Oregon woman recalls life as a WWII-era bride

KEIZER, Ore. (AP) Joy Beebe was hesitant to show her wedding dress, which she has kept in a closet for more than six decades.

"It was not properly looked after," she said. "Our dry cleaners was bombed. It never got cleaned until after I came to this country."

Actually, it wasn't until about 10 years ago that Joy had the dress professionally cleaned.

The cream-colored gown, with long sleeves and 20 silk-covered buttons in front, has a few small stains but looks in remarkably good condition.

The dress brings back so many memories and stirs so many emotions for Joy, a war bride from England.

During World War II she fell in love and married U.S. Army Cpl. Carl Beebe, who was stationed in her hometown. After the war she immigrated to America and they settled in Salem, where Carl was from.

"I don't think I really ever thought if I got married I was going to leave England," Joy said.

She gave up a lot to leave her homeland and her family.

Many young women like Joy were swept off their feet by American GIs, who were lonely and far from home. Romances blossomed, and marriages were hastily arranged. Joy dated Carl for about six months before marrying him. When asked what it was about him that caught her fancy, she danced around the subject.

"It's kind of hard to talk about that," she said. "Sometimes it brings back too many memories."

Joy has chronicled some of those memories in "Snapshots of a War Bride's Life." The memoir originally was intended just for family, but some of her fellow students in a writing class at Center 50+ did purchase copies of the paperback, which she refers to as a pocket book. She also is working on a second edition.

"The kids were always wanting to know and wanting me to get something written," she said.

On the cover of the 203-page book is a photograph from their wedding day, April 28, 1945, with Carl in his dapper Army uniform and Joy in that beautiful wedding dress.

Much of the memoir is dedicated to what it was like growing up in war-torn England, carrying a gas mask to school every day, attending classes in a bomb shelter, sleeping under a Morrison shelter, which Joy's family also used as a kitchen table.

Joy lived in Bexleyheath, on the outskirts of London. Her family didn't have much, but somehow managed to throw a wedding that would have been considered lavish according to war-time standards.

She and Carl got married at St. John's Church of Welling, which was badly damaged from the air raids. All the stained glass windows were gone, replaced by plywood, and the roof leaked.

Joy was fortunate to wear a wedding dress, which her brother somehow managed to find. She said most of the English women who got married around that time settled for suits purchased with clothing coupons.

"I once asked him if he got it on the black market," she said. "All he said was, 'Don't ask.'"

The mother of a friend somehow managed to gather the ingredients to make a traditional English wedding cake, fruitcake with hard icing.

"Probably another black market deal," Joy wrote in her memoir, "since dried fruits, eggs, butter, flour, sugar in fact all the things necessary to make the cake had been either rationed or nonexistent for years."

Her mom rented a car so that Joy and Carl could go away for the weekend. Joy was 19, and had only ridden in an automobile a handful of times. (She didn't learn to drive until some 10 years later, when living in the Salem area and raising their four children.)

They ate like royalty while they were away Joy mentioned roast duck the first night at the hotel - but the honeymoon was brief because of the war. Carl had to return to duty after the weekend.

He served in the 6811th Signal Corps, which translated messages and decrypted code from the enemy. He was an intercept operator, and she said he was involved with work on the Enigma, a German cipher machine, and that it was top-secret stuff.

Joy met Carl in September 1944, at a dance hall where many American soldiers hung out. She was introduced to Carl one evening, and quickly learned from him that he didn't dance. He explained that his parents were religious and did not believe in dancing or drinking.

"I just wandered away," she said, probably to find someone who would dance with her. "But he kept coming back and would stand near the door."

He eventually asked if she would go for a walk with him and before long, he was walking her home and they were falling in love.

Duty kept Joy and Carl separated for much of the next two years. When the war ended, Carl was sent to Germany. He got time off for Christmas, and for the birth of their first child the following March. But when the baby was about a month old, he was called back to the States. He returned to England that Christmas, and plans were finalized to bring Joy and the baby back with him.

War brides an estimated 100,000 from England and their children were provided berths on troop transports. Joy packed up what belongings she could and boarded the SS Marine Falcon in January 1948. She cried because she had to leave the baby's pram behind.

The 15-day trip across the Atlantic was treacherous, because the seas were so rough. Joy and the baby shared a cabin with another GI bride from her hometown, and her two daughters.

After arriving in New York, they took a train to Oregon and then a bus to Salem, where they stayed with Carl's family until they were able to get their own place.

Within a few months Joy met other war brides in the Salem area, and they started having tea at each other's houses. They began to meet regularly and eventually called themselves the Accent Club.

The club continues to meet to this day, with 13 of the women still living in the area. Their last meeting was at Christmastime at Joy's home in Keizer. They try to gather twice a year, but it's becoming more difficult as the years pass. All but three have lost their husbands.

Carl, who was a painter and decorator after serving in the military, died in 1995. His health had been failing after he had suffered a stroke and come down with pneumonia. Joy was in England, on her way to visit her brother, when he died.

Joy has made more than 20 trips back home over the years, including some with her children and grandchildren. She loves to travel, and has been active in the Salem-Keizer community as a restaurant owner and a volunteer.

She stays busy these days by taking classes at Center 50+, volunteering at Cummings Elementary School, and occasionally speaking about her war-time experiences.

"I suppose it was good coming here," she said, "but it took me a long time to realize it."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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