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Light Notes: Wartime love letters offer vital link

Lucy Luginbill, Tri-City Herald on

Published in Religious News

In the early 1940s when a teenage boy deftly flung the newspaper to front porches in Twin Falls, Idaho, little did he know that in a few short years he would be part of the news. Nor did he know how words on a page would be a lifeline.

"Pearl Harbor happened smack in the middle of my senior year," Bob Bush of Richland, Wash., recalled in 2013 before his death slightly over a year later.

But at only 17 years old and with high school graduation ahead, the patriotic student knew he would have to wait to join the war effort. And like a typical teenage boy, his eyes were more focused on a pretty girl in his class rather than on the distant war.

"I had dated one of her girlfriends," the then-89-year-old reminisced. "But Aleene had first noticed me earlier because I delivered the newspaper to her parents' house."

In time, the two connected, passing notes in school as their romance blossomed.

"The study hall monitor caught it, and I had to get up in front of the class and read the note," Bob said in 2013, recalling with a shudder the embarrassment he felt. "It was a short note, like, 'Where are you going to meet after school, maybe at the ice cream parlor?' It wasn't 'I love you,' just innocent puppy love."

Little did the high school couple realize how note writing would prove to be a vital link during the difficult years of World War II.

"We wrote to each other every day," the Army veteran said about his bride of only six months before being deployed. "It took about two months for the mail to get there. Everything went by ship."

Life was harsh at the distant homing outpost in Assam province, India, where Bob led his three-man team in directing planes from missions over China back to the airstrip. Not only was there a high degree of isolation where he was stationed, but the daily meals were C-rations and everyday necessities were scarce or nonexistent -- even toilet paper.

To pick up mail and supplies, it meant a long trek from their tents through tea plantations to a docked U.S. ship. Aleene's letters always included writing paper, another item in very short supply.

What the young military man wrote to his wife on her stationery was always scrutinized.

"Where we were located was a secret," Bob said, reflecting on the danger of "loose lips." "If we tried to slip anything that was valid information, it was censored." Then he commented with a smile, "I wouldn't even put anything like 'sweet nothings' in the letter because the censor would see them."

Nevertheless, his love was understood and while he sacrificed a comfortable life to help defeat the Japanese, Aleene worked stateside to save her allotment of his Army check. On their first anniversary, a gold wedding band engraved with both of their initials arrived in the mail, the same initials they had signed on their high school love notes.

The couple's deep love rose above the stressful war years, staying constantly strong until they reunited at war's end. Their beautiful life together came to a close just short of 65 years of marriage when Aleene died in 2008.

"We were very close from the beginning," Bob said, reflecting on their years together, noting they knew each other four years before the wedding. "We shared everything in our married life, even had a joint retirement in 1987 from Hanford."

On lonely days, Bob would visit Aleene's grave where a picture of the two of them is on her headstone. And on quiet evenings, this man of deep faith would ponder one specific message they exchanged during the long war.

"While overseas, I had a very memorable dream about Aleene one night where she lovingly said my name," Bob remembered with reverence in his voice. "I immediately sent a letter to her to tell her about it and when it had happened -- a letter I knew wouldn't reach her for two months."

As the ship crossed the Pacific Ocean, Aleene had already penned a letter to her husband, the two notes crossing in the mail. When his wife's letter arrived, Bob read her words and was stunned.

Aleene had described a vivid dream in which Bob lovingly called her name.

The dates both dreams occurred? The same.

Perhaps true love always finds a way to stay in touch.

(Lucy Luginbill is a career television producer-host and the Spiritual Life editor for the Tri-City Herald. In her column, she reflects on the meaning of her name, "Light Bringer." If you have a story idea for Light Notes, contact her at lluginbill@tricityherald.com.)

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