Frank and I went for a quiet walk around the campus, and when we stopped at the crèche, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a little box. Holding it out to me he said, “Open it.” It was a lovely, gold diamond ring.
Kennebunk High School was a small school in 1965 when I graduated, and my class numbered about 100 students. I had been accepted at the college of my choice, Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine. As valedictorian, I received a full tuition scholarship to Saint Joe’s, and I also was distinguished as the first daughter of an alumna to attend SJC. My mother, Dorothy Mahrt (nee Flaherty) graduated from the college on Walton Street in Portland in 1939.
My high school sweetheart, Frank Wilson, came to visit me almost every weekend. He’d take me to a local horse farm to ride horseback, or we’d walk the lovely campus to the lake or the frog pond, or drive to the canal and walk along it to admire the flora and fauna. In January of 1966, Frank surprised me by enlisting in the US Army. I agreed that this was a good idea for both of us. In order for me to keep my scholarship, I had to maintain my grades, and Frank was a distraction with time on his hands. However, the Vietnam War was brewing, unpopular with many, but Frank wanted to join the fight to help the South Vietnamese throw off the yoke of communist oppression. He left for Fort Dix, New Jersey, at the height of a huge snow storm that closed down the airports from Maine to New Jersey. He did finally arrive at his destination and went through boot camp. He wrote to me faithfully every day. I almost always had a letter from him in my mailbox full of what he was doing, how the training was going, photos of him and some of the guys he had met. My roommate from sophomore year, Lynne Cormier, even agreed to write to one of the soldiers Frank had met. I am sure her letters helped Larry Bell get through his military commitment.
Frank got a short leave to come home and see me and his parents just before he shipped out to Vietnam. He was going to be gone for a year. We had not been separated more than a few weeks before this. We had no idea how this would affect us. I was very busy with my studies, and I seldom ever watched the news to even know what was going on in Vietnam or how dangerous it was. I was not even worried about Frank’s safety. Now that the United States has been through so many wars (Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan) and now that we have even seen our son fight in one of those wars (Persian Gulf), I realize what a risk this was. But in 1966 we were oblivious to the dangers. We were young, in love, and felt like nothing could go wrong.
One Friday after my last class my friends and I were walking back to the dorm, passing by the switchboard on the way, when one friend, Sandy Traynor, hailed me as she was working at the switchboard. I stopped and entered the office to see, of all people, Frank! He had kept it a secret from me that he would be arriving that evening! He swept me up into his arms and give me an affectionate hug and kiss. I was in a daze. It was a lovely starlit winter evening. Saint Joe’s had put up their life sized crèche set outside Xavier Hall among the pine trees. Frank and I went for a quiet walk around the campus, and when we stopped at the crèche, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a little box. Holding it out to me he said, “Open it.” It was a lovely, gold diamond ring. He put it on my finger right there in front of the Holy Family and the shepherds. We lingered in the starlight for a while and then went inside to show the ring to my roommates. While Frank and I were getting engaged out by the crèche, my roommates, Lynne and Linda, had been packing my bags for me–my clothes, my homework–and were now shooing me out the door with Frank. That was mid December, 1966. Too soon Frank left for Vietnam. He faithfully wrote to me daily. My roommates comment to this day how they always knew I would get a letter in my mailbox from Frank. I wrote to him almost daily. He sent me photos; I sent him photos. He was in Vietnam for a year when Uncle Sam offered him early fulfillment of his military obligation if he agreed to another tour of duty in Vietnam. It was a difficult decision to make, but he opted for an extra six months in Vietnam to shorten his time in the army. He got to come home for a month’s leave and we made wedding plans. He found out the exact day he would be out and we allowed one month to tie up loose ends. My college friends gave me a bridal shower. I received many lovely gifts that I still have today, 48 years later! Frank came home from the army in early October of 1968. We were married on November 9, 1968. This fall we will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary.
Pauline Mahrt Wilson, Class of 1969