A World War II story that wants to be told: Going AWOL for love

This is a story within a story. It’s about my friend Greg. I’ve known him since we started at the same job at the same time in a community mental health center. We were both fresh out of grad school and filled with good intentions and precious little experience. It was the heyday of close the big public institutions and put resources toward helping people survive in the community. It was a great time and a great place to start a career, and as it turned out, a friendship.

I stayed for six years, he stayed for the long haul. We’ve each weathered many changes and challenges, and some differing viewpoints, but have shared stories all these years. He told me one recently that could have kept him from existing at all. What would have become of those clients, and his three children and now grandchildren, and his many friends, including me, if he’d never been born?

Last fall, he discovered a little secret that his 94 year-old father had never revealed to him, when Greg read a Facebook post from his niece. First question for his dad: how did she know about this and I didn’t? His next question: why didn’t you ever tell me that you went AWOL?

Greg got the facts over breakfast on Veteran’s Day. It was November of 1942 when Raymond Morin enlisted in the U.S. Army. Unlike some of his cohorts, he has talked about his service over the years, including a one-month journey through Burma and into China, clutching and shifting on treacherous roads through the mountains of China in a 2 ton truck with a Howitzer on the back. But that was later. This story he skipped over took place before he even left the States.

He was in training in Idaho, on notice that they might be shipping out at any time, which cancelled all leave. As Greg says, “But he had another mission and a (now-cancelled) 3-day pass to accomplish it.” See, he had met this lovely young lady named Lea Payette on November 14, 1941, and wanted to surprise her with a visit on the same date a year later.

So, he slipped around the MPs, and got on a train all the way back to Roseland on the South Side. By the time he arrived, his mother Alberta had received a telegram: “Your son has gone AWOL.” That didn’t bother him. His mission was not just to see Lea, but to propose marriage.

They sat in a car at 122nd and Perry and he asked her. She said yes. He remembers her being very excited. Mission accomplished, but he soon moved the car, afraid the neighbors would be suspicious. They went to her brother and sister-in-law’s house to share the news.

But the war caused a delay. They married in May, 1946 after he returned from 37 months of service. Greg, their middle child, sandwiched between two sisters, was born nine years later.

When Raymond came back from his unauthorized proposal trip, his superior reduced him from Corporal to Private, saying that even when a man was a friend, he had to do what was necessary. On the discharge sheet that Greg has in hand, it shows that he remained a private for a total of only 3 months, then spent 33 months as a Tec 4. He was a sergeant when he ended his service.

It was quite a romantic story to take in from a 94 year-old dad.

As Greg says, “If he did not decide to make the ultimate journey of love, in his life…Thank you Dad, you are a gift, and Life source to us all!”

 

This is the first in a series I’m calling Stories that Want to be Told. If you have one, email me at cbhealycontact@gmail.com.

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