him every day until they are together again. He writes back every day, but not all of his letters are in this collection. Having this year of my grandparents’ lives recorded is the greatest treasure I could have inherited from them. They represent such a beautiful slice of life that I feel compelled to share them with my family and others who might be interested.
Note: Some recurring “characters:” Jean’s older sister, Dorothy or “Dot,” lives within walking distance with her husband Vic and two sons, Victor and Bobby. Jean really dotes on the boys and hangs out there a lot. Their brother Jack was also in the Navy and is mentioned in the letters. They also have an older sister, Helen, in their hometown of Evansville, IN.
Both Frank and Jean had sisters named Helen. Frank’s sister lived by them and was married to George Reich who had a drugstore on the same corner (Bent and Juniata Avenues in South St. Louis). Their children are Terry Jean (T.J.) and Bobby. Frank also had a younger brother George, who was away in the navy, too. Lots of people with the same name!
Frank and Jean reference two people as “Mom.” Mom in St. Louis is Frank’s mother, Rosa Sucher Hallemann. His parents had recently moved to a house on Lansdowne in St. Louis Hills from South St. Louis, and Jean often visits them and gives her mother-in-law rides as needed.
Jean’s mother, Meta Keeton Dwyer, passed away when Jean was 10 years old. “Mom” in Ogden, Utah, is the woman who owned the house where they rented a room. They became attached to her, and Jean frequently reminds Frank to visit her.
June 1937, St. Louis, Missouri