55-year marriage grows out of war tragedy
Posted : Saturday Feb 18, 2012 14:40:01 EST
NEENAH, Wis. — Korean War veteran Dick Nooe’s memory can be hazy, but the moment he met his wife, Sara, while recovering from injuries that left him blind remains as clear as day.
It was February, 58 years ago, and the Marine was recovering at the Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital in Chicago. His world had turned black — with the exception of a few shadows — a few weeks earlier when his unit was overrun by Chinese soldiers. In the desperate fight near the 38th parallel, a concussion grenade exploded in his face and enemy fighters beat him with rifle butts.
“I was a mess. There were serious fractures in my head and face,” Dick said. “In those hospitals I thought my love life was over.”
Sara, a 26-year-old “Gray Lady,” took on the task of socializing with the troops maimed in combat.
“I remember her introducing herself in a deep voice, and I had this picture of her as an old ‘gray lady,’ not knowing what the program was,” Dick Nooe, 80, said Feb. 14 at their tidy Neenah home. “I had been with umpteen women but that Thursday night when we danced, I knew she had the finest figure around.”
Sara, 85, remembers Dick as “a little better looking than most,” but is careful not to give the father of their two children too much credit.
Dick moved to Oregon to pursue studies after his recovery while Sara stayed behind in Chicago. The two exchanged letters and Dictaphone recordings before committing to moving in together and marrying. Eventually, the couple settled in Neenah.
Sara remembers an uncle warning her that the marriage would be fraught with hardship, caring for a blind man. She didn’t see it that way.
Fifty-five years later, Sara says “it’s just love, that’s all,” that has held the couple together.
Dick says their relationship is successful because they rely on each other on a daily basis.
“Each morning I get a cup of coffee for each of us and we take time to talk,” Dick said. “There are no secrets held from each other.”
The pair also isn’t shy about their intimacy. With a fair amount of giggling and teasing, they say their passion still burns.
As he keeps a keen eye on contemporary relationships, Dick called modern-day marriages troublesome, especially when children are caught in the crossfire.
“Couples truly need to talk things out and not suppress stuff,” said Dick, a therapist by trade who still practices.
Sara said a marriage is toughest in the early years.
“It’s always hard adjusting to each other,” she said.
Dick said relying on strong family bonds during rough patches is crucial.
Flowers don’t hurt either. Dick had a small Valentine’s bouquet delivered to Sara earlier in the day, as he does on occasion.
Although he can’t see Sara, Dick said his memory provides flickers of the days when he could still make out shadows.
“I have these beautiful memories of her that I always picture,” Dick said. “One is of walking down a sidewalk in Chicago and the sunlight hit her hair just right.”
Each year, Dick shows his thankfulness for the Gray Lady program that brought the pair together by donating to the Red Cross.
Although the Gray Ladies went away in the late 1960s, remnants of the volunteer program remain, said Barbara Behling, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in northeastern Wisconsin.
“We still have a number of programs supporting the military around the globe,” Behling said. “It’s one of our congressional mandates.”
At the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, Behling said the Red Cross still provides volunteers who sponsor activity nights reminiscent of the ones the Gray Ladies sponsored after World War II.
“It’s certainly evolved since those days, but we’re still doing tremendous work for our military members,” Behling said.
To this day, Dick’s Marine friends tell him he scooped up the “cream of the crop” with Sara 58 years ago.
“I’m thankful the staff at the VA told me about the Gray Ladies that night,” Dick said. “It led to a wonderful marriage, and we both can say we’re truly content.”