Everyone loves a good love story. Even more so when the couple faces challenging circumstances that their enduring love overcomes. I’m a sucker for a good WWII wartime love story. Seeing how young love endured distance and the other challenges that come along with war is—no matter the outcome—endearing. Spoiler alert—I am going to be sharing a story today that did not end with a happy homecoming in 1945, so make sure you have some Kleenex nearby if these stories tend to trigger your tear ducts like they do for me.
|Wally's short-snorters from his first, and only,|
As it’s been said before on this blog, artifacts are so much more than objects. They often have stories attached to them whether or not they are written. At first glance, these signed dollar bills just look like some sort of memento from the war. It turns out that they are short-snorters—they were used to document a service member’s first Atlantic crossing. They belonged to a Wally Williams and he gave them to his girlfriend, Betty Morrill.
Wally and Betty’s romance started in Chicago during the Great Depression when Wally delivered groceries for Betty’s mother. In 1940, he was washing the windows at Betty’s house when he noticed how beautiful she was in her maid of honor dress for her sister’s wedding. He decided to ask her to his senior prom where they stayed out all night and had breakfast together that next morning.
|Wally and Betty after his graduation in 1941.|
After he graduated in 1941, they began to date since he no longer busy being an all-state wrestler. Betty and Wally loved to jitterbug, in addition to going to the movies, taking long walks and swimming. At first, Wally was given a deferment from enlistment because he was the sole supporter of his family at the time working at a railroad loading boxcars. However, in December 1942, Wally was drafted into the war. He trained as a soldier at Camp Walters in Texas and was given orders to deploy to England.
Betty traveled with his family to New Jersey to send him off. They arrived on a Saturday and Wally was given a pass for that night and they all went to a local bar and made plans for the next day. However, Sunday morning he called and notified them that he was confined to base since they were shipping out that evening. The family was allowed on base for a few hours that day. It was there that she sent him off with kisses, tears, and promises of tomorrow without realizing that this was a final good-bye.
|This photograph was taken of Wally in England|
February 24, 1944 while training for D-Day.
Wally was sent to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. While he was in England preparing for the invasion, they wrote each other letters regularly. It was during this time that he sent her the short-snorters signed by members of the 29th Division for safe keeping.
Wally’s outfit was one of the first units to land on the beaches on June 6, 1944. Many of those soldiers were killed on that day. However, Wally was one of the lucky few to continue on into France. On July 5, 1944, he wrote a letter that referred to her as “Snooks”—it was his nickname for her—and then went on to talk about how lonely he felt, but that she was his inspiration to keep going. He finished out the letter by saying that he loved her. Unfortunately, this would be the last letter that Wally would write to his beloved Betty.
Wally was killed shortly after he wrote that letter. In August 1944, he was listed as missing in action but then shortly after the first telegram his brother notified Betty that he had been killed in action. She cried for a week. She later said this about her grief:
“So much is told of mothers and wives of GIs who were lost in WWII, but so little is mentioned of the sweethearts that were left behind. We too suffered, but without a gold star to hang in our window, just one to hang in our hearts, to remain there forever, symbolic of a life that might have been.”
Although Betty moved on with her life by marrying and becoming a mother, she never forgot about Wally. In 1995, People magazine, in honor of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, published photographs of the 29th Division veterans and Betty recognized some of the names as those who signed the short-snorters Wally sent her. She was able to preserve Wally’s memory by reconnecting with these veterans. She even found out from one of his buddies that Wally regretted not marrying her.
|National D-Day Memorial Dedication on June 6, 2001|
As a part of honoring Wally, Betty traveled to the National D-Day Memorial’s dedication on June 6, 2001. She joined almost 20,000 other guests and President George W. Bush in tribute to the soldiers of the D-Day invasion and the realization of D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter’s dream. It was through this connection that we now have these short-snorters at the Memorial today.
Wally and Betty’s love story is just one out of thousands of others. While we have shared quite a few on this blog, there are still lots of stories that are left untold. One of my personal favorite aspects of learning about World War II is learning about the lives of the people involved in the invasion. It is when we connect with history on a personal level that it becomes real to us and compels us to share with others. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I want to share more about an event that takes us back to the 1940’s.
Each year around Valentine’s Day, the National D-Day Memorial hosts a fundraiser called the “GI Jive.” It’s an opportunity to put on your dancing shoes to jump, jive, and jitterbug—just like Wally and Betty—at a 1940s dance like no other. It’s the perfect night of food, fun, and fancy footwork, and makes a great Valentine’s gift. We’ll have big band sounds from The Swingbeans featuring Karen Nichols and Scott Walter, a silent auction, a live auction, photo booth, and fabulous dinner catered by Charley’s—everything you need for a night of elegance and all benefiting the National D-Day Memorial.
This year we will be hosting the GI Jive at the historic Trivium Estate in Forest, VA on Saturday, February 13, 2016 from 6:00PM to 10:30PM. Attire is black tie or period clothing. Cost: $80/person or $150/couple. Tickets are limited! Call (540) 586-3329 to purchase your tickets or to sponsor a veteran today.
Until Next Time,
Brokaw, Tom. An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 2001.
Whiteside, John. “Memories of her First True Love Bring Woman to the D-Day Memorial.” The Herald-News (Joliet, IL). N.d.