When you need medical advice you don’t turn to a pre-med student. When you need legal expertise you don’t watch “Judge Judy.” And if you want to know what it takes to have a lasting marriage, you shouldn’t ask newlyweds. A better idea is to talk to folks with a bit more experience. For instance, couples with a combined total of 188 years of connubial bliss.
Sandy Johnson and his first wife, Betty, were married for 54 years before she died. He’s been with his current wife, Jeanette, for 10. Charlie and Irene Boyer have been married for 62 years, as have Sid and Dorothea Kennedy. It all adds up to over a century of love and commitment.
The three couples have more in common than just long-lasting relationships. Johnson, Boyer and Kennedy met in 1941, at Aviation Machinist School in San Diego. The three young men were newly enlisted in the United States Navy. “Sandy and I joined three days apart,” Kennedy said.
A unique bond formed among the young men. “There were only a few of us from Washington,” Boyer said, and chuckled. “We were either the outcasts or the elite.”
After graduating from aviation machinist school, the three were delighted to find they’d all been assigned to the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe.
When they arrived on Oahu the eager sailors discovered it would take awhile for them to put their training into action. Kennedy said, “The funny thing was there were 50 machinist mates raring to go, but only one aircraft.”
And when the action came, it wasn’t what they’d had in mind. The bond that formed when they met in San Diego was cemented when they all survived the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor.
Last week the three men, along with two of their wives, met in the lobby of Orchard Crest Retirement Community. It wasn’t Pearl Harbor they’d gathered to discuss. It was a combat zone of a different kind: marriage.
“We battled pretty hard,” Irene Boyer admitted. The couple married in December 1945. Charlie was 25, Irene, 16. She said the first 10 years were difficult. “I remember one argument. We were yelling and our son came up and said, ‘OK, Mom, it’s your turn, now.’ ” She laughed. “That ended that argument.”
All these years later, her husband gazed at her fondly, “She’s got to where she can put up with me pretty good,” he said.
For Sandy Johnson, just getting his wife to marry him was half the battle. “I proposed to Betty before I left for Pearl Harbor,” he said. “She said, ‘no.’ ” They’d been dating only three weeks. Johnson shrugged. “When you’re in love you’re in love.”
He went home dejected after Betty’s refusal, but later that night the phone rang. “A voice said, ‘yes,’ ” he recalled with a grin. His bride-to-be had changed her mind.
The third couple, Sid and Dorothea Kennedy, grew up in the same neighborhood and had known each other all their lives. “I couldn’t stand him,” Dorothea said.
However when Sid returned from Pearl Harbor and asked her out, she soon found she could tolerate him. Still, when he proposed Dorothea said, “I couldn’t make up mind. We had such different temperaments. My family gave us six months.”
Sixty-two years later, Sid and Dorothea have proved them wrong.
The three men spent many years in the military, which means their wives learned how to pack up and move over and over again. “Forty-three moves in sixty-two years,” said Irene Boyer.
After World War II, family housing was in short supply. Both the Boyers and the Kennedys know what it’s like to share half of a Quonset hut with another family. Dorothea said once they had to live in a converted chicken coop, and the Boyers spoke of living with their two young sons in a small travel trailer in someone’s backyard.
However, cramped, uncomfortable housing wasn’t the most difficult challenge the couples endured. Far more trying were the long separations that are still a part of military life.
Sid Kennedy said, “I spent a lot of time on carriers. I was gone eight months at a time. I left her raising the kids most of the time.”
His wife responded, “Three-quarters of a marriage lands on the wife. The husbands are off, the kids are in school, and you’re it.”
And yet when asked about the happiest times in their marriages, both Irene and Dorothea grinned and said, “Oh! The homecoming.”
As the couples spoke about their shared hardships and similar joys, they offered a few words of wisdom to couples who haven’t yet achieved the six-decade mark. “Never go to bed without kissing your wife goodnight,” said Sid Kennedy.
These veterans of married life also agree that common courtesies like saying please and thank you go a long way to making a spouse feel valued and respected. They spoke of having so little and of “making do,” and sadly admit that they gave their own children too much.
For them the sacrifices and hardships they endured only strengthened their commitment and love for each other.
Having survived long separations, the challenges of raising children, and the health issues that come with aging, they have resilient fortitude, and little tolerance for petty squabbles. Dorothea Kennedy said, “Don’t let arguments drag on. It’s like leftover, too-strong coffee the next morning.”
So, if you’re looking for matrimonial advice, it’s best to talk to experts like, the Boyers, Johnsons and Kennedys. For these couples each day together has become a gift – one they can’t afford to take for granted.