War and Cocktail Dresses

By Circe Woessner

Mrs. Elizabeth “Libby” Lemons graciously invites me into her cozy Albuquerque apartment. I am her to learn more about her life as an Air Force wife—a career that spanned almost three decades—and which took her across the nation and around the world.

Her husband, Charles, fought in World War II, Korea and in Vietnam, and Libby was there through thick and thin, raising her daughter, Wanda and being a supportive Military Spouse.

It wasn’t always easy, Mrs. Lemons admits, but it was always very interesting.

Listen to her story.

At 20, she was a mill worker in North Carolina when Pearl Harbor was bombed. She continued working through the war, and shortly after the war ended, she met her husband Charles. Over the course of their military career, and their 64 year marriage they moved about seven times—more or less.

She recalls where she was during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, how she met her husband and as a newlywed, she found  herself living with her in-laws as her husband went off to fight in the Korean War.

Later, when she and her husband lived on bases, Mrs. Lemons had things to worry about—the safety of the “Gooney Bird” plane Charles flew on and where and when their next PCS move would be, but as is typical of an Air Force wife, she understood things “happen” and was prepared to deal with whatever came their way.  She describes her life as a military spouse traveling and staying in military hotels, and how the military lifestyle affected Wanda.

Being a military wife meant packing up and moving, entertaining, and keeping the home fires burning while the service member went off to war. Mrs. Lemons reflects about base life, war protesters typhoons and allergies. Their lifestyle created deep friendships between the Airmen and their families, which even half a century later, remain strong.

When Wanda was in elementary school, Charles was sent to Vietnam.  Mrs. Lemons  tells about how her family kept in touch, and how military kids cope with separation and war, and how spouses cope. She admits that the Vietnam War affected her husband differently than World War II did. Because of his classified missions, Mrs. Lemons didn’t know what exactly he did.

Mrs. Lemons described the emotions stirred up when she and Charles visited  the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and how they were given special treatment because Charles was a WWII Veteran. She laughs as she remembers how she felt when ranking officers and spouses got treated differently—even at church.  But over time, the military family connection  trumps everything else.

At that point in the conversation, there was a knock at the door, and the interview ended.  I left, feeling that I had shared a couple of hours with a good friend—although we had never met before.  I, too, felt the connection—as military wives and mothers, Mrs. Lemons and I had a lot in common—despite our 35 year age difference.

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