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A Wartime Romance

By Tom Lowrey, Senior Services Education Assistant

Nowadays it is very common for people to meet their future spouses on the Internet. But long before there were such things as Match.com or eHarmony, there were ministers and their wives.

In 1941, Margaret Tovey had recently graduated from high school and was living with her family in the Detroit area. A couple hundred miles away in Illinois, Charles Campbell had just finished high school, but there weren’t many good jobs in his town. However, he had heard that there were a lot of good jobs in Detroit, so he took the train there to look for work. Before he left for Michigan, his minister mentioned that he knew some nice people in the area. “It’s my wife’s sister and her family,” he said. “Make sure you contact them when you get there.” So when Charles got to Detroit, he called on the Toveys, and that’s how he met Margaret.

“We started going together in the spring of ‘42,” says Charles. “We talked to her dad and mom about getting married and ended up marrying on September 11, 1942.” Margaret’s dad was a superintendent at the Pratt & Whitney plant, and he got Charles a job downstairs where they needed mechanics to work on engines for WWII planes.

He didn’t work there for long, though. “About six weeks later, my draft number came up. So I had just a short time to decide what to do,” says Charles. “We were married in September, and I left in December to join the Navy.”

Despite keeping very busy, they missed each other very much. “On our first anniversary he was in boot camp,” says Margaret, “and our second he was in the South Pacific.” They wrote frequently and still have the 600 or so letters that Charles wrote. “I sent a letter every day, but usually didn’t say much. There wasn’t much to say.” In part, that was because his letters were routinely censored. Some were delivered with holes cut in them. He wasn’t even allowed to write about the weather!

Fortunately, Charles didn’t see combat. He was behind the lines, working on planes. “After boot camp I took my Petty Officer 3rd class machinist rate to the aircraft carrier where we were assigned to get the preserved Corsair 2800 PW’s ready for takeoff by catapult. It was interesting, dangerous, earsplitting work. I had the interesting job of climbing up by the pilots to check their head restraints. The catapult could break their necks if the restraints weren’t set properly.”

Meanwhile, Margaret had gone back home and lived with her parents while Charles was overseas. But she didn’t just sit around. She worked for the Ford Motor Company during the war, making anti-aircraft gun sights. On top of that, she sold so many War Bonds that she received a personal citation from Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, praising her work.

Margaret and Charles only had to spend one Christmas apart, but Charles’ Christmas in the South Pacific was anything but boring. “I went swimming on Christmas Day. I couldn’t figure out why I was the only guy on the beach. It turns out that the water was so hot in the lagoon that it was full of jellyfish! They got me from my knees on down. I was out of the water very quickly.”

After the war, the couple spent a year at the Navy base in Texas, but as soon as Charles was discharged, he and Margaret hurried back to Michigan. They wanted their child to have a Michigan birth certificate! They didn’t arrive a moment too soon, because three days after his discharge, their first child was born.

The Campbells eventually moved to Midland where Charles worked for the Midland Public Schools as a teacher and administrator for many years. They raised four children and became very involved in the community.

Last September, Margaret and Charles celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary. They are frequent visitors at the Trailside Center, where they participate in activities and chat with friends. You’ll be hard-pressed to find two more interesting people!