Marriage made in war survives 56 years

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 13, 2000

Features Editor

Feb. 13, 2000 10 PM

December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy.

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The bombing of Pearl Harbor hurled this nation to war and changed the direction of millions of lives.

Uncle Sam wanted courageous young men and legions answered his call, not knowing if they would ever come home again.

The flame of love hastened throngs of couples to the altar and into marriages that "would never last."

Ed and Millie Walter were among those young couples who said their "I do’s" under the dark shadows of war and entered into marriages most other people thought would never last.

"We (boys) thought we would go over there and get killed, so we wanted to be married a few days," Walter said.

So, after one "real" date "Edwo and Mildro" became husband and wife.

Millie grew up as Mildred in Columbia, Mo. and Edwin Walter moved there later. Neither has any real vivid memories of the other until Ed came back to Hickman High to teach art in 1942.

He had received a deferment to teach that year and Mildred was a senior and one of his art students.

She readily admits that she had an eye for the dashing young art teacher. "But, I’d had an eye for the art teacher before him," Millie said, with a laugh and a quick glance at her husband of 56 years.

If "cool" had been in vogue back then, Ed Walter would have been Mr. Cool.

He insisted that his students call him "Mr. Walter" until after four o’clock. Then he became "Edwo!"

Millie explained that the students at Hickman were into a variation of pig Latin. But instead of moving the first letter of one’s name to the end and adding an "a," they simply added an "o" to the end. She became "Mildro" and the teacher, after-hours" was "Edwo."

The art class was quiet taken with their teacher and enjoyed being around him, Millie said, and she and he "sketched" together.

The two also danced together at the meetings of the school’s dance club "but he danced with all the girls" and they would be together in group gatherings. However, it was not until after Millie graduated, that the teacher bought her a bite to eat and took her to a movie.

"That was the only time we were alone together," Ed said, adding that was long enough for him to drop the "o" and affectionately christen his former student, "Millie."

At the end of the summer, Ed had an appointment to keep with Uncle Sam and soon he was marching to a different cadence – that of an Army air corpsman.

Whether he was lonely there at night in the barracks or just a compulsive letter writer, Ed is not sure but whatever the case, he sat there writing everyone he knew, Millie included. And, she wrote back.

Through those letters, the former teacher and student fell deeply in love. Ed isn’t sure how he proposed to Millie by mail but he is sure he used his best penmanship to craft just the right words.

Millie isn’t sure exactly how she answered the proposal but she is sure the word, "yes" was underscored.

Millie’s dad allowed her to take a train out-of-state for a meeting with Ed.

"That was almost unheard of in those days," Ed said, "and Millie’s dad would not have allowed such a thing had it not been wartime – and had she not been coming to Houston to marry me."

By then, Ed was a "second lily" and knew how to take charge of things. He had made all of the wedding arrangements. All Millie had to do was show up and sign for the license.

"I was only 19 so the landlady, where Ed had rented us a room, had to go and vouch for me so we could get a license," Millie said.

On a rainy Saturday morning in a big, unfamiliar town, Ed and Millie stood on a corner waiting for a taxi to pick them up and take them for the wedding ceremony.

"A man in a Cadillac pulled over and asked if we needed a ride, and I said ‘Will you take us to our wedding?’"Ed said. "We hitched-hiked to get hitched."

The ceremony was performed at the Rice Hotel and all of Ed’s army buddies were there to celebrate with them.

"Millie was probably the most kissed bride in the world," Ed said, laughing. "Her cheeks were red from all the best wishes kisses."

The newlyweds went honeymooning back to the room Ed had rented. They had not been showered with gifts or sparkled with champagne. But they had taken a solemn oath, "til death do us part" and they meant it. And, "meaning it" had nothing to do with the war that was raging or with the possibility the groom might not come home again. It had everything to do with love and the desire to grow old together.

The Walters have grown together but they are not ready to say "old" just yet. They have only been married 56 years and they are still young at heart.

Just how they have managed to keep their marriage intact and "fun" all these years, goes back to the times when wartime marriages were given little chance of making it.

"Probably, more of those marriages have made it than any marriages in a similar span of time," Ed said, adding that all most of these marriages started with was love, hope for the future and goals in life.

"So many young wartime couples started their lives together with nothing," Millie said. "Near military bases, people converted any shelter they had into apartments or rooms for couples – attics, basements, garages. I know of one couple who lived in a swimming pool that had been made into a room and another in a converted chicken coop. We started with very little and built our lives together with dreams and hard work."

Today, young couples want it all in the first few years of marriage, the Walters said.

"And, for the most part they get it," Millie said. "Then what do they have to strive for? I believe it is good to want for things and to wait and work for them – and to do it together."

For a marriage that wasn’t suppose to last, Ed and Millie Walter are still hanging in there and, if his "great tolerance" holds up, they’ll just keep on keeping on.