“The only girl I ever loved”
woman treasures memories of her forever valentine
By YVONNE WEAVER
For The Express
(Editor’s Note: This love story was told by Blanche Weaver to her daughter-in-law Yvonne Weaver in December 2017)
It was the 1940’s — a time of innocence, of trusting people, of war.
And it was a time of love.
Blanche Rhoades was a girl of 19 in the autumn of 1945, working at Sylvania and living with her cousin, Mary Liz, at Blanche’s sister Toni’s home in Mill Hall. Blanche lost her mother at age 5 and was raised by her siblings, Hazel, Aggie and Toni.
Blanche and Mary Liz attended a company party one evening and since Blanche had a cold and was not feeling the best, they left early and went to the Texas Lunch in Lock Haven for a soft drink. A boy who was interested in Blanche showed up and was teasing her. He said he wanted a date and when Blanche refused he teasingly grabbed her scarf and ran out the door saying, “You can have this back if I can have a date.”
Naturally, Blanche and Mary Liz followed, as this was a very special silk scarf. Blanche’s brother, Russ, sent it to her from Hawaii where he was stationed. Once outside they could not see the fellow and while looking around a young serviceman sitting in a car asked if he could help. They explained the situation and the young man introduced himself. “I’m Harold and this is my brother Bob. Get in and we’ll go look for him.” Blanche said she liked Harold’s smile right away. Now, back in those days people trusted each other … so the girls got in the back seat and they searched the streets of Lock Haven, but never found the guy with her scarf. Bob and Harold drove the girls back home to Mill Hall and Harold asked if he could come and see Blanche next week. She agreed.
So, there was a second date. By this time Blanche had a new job working at Piper Aircraft as a welder.
In December Harold had to go back to his base in Greensboro, N.C. There on Dec. 21, 1945 Staff Sergeant Harold J. Weaver was honorably discharged from the Army Air Force, just a little over one year after his aircraft had been shot down over Yugoslavia and he made his escape. However, he did not speak of this with Blanche.
By their third date Harold announced to Blanche that he was going to marry her.
At that time, he, too, was working at Piper Aircraft in Lock Haven. They had known each other less than six months and everyone told them the marriage would not last long. However, with the approval of her father, Blanche Arlene Rhoades married Harold J. Weaver on March 30, 1946 in the Howard church parsonage. Blanche’s brother Russ and his wife Eve and Harold’s mother Fay Weaver were the witnesses to the marriage.
The couple went back to Harold’s parent’s home in Rosecrans to stay before a short honeymoon to warmer places. The second or third night pebbles were thrown against their window awakening them. A friend, Guy Cooper, and a group of folks burst in, grabbed them and took them outside to a tractor and wagon. The Shivaree had begun! They whooped and hollered, sang, clanged noise makers and rode the two around the woods. Blanche complained that it was a chilly night and she was not happy about the situation. They eventually returned the couple back to their home safe and sound and were on their merry way. Since there were still seven or eight of his younger brothers and sisters living at home on the farm, space was at a premium. For a few days Blanche stayed in Mill Hall with her sister and Harold with his parents. Eventually they had a room fixed up at Harold’s parents place with a small gas stove for cooking and a sleeper bed. With all the men home from the war, homes were scarce and many of the factories welcomed back their former workers. Harold returned to his former employment at Piper Aircraft. However, due to frequent layoffs he needed to find another job and went to work at the papermill in Lock Haven. They looked everywhere for a home to rent or buy. At the time a friend, Turb Seyler, was living in a house in Rosecrans that Woodrow Snook had built. Turb was staying there while he finished building his home. It was a brick structure, but had no electricity or water. In late winter 1946, once it was vacant, Harold purchased the house for $1,500 and he and Blanche began housekeeping on their own. The Clark Washburn family lived next door and they had two wells, so Blanche carried water each day from their one well to her home. Relatives gave them a bed, two chairs and a table. The house was heated with a small wood stove.
They had their first Christmas there and three days later welcomed their first born, a son, into the home. Later they had electricity installed and a well dug. Harold worked tirelessly to upgrade the home and make it comfortable as through the years they welcomed four more children, another boy and three girls.
About 1980 Harold retired from the Hammermill Paper Company and later was diagnosed with cancer. In these years he finally talked to his son-in-law and Blanche about the war and what happened with him.
This is Harold’s story…
Harold wanted to serve his country, but because they found a problem with his heart he was given a 4-F classification … not fit for military duty. That did not stop him. He pursued other avenues and with the help of Bill Beschler of Loganton, who served on the local draft board, he enlisted in the Army Air Force.
He was inducted on Nov. 26, 1943 and entered the military Dec. 17, 1943 at New Cumberland, PA.
Harold trained and became an armorer gunner. He flew as a crew member on a B-24 heavy bomber. Although he was a tail gunner he was classified as “Capable of taking over any gun position during an emergency and making repairs to equipment during flight and under enemy attack.”
On his fifth mission in the B-24 Liberator, called the Winnona Belle, they received heavy flack and the plane went down. All nine of the crew members had to bail out. They were over Yugoslavia and during WW II, Yugoslavia was divided. Harold noted that as he drifted down it was so very quiet and peaceful. They all prayed they would land safely in resistance territory. As he drifted closer to the ground he could not see any other parachutes. His thoughts were to gather his chute and head for the woods. As he touched down he saw a young soldier coming toward him, so he lay still and slowly slid his hand into his boot and retrieved his knife. The young soldier moved closer and aimed his gun right at Harold. He was thinking this could be the end when suddenly another older soldier appeared and pushed the young man aside. He spoke to Harold and told him he was safe now. He said they would hide him in a nearby barn and look for others of his crew.
It was there in the village in a barn he was reunited with some of the others from his crew. They hid there several days living on mostly bread and water from the villagers. Then the villagers prepared several two-wheeled ox carts with false bottoms, filled them with hay and hid Harold and the others inside. As they traveled down the lane, headed to safety, the Germans stopped the carts and thrust long bayonets in through the hay hoping to injure or scare anyone who might be hidden in the hay. Fortunately, they were all spared and the cart went on its way.
All the crew survived and with the help of the resistance they made their way to the Adriatic Sea where they were picked up by an American ship and were transported to the Isle of Capri for R and R… rest and relaxation. Harold made it back safely to the United States and was awarded these medals upon discharge:
r American Campaign Medal
r European -African- Middle Eastern Campaign with four Bronze stars
r Air Medal (with oak leaf cluster) … awarded for Meritorious Achievement while participating in aerial flight
r WW II Victory medal
r Honorable service lapel button WW II
Blanche said after their marriage he was haunted with nightmares for some time. A recruiter came once and tried to get him to reenlist, but he said he was never getting back up in an airplane again and he never did.
Harold fought long and hard but lost his battle to cancer on Jan. 10, 1987, at age 69. They were married 41 years. His last words to Blanche were, “You were the only girl I ever loved.”
He is survived by Blanche, sons, Steve Weaver (Yvonne), Harold Weaver Jr. (Shirley) and daughters Bonnie Vozzella (Joe), Denise Ertel (Doug) and Faye Vonada (Kent); several grandchildren, great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.
Either he never received the medals, or they were lost, nobody knows. But in 2017 his son worked to have his WW II medals replaced. With the help of Clinton County Veterans Affairs Director Bill Bechdel, Harold’s medals now hang proudly in the home of his 91-year-old widow, Blanche.
NOTE: A week after the “snatched” scarf incident the young man returned the scarf.