By Betty Gordon
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
Their song was “Always,” the lilting classic composed by Irving Berlin in 1925.
“I’ll be loving you, always / With a love so true, always.”
It might have been Lois Simon’s youthful voice caressing those words that got Elliot Gordon’s attention, or perhaps the figure-hugging, red wool dress the petite soprano was wearing that day in 1943. Or possibly both.
“Not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always.”
What is unmistakable is that the New Jersey teenagers had caught each other’s eye after meeting at a party at Lois’s cousin’s house.
A few months later, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps, at the height of World War II. He had his sights set on becoming a navigator or bombardier. She was finishing her senior year in high school in Passaic, New Jersey.
And so began a long-distance courtship that was to be conducted mostly through the more than 600 letters they exchanged over about 20 months, a few brief phone calls and Elliot’s occasional furloughs home.
The correspondence traces not only the progress of a budding relationship, it gives insight into life on the home front during a period of enormous worldwide upheaval, when America and its allies were fighting to defeat the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy.
The early letters are somewhat stiff and formal as Elliot and Lois get to know each other, and they describe their daily routines, their families and the people with whom they regularly interact. They become more evocative and more richly textured as they begin to rely on each other for emotional support as things don’t go quite as Elliot had hoped with the Army Air Corps and Lois tackles her freshman year of college in West Virginia.
“For the past few letters, I have had it in mind to ask you for a picture, but I’ve constantly forgotten, hence I have started this letter out with this request. See what you can do about fulfilling it!”
Elliot wrote these words to Lois on April 27, 1944, as he was going through basic training at Keesler Field in Mississippi. Lois fulfilled Elliot’s request, and then some. She later made the same request of him, and was ecstatic when his photos arrived and she could show them to her university friends and display them in her dorm room.
I am the keeper of these letters now, plus countless pictures and other memorabilia, including a very special bracelet that Elliot made for Lois from scrap stainless steel while posted for much of the war to Aloe Army Air Field in Victoria, Texas.
Organized chronologically, each page of each letter resides in its own acid-free plastic sleeve, and together they fill eight large binders. I’ve read every word of every letter — twice — taking full advantage of being accorded the rare privilege of “meeting” my parents as teenagers.
In my book, “Fondly with All My Affection: A World War II Love Story,” I draw on the letters to profile Elliot and Lois as they evolve from being two individuals separated by thousands of miles to a newlywed couple attending college and working together in a post-war world.
My manuscript includes about 60 full-text letters that Elliot and Lois exchanged, but that’s only part of the story. Elliot’s twin brother, an Army infantryman who earned a Bronze Star while fighting in the Pacific Theater, figures prominently, as does their next-oldest brother, an officer in the Army Air Corps. Further, I’ve written a chapter about some of the other young servicemen, scattered around the world, that Lois wrote to before and after she met Elliot.
For the past year, I’ve been actively looking for a literary agent to represent my book.
In future posts, I’ll be writing more about “Fondly with All My Affection,” my world travels, the books I’m reading, and what food I’m cooking and eating. And anything else that strikes my fancy.
“Always” lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, IMAGEM U.S. LLC