“I am dying to get home and take you in my arms again. You had better watch out darling…”
These are the words that captivated me as I read through stacks of letters from World War II from a soldier to his honey waiting at home. There are so many stories about love in literature that makes the heart swoon like The Notebook, Casablanca and The English Patient. But the one that resonates with me the most is the one I heard this morning. I had the pleasure talking to Charlene Stell, a volunteer at Oakwood Cemetery, about her parents who are buried in the Veterans’ Section. Charles Vlaskamp passed away in 1999 while Dorothy Vlaskamp also passed in 2014. Her father was a frequent visitor to Oakwood and enjoyed learning about the history of the Civil War. Charles and Dorothy married on March 27, 1944 in New York. It was a sudden decision when Dorothy took a train from California to see her lover, not knowing if he was going to be there. Once there, she married in the dress she arrived in to her waiting soldier. Soon, Charles shipped out to the next station as the war continued.
What is most endearing is the story of how they met. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms in California and on a night out with friends, the group decided to dance at a United Services Organization Center. She happened to be there at the right time. No one wanted to dance with her more than he did and another fellow. Coins were flipped and the rest is history. However, love is never easy in war and complications ensued. Charles would not be home for a very long time and marriage was a distant photograph. But their love never faded as he sent out letters to her wherever he went from Holland to Paris to Germany to Louisiana to wherever as he followed General George S. Patton’s path. Their love was tried by the adversities in life such as Charles going through a divorce when they first met and the war separating them thousands of miles from each other. But the two found a way to make it work.
Theirs is a story that the 1940’s relished because Charles and Dorothy reunited after the war ended in 1945. Home to a new America, the two built a life together lasting over three decades. Although the two divorced later in life, both remained great friends as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. In his spare time, Charles enjoyed a game of golf, read voraciously and nourished his gift for playing piano by ear. Dorothy remained on the crafty side of things and loved oil painting, making porcelain dolls and gardening. Stell remembered how her mother kept all of her father’s letters in a box. The letters accompany many stunning pictures of the duo in their younger years and are now preserved in an photo album created by Charlene’s daughter, Jennifer Knight, depicting their love story. Along with this is an album created in remembrance of Dorothy as a wife, mother, and grandmother. As for Charlene, she spends her days dedicating hours at Oakwood helping many whose loved ones are interred here and passersby with a sense of curiosity. She has also donated a generous gift by giving all of her parents’ letters and photo albums to Oakwood Cemetery as a way to preserve their love, memories so that others may remember how they once lived.