By Courtney Woodruff
She gently squeezed my arm as I wove my way through the crowd, chasing after my little ones as they darted haphazardly in between the legs of churchgoers after the Sunday service.
Her lovely face creased all over as she smiled at me, and her eyes sparkled. “My husband served, too. A long time ago,” she spoke quietly with a knowing wink.
We’d just arrived at a new duty station, and this was our first time visiting a church in the area. One way or another, word had already gotten around — as it tends to in a small, rural town — that my husband was here for the military.
“Oh, really? Where were you stationed?” I asked, genuinely delighted to meet another military spouse.
“Well… things were a little different back then. He was in Hawaii — ”
“Wow! What an adventure!” I interjected without thinking.
“But, I had to stay behind.”
“Oh…” My eyebrows furrowed.
“Then, the tragedy at Pearl Harbor happened. Fortunately, he was not involved in the attack, but he was stuck there for quite some time…” Her voice trailed off, and I could feel a hard knot forming in my throat.
“I’m so sorry. That must have been very hard.”
After a brief pause, she smiled once more. “We do what we have to do for our families, right?” She asked in a loving, non-patronizing kind of way. I knew there was an unspoken understanding between us.
“I’m so happy to meet you. I look forward to seeing you next Sunday.” She gave me one more squeeze before leaving me to tend to my children.
As I watched her walk away, the knot slipped into my chest. I could not help but think about her all the way home.
Every Sunday after that, I looked forward to her greeting me in the same friendly fashion. Over time, I shared pieces of my story with her as I learned a little bit more about hers — what life for military families looked like in World War II and beyond.
She made a lasting impression on me as she taught me more about …
WWII: A time when war reports were delivered by way of delayed newspaper headlines and staticky radio programming; loved ones received text messages from their service members in the form of handwritten letters and cryptic telegrams; many of today’s military benefits and resources for family members had not even been dreamed of yet.
Considering how brave, independent and resilient the military spouses of the “Rosie the Riveter” generation had to be to keep the home fires burning is humbling, to say the least.
After the sobering waves of humility come the warmth and relief of gratitude.Becoming aware of just how different things have been for military spouses throughout history helps me to be thankful — so very thankful — for what we do have today.
Accompanied tours. Live access to global news. Instantly sent-and-received emails and text messages. TRICARE. Social media to keep up with loved ones around the world. WiFi (when it’s working down range) for Skype dates. Organizations and resources — like MilitaryOneClick — that love and reach out to our troops and their families.
The military community connects women (and men — it is not my intention to leave the male military spouses out) from all walks of life, duty stations around the world and generations of wars past. We are solidarity sisters (and misters), drawn together by our life experiences and our love for our service members.
History is filled with spouses who have banded together to support one another and fill the gaps for the military families of the future.
To me, my friend — the WWII military spouse — is the epitome of strength, loyalty, courage and faith. She stands for all that I hope to be one day, when I, too, have a face full of creases — hope and encouragement for the young military spouses of future generations.
I am so thankful for her unexpected friendship and the life lessons she passed on to me, just by taking the time to reach out and share her story.
Courtney is a military spouse, mom of 2 boys, graduate student, and part-time writer-editor for a travel & lifestyle magazine serving military families stationed in Europe. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.