Longtime military spouses share stories and secrets
This time of year we are awash in the Cupids, the bouquets of roses and the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates that have become synonymous with Valentine’s Day.
What the young know is that love is exciting, new and invincible. What the older, and wiser, know is that love, especially when it comes to marriage and relationships, can be complicated. Add the military into the mix and it’s more complicated still.
There are all kinds of statistics available that cite divorce rates among those in the military. In general, the rate has risen over the course of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For instance, in the Air Force, the divorce rate among airmen is 64 percent higher than it was in 2001 — the highest in the military. In general, the divorce rate is higher among women in the military, at 7.8 percent compared to 3 percent for military men.
When a member of the military is going through the emotional upheaval and stress of a divorce, it can affect their performance on the job, making it more difficult to focus, which in turn can affect the people they work with. To combat this, the military has fought back, adding marriage education classes and other things to support healthy relationships.
In the article “Military Marriages Can – And Do – Work,” author Julia Pfaff writes, “Successful marriages don’t just happen — they require constant commitment. Military marriages include difficult challenges and unusual pressures, but happiness and fulfillment certainly are possible.”
We found two examples of marriage success right in Oak Harbor.
Jean Hayden and her husband, Dick, have been married 68 years — 69 in August. It was a romance most people only see in the movies.
“It was during World War II,” Hayden described. “My friend and I lived in Seattle and we decided to move to San Diego to work. The first week I was there I met my husband.
“We went to one of the USO dances,” she continued. “My husband walked across the crowded dance floor and asked me to dance, which wasn’t the proper way. But he was tall, dark and handsome.”
The couple dated a year before they tied the knot in 1944. Jean was 20, Dick was 21. They had three children — two sons and a daughter. Dick, who retired as a Master Chief, served 28 years in the Navy. They settled on Whidbey Island and Jean actually worked on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island before her husband retired. Today, the couple live across the street from one another, Dick in a care facility in Oak Harbor, Jean in an assisted living facility while she recuperates from a fall. They still see each other every day and for them, the initial attraction they felt at that dance has never waned.
“From the day I saw him and met him, there was no other man that ever attracted me,” Hayden said.
That’s not to say their 68 years together were easy.
“One time he was gone a year. It got to where I couldn’t remember what he looked like,” Hayden said. “If we’d had what they have now, it would have been fantastic. Back then, when you were out on the South Pacific, you didn’t get mail very often.”
The toughest part of military life for Hayden, she said, were the homecomings.
“The coming home and the readjustment was always more difficult,” she said. “He is a meat and potatoes guy; I was a little more relaxed.”
Trudy Sundberg and her husband, the late Capt. John Sundberg, have a similar love story. They met while Trudy was attending college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The couple dated for a bit, but Trudy said she was very serious about her studies and actually introduced John to a friend of hers.
“Can you imagine that?” laughed Sundberg.
The two lost track of one another, until they met again four years later.
“Suddenly everything just clicked,” she said. The couple was planning a June wedding when John called Trudy one day in April and asked her if she’d like to get married that week instead.
She threw a simple ceremony together, at which she wore a green dress set the stage for a 56-year romance, despite the fact they had different hobbies.
“He loved to fish and play golf, I didn’t,” Sundberg said. “I like to swim, he didn’t.”
They went on to have four children, two boys and two girls. John had a long and successful Navy career, while Trudy enjoyed an equally successful career in education.
“Next to my husband and my family, teaching became my next love,” she said.
Both women have theories as to what made their marriages last.
“I think it’s different for everybody and I think it has to do with metaphysical attraction,” Sundberg said. “I don’t mean sexually, I mean appreciating and respecting your partner and admiring his character. When you have that, everything will work out.”
“I decided life would be better with him than without him, “ chuckled Hayden. You have to be tolerant, forgiving. Nobody’s perfect.”