MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) - Letters from Jean Stewart in Marshall to Walter Mauritzen in north Africa were to ignite a romance that would last a lifetime.
"We knew before we ever actually saw each other in person that we would spend our lives together," said Walter. "Here's the enterence of the diary right there when I got the letter," he motioned to the page.
It was a letter from Jean Alice Mauritzen in Marshall, Texas.
Walter Mauritzen's diary, which he so meticulously kept during WW II, records the very first letter from Jean Alice Stewart to be April 9,1943. It had crossed an ocean and heavy battle zones in north Africa to reach him.
"I just kidded her all through the years, 'would you have written again?' She said, 'probably not.'"
Walter answered Jean's letter the day he received it, and she did write again and again. Their first letters ended with "Yours Truly."
"Two or three or four months, I don't know how long it was, I signed my letters, 'Love Walter.' Her next letter back to me she signed, 'Love Jean.'"
Walter soon asked Jean to send him photos.
"The comment that I made [was], 'boy, she's good looking.'"
Walter fastened Jean's photos to his pistol handle, protecting them with plexiglass taken from an enemy plane. He wrote her that now he would always have her near, protecting him. And protection was something he did need as war raged around him.
"As a matter of fact, I was a machine gunner on the landing barge that went in," said Walter.
Although he was designated as an Army Air Corps Crew Chief, assigned to keep his planes in the air, ground fighting was constant. From D-day in north Africa through Pantelleria, Egypt, Capri, and Italy, Walter often missed death by inches.
"I don't know why I thought we could just walk in that fort. I don't know, but when the machine gun opened up and got the first two in front of me, I don't mind telling anybody I turned around and ran. The first thing I knew I was flat of my stomach. I looked down and I had tripped on a dead American captain. Just as I took a step, a bullet poped right where I had moved. He was pulling the trigger as I moved."
There was no place safe from bullets, bombs, grenades and straifing.
"We were bombed and straifed every day and I tell you, that's a wicked feeling to be straifed."
Early, in 1944, Walter and his crew were transferred to China and India by special agreement between President Roosevelt and Chang Kai Chek, but in between aiding China's Flying Tigers and guarding American B-24s, Walter still found time for romance.
"I found out that when the sun set at the foot on the Himalayas that the sun was rising in East Texas. I wrote to her and said now you watch the sun rise December 25th Christmas Day, I'll watch it as it sets where I am and we'd both be looking at the sun at the same time."
Walter and Jean were to see each other for the first time when he stepped off the train in Marshall in September of 1945.
"It's just as plain as it was the day long we stood and gazed into each others eyes. I can't tell you how long but I know we were just hypnotized gazing into each others eyes."
Jean and Walter were married four months later. His family thought it would never last. After all, she was a city girl from Marshall and he was a boy from Clayton where they didn't even have indoor plumbing. But their marriage did last through the birth of their three sons and nine grandchildren and through years of traveling throughout the U.S., collecting license plates, 23,000 in all.
"During our travels in the rural areas we spent holding hands, but when the traffic got heavy like in New York City and Boston, both hands went to the steering wheel."
After sixty years and seven months of marriage, Jean passed away on July 30th, 2006, leaving Walter with his memories of war and a wartime romance that lasted a lifetime.