Bob & Pat McKewin: Marriage on a 3-Day Pass
During World War II, many servicemen and women felt compelled to "tie the knot" on short notice, due to the capricious demands of military schedules and inevitable separations. St. Paul native Robert Williams McKewin shared an account of his marriage to Patricia Berry, followed by her high school graduation, while on a 3-Day pass with the Minnesota's Greatest Generation Share Your Story project.
There are some tales of my life that are easy to write, and some that are more difficult. This one is filled with memories, many of which cause me to pause and think about the path my life took, and of the good fortune that was mine. My good fortune stemmed from Patricia Berry's acceptance of me to be her husband, and then to stick to her agreement over nearly six decades.
By the end of the fall quarter at The University of Minnesota in 1942, I knew my mind wasn't on my education. I enlisted in the Army Signal Corps Reserve, and went to school at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis. There I learned radio theory and Morse Code. Through the winter of 1943, I dated Pat, but then in the spring she and her parents made a move to a small town in Iowa. Then, and only then, did I take other girls out on dates, and found myself just marking time. No matter how nice they were, they weren't Pat.
In August of 1943 I was called to active duty, and had the opportunity to transfer from Signal Corps to Air Corps. Since my brother, George, was already an officer in that branch, and stationed in England with the 8th Air Force, I looked forward to following in his footsteps. I believe Pat believed I, too, would become an officer, which would have added a touch of glamour to her life.
In October of 1943 I was sent to a town called Arkadelphia in Arkansas for "college training." This was a form of warehousing recruits who weren't needed too desperately at either the Eastern or the Western front. Daily correspondence with Pat, and sometimes weekly correspondence with my parents was possible at no cost. I had access to stationery at Ouchita College, and we military personnel in the Second World War were granted free postage for any letters we wrote. All we had to do was write "Free" on the envelope where civilians had to put their postage stamp.
I convinced my family to come visit me in Arkansas over Christmas, and to bring Pat along. I had asked Pat to marry me in my letters to her, and she had agreed. When Dad arrived, he handed me a little velvet box with a one-quarter karat ring inside. It had been sized to fit Pat's hand, and on Christmas Eve I knelt in front of her in the traditional pose of a suitor, and asked her the right question.
She said, "Yes." And we began to plan for the day when we were to marry.
In January I left Arkansas for Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. There I took a battery of tests for cadets, and failed two important ones. My eyes were astigmatic, I could only see at 20-30 without glasses. And one the day I took the tests, I was not well coordinated. That made me qualified to be an enlisted man, but no longer qualified to be an officer pilot.
February, March, April, and May went by at a snail's pace. I was sick of the Army, and may well have had stomach trouble. Some time spent in the Army Hospital in San Antonio made me realize that service time in a barracks was even better than in a military hospital. I asked for, and was granted discharge from that facility, returning to Kelly Field.
In early June I was informed that I was to travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and go to school there to become a radio operator. I rejoiced that I was leaving Texas in the summer. I rejoiced that South Dakota wasn't too far from my home state.
Pat got letters from me daily, and she looked forward eagerly to my arrival. We didn't know when I could get to St. Paul, but 250 miles seemed like a small obstacle to our love.
The afternoon of June 14th 1944 (unknown to me to be the same day that my brother George's plane was shot down over Paris), I was given the three-day pass. I took a Greyhound bus from Sioux Falls that afternoon, and at nine o'clock that night I called Pat to say I was already in Mankato, and hoped she could meet me.
She and my parents drove to the Minneapolis Bus Depot to pick me up, as she outlined for them our plans to marry on the 15th. They were surprised, and tried to convince her we should wait, but when I climbed in their 1942 Ford and sat hugging Pat, kissing her too, quite a bit, they conceded. We drove to Pat's home and had a discussion with both sets of parents. At 2 a.m., I left Pat with her parents, and rode home with mine. When I hugged and tried to kiss Pat one more time, she said, "You'll have plenty of time for THAT after the wedding."
By 8 p.m. on the 15th, all was ready at St. Matthew's Church. Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, Ushers, family and friends and parishioners had all been notified and the Church was full. Peonies had been stripped from several flower gardens and were on the altar. The parish organist was there and playing the wedding march as The Rev. Harry Nelson, then pastor of that parish walked me to the front of the center aisle to wait for Pat to come to me.
I had my 20th birthday on April 20th of that year. Pat had her 18th five days before that. My father had to sign his permission for me, and he helped me by getting a friend of his, Judge Wrinch, to sign so that we didn't have to wait the usual five-day period after the license was obtained.
My sister was one of the Bridesmaids, and Pat's brother was one of the ushers. One of Pat's former boy friends was one of the Groomsmen. The Maid of Honor was Pat's closest friend, Mary Rutford. I couldn't find a friend to be Best Man, as all of them were already in service. I found a 4-F acquaintance to stand with me, and regretted ever since that I hadn't asked my Dad to play that role.
The wedding was beautiful, as was the bride. The reception lasted just short of forever as our "getaway" car's keys had found their way into Pat's brother's pocket, and he had gone swimming!
We went to the Lowry Hotel on Wabasha for our first night, leaving a call for 7 a.m. No matter how tired we were, we had to get up early to go to the Murray High School Graduation Practice at the St. Paul Auditorium.
At 8 p.m. on the 16th Pat graduated, and at 10:30 p.m. she and I took a sleeper train south to Worthington, Minnesota where we would transfer to another train that would arrive in Sioux Falls at 6 a.m. on the 17th.
She stayed with me for almost 59 years before she died. I loved her all that time, all the time I courted her before, and love her still.
Read more of Robert W. McKewin's stories on the Share Your Story web site.
McKewin, Robert Williams, Marriage & Graduation on a 3-Day Pass. Minnesota Historical Society: Share Your Story, 2006.