It Was Just Us

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

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| This is the 250th story of Our Life Logs |

From Georgia to Germany

to South Korea

to Vietnam

to Saudi Arabia,

it was a love where distance was irrelevant.

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Do you ever reflect on a decision you made and realize it unknowingly changed the direction of your entire life? 1950 was that year for me. Fresh out of high school, I was working and restlessly still living with my parents in Daytona Beach, Florida. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents. I was born in 1931 and was one of the four children that they brought up through The Great Depression. But when you become an adult, you want to carve your own path.

Me as a baby.
Me as a baby.

By 1950, I was ready to start my own life, but I was not sure how to begin.

The push I needed came when Mom received word that her sister was ill. I quit my job, packed my bags, and left for Ohio to help. Unfortunately, my aunt was too sick to recover and after a couple months, she parted ways with the world. On the way back to Florida, Mom and I stopped at Fort Benning to visit Dorothy, my older sister who was working at a military station. My mom could tell that I needed a change and spoke with Dorothy about me staying in Fort Benning with her. Dorothy was thrilled to take me in. Everything was going well. Shortly after, I took my civil service test and began working in the Ranger Department office in 1951.

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That’s where I met Jim Dugan, a tall specimen of a man, an ex-military man with a firm jaw and gentle eyes. He worked as a ranger instructor and would come in and out every day to sign the time sheet. One morning, I showed up at work and found a vase filled with handpicked violets on my desk. I was baffled by my secret admirer until a fellow ranger spilled the beans that Jim picked them during their morning run. The image of the strong, stern instructor picking violets in between barking orders was humorous, to say the least, and I decided he might be worth giving a chance.

Everything seemed to fall into place after that. It wasn’t “head over heels” or “love at first sight.” We were a budding blossom. A combination of time and patience, nurtured into something more beautiful than I could have imagined at the time. We knew what we wanted in life and figured out we wanted it with each other within a year. There were no grand gestures or public displays of affection when Jim proposed. In fact, it was more of a practical discussion. His discharge date was fast approaching and he’d be off to Ohio where a steel mill position was open. There weren’t a lot of job opportunities those days for veterans, so he took what he could get. I was 21, in love and ready to take on the world with him. And so, we held a small ceremony in the Fort Benning Chapel and set our sights on the future.

Tying the knot in 1951.
Tying the knot in 1951.
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Ohio. Memories of a frigid winter and my deceased aunt flashed through my mind. This Florida girl wasn’t sure about Ohio, but she knew she loved the man that brought her back to this place. I leaned into that feeling.

However, Ohio was short-lived. Jim never had a passion for the steel mill industry. In 1954, as the storm of the Vietnam War brewed, Jim re-enlisted and we moved wherever he was needed. Whether it was Pennsylvania or Georgia, I followed. As more soldiers were sent overseas, I continued to count my blessings each day that Jim remained with us. We’d welcomed two daughters into our lives by the time Jim graduated from his officer training program and received orders to report to an American station in Germany in 1956. Thankful that it wasn’t Vietnam, I packed up our two girls and embarked on the next adventure.

Jim, 1954.
Jim, 1954.

While my husband was serving, I was at home taking care of our growing family. In the three years we spent in Germany, our family grew and gave us two boys. We returned to Florida where Jim continued building his career while I looked after our little ones.

Then, orders came for Jim to go overseas again, a year in South Korea. We moved back to Georgia, bought our first house, and he kissed our four children and me goodbye. I worked at the ranger’s office and took care of our children. It was exhausting, but as an army wife, caring for our kids was my order, so to speak, and I followed it with due diligence. There were times I worried that repeatedly moving would negatively affect our children, but much like me, they were adaptive. I think they were grateful to have their fearless father to look up to. Our family learned to count blessings not burdens.

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A year later, Jim returned and we spent several years together as a family until the day came when he received orders overseas once more; this time for a year as an advisor for the Vietnam army right in the action. I remember my stomach doing flips just thinking about it. Soon after, I also learned that my stomach was flipping for more reasons—I was pregnant with our third daughter!

We bought our new home in Orlando where the kids and I lived while Jim left for Vietnam in 1966. He was able to support us while overseas, allowing me to focus my energy on our children rather than juggling a job while raising them alone. He was in the middle of a war, thousands of miles away, when I went into labor. I told my neighbor and drove myself to the hospital.

By January 1967, Ellen had made her debut thus completing our family. I remember feeling whole, yet divided at the same time. Jim wasn’t there to share the joy with me, which was h