By Kim Ortega, NMAS Museum Technician
Joining the U.S. Navy comes with the beginnings of many new things. From learning a new way to speak, the proper way to march and salute, all the way to honing their specializations in time to join the fleet. However, one of the things that isn’t necessarily expected is finding or nurturing new relationships, including young love. Here at the National Museum of the American Sailor, we often hear stories of how someone’s enlisted grandfather met his future bride, a Navy WAVE, during World War II at a USO dance. Or a sailor stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes met a local girl and married her during or after the war. Examples of this unexpected “perk” can be found throughout several collections in the National Museum of the American Sailor’s permanent collection.
Following her high school graduation, Robbin Norris (nee Wear) felt the call to serve her country and opted to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) during the height of World War II in 1944. Robin was stationed at Moffett Field in California where she unknowingly met the man who would become her husband: Henry (Hank) Norris. Henry, a California native, enlisted with the U.S. Navy on July 25, 1944 and served as a Draftsman Specialist 3rd Class, also known as a Yeoman.
The couple remained together throughout the war and on Valentine’s Day in 1948, the two were married. Together they welcomed three sons, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. The Norris’ were married for 58 years before Henry passed away on July 6, 2006.
Another example of this new beginning from the museum’s permanent collection is Charles Campbell. Charles enlisted with the U.S. Navy on December 3, 1942 and attended boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Great Lakes, Illinois. During these few months of training, Charles was not only away from home in Detroit but he was also away from his new bride. After meeting at their local church, Charles and (Ida) Margaret Tovey were married on September 11, 1942 – barely three months before Charles’ enlistment. In his memoir, Charles explained that he and Margaret were reunited for a short, nine-day second honeymoon upon his completion of boot camp.
Throughout Campbell’s three-year career in the Navy as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, no matter where he was stationed; awaiting placement in San Francisco, on New Caledonia in the South Pacific, or an Army Hospital Ship in Corpus Christi, Texas; Charles made it a point to send frequent letters home to Margaret. One of his letters describes the young couple’s hopes of reuniting during Charles’ early days in service:
“I hope you aren’t too lonesome, honey. It will be quite a while before you can come probably, but don’t worry I really do want you to come and I’ll try to find out if it’s at all possible when I get based. We should be able to because others have and still are but the fellows I was talking to this morning said it cost at least $50 a month for his wife and she didn’t have much of a place. But remember what we said in Chicago, sweetheart! Come to me Margaret, I need you! If it’s a decent place at all we can have a lot of fun.”
Following the end of the war, Charles returning to Michigan to be with Margaret and over the course of their 72-year marriage, they watched their family grow.
While sometimes a surprise, finding love while in service (or sometime loving what you do while serving) is the start of an unexpected new beginning. Couples and families in the military work together to serve their country in unique and different ways. While some decide to both enlist to serve with the U.S. Navy, others might stay on the home front to work on keeping morale high and act as a reminder of what’s worth fighting for. The Navy acted as a new beginning for these enlisted personnel as the start of an adventure in service and a new personal beginning. Both, no doubt, forever affecting and shaping their lives.