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How Military Wives Kept Love Alive in World War II

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On the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we take a glimpse into the romantic lives of the Greatest Generation.

Jane Leder's new book Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex and World War II tells the story of the "wandering wives" — women who traveled from town to town to stay near their military husbands before they shipped out.

Excerpt from 'Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II'

Thanks for the Memories

In August, 1942, Seymour Simon went off to the navy and eventually served overseas in North Africa, Italy, and France. "The war was a total shock for guys like me," the eighty-four-year-old retired president of an advertising agency said. "We had grown up in the Depression. War was not to be in our time. World War I was supposed to have been the war to end all wars. I kept thinking this wasn't happening to me . . ."

For Simon and many men like him, the war put all future plans on hold. The idea of finding a wife and setting down was "eight million miles off." Even before many men arrived overseas where sexual liaisons became the norm, the opportunity to have "play time" on the home front was never far away. And Simon knew the unwritten "rules" well: There were, he said, two kinds of girls - the ones who were sure to be virgins when they got married and the "other" kind of girls you pursued when you wanted to have sex.

"You wanted to be sure to spend some time with the 'good' girls to learn all about them because they were the kind you were going to marry some day." And Simon did just that. He met a gal in the spring of 1942 whom he eventually married after the war. Though he'd been sexually active since the age of sixteen, he went "very slowly and carefully" with his future bride and never attempted to compromise her virginity.

However, during intensive naval training in Chicago, Simon was fixed up with a woman to "weekend" with. She was a "gorgeous gal" who loved to drink and party. If Simon didn't have duty, he could leave the naval base at noon on Saturday until 7 p.m. Sunday night. "The gal and I would meet at a great Italian restaurant, eat and drink, and then rent a room at the Sherman Hotel. My dad was a big deal in the National Jewelers' Association that always held its conventions there, so I could always get a room, usually a suite. I had good weekends.''

Dorothy Oberman (not her real name) never felt she was that kind of woman. A tomboy nicknamed "The Tiger Woman" as a kid, Oberman was a virgin when she left home at age twenty-one to work as a secretary in Washington, D.C. during the war. There, she fell for a skinny soldier who played the fiddle. One afternoon, she and her roommate went to Walter Reed Hospital to visit the wounded soldiers.

"The shock of seeing all those young men missing arms and legs made me so upset," she said, "that when I had a date with the soldier that night, my thought was: 'What do I have to lose'?" She lost her virginity.

Some time later when the man she ultimately married asked her out, word had spread that she'd "gone all the way." The young man, hoping to get her in bed and lose his virginity, fell in love instead. He proposed two weeks later. Oberman thought he was "nuts." That was in the spring of 1945. On November 11 of the same year, the two were at union headquarters and talked about their salaries and how they might combine them. This time, Oberman said "yes." The couple was married the following February at a synagogue in Hicksville, Pennsylvania. "Those were crazy, crazy times," Oberman said. She and her husband will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary this year.

Excerpted from Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex and World War II by Jane Leder © 2006. Reprinted with permission by Praeger Publishers, a subsidiary of Greenwood Publishing Group.

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Thanks for the Memories

Love, Sex, And World War II

by Jane Mersky Leder

Hardcover, 185 pages |

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