It was 70 years ago last week that Virginia Smith-Voelker married her first husband.
His name was Wayne Peoples, and she met him in high school in Grand Haven, Michigan, when she was 15, and they married May 20, 1944, at Fort Ord, California.
Not long after the wedding, her new husband was shipped out and she was told to go back home to Michigan. He’d see her at Christmas, her husband told her.
Three months and two weeks later, by early September 1944, Smith-Voelker, known as Ginnie, was 19 and a widow. Her husband, involved in a search for a missing plane, crashed or was shot down near the Philippines. His body was never found.
Less than a year later, though she protested that she was still in mourning, she started dating another soldier at the urging of her mother and friends. His name was Louis Smith, and they were married in August 1945. They were married for 49 years, until he died in 1994.
It was then, perhaps 20 years ago, that Smith-Voelker took her wedding band and had the engagement rings from her first and second husbands attached, one on each side of the band. She wore the joined rings only on special occasions.
The combined rings weren’t particularly valuable. There were diamonds, but they were small. After all, the men who had given them to her were young, and they were soldiers and didn’t have a lot of money. But the rings were important to her.
About 10 years ago, Smith-Voelker was married for a third time, this time to Robert Voelker, a man she and her second husband had known for decades. But she still wore that ring on special occasions.
Then, about six months ago, she lost the ring. The last time she wore it was during a visit to Red Lobster, she says.
Once she discovered it was missing, her husband went back to the restaurant, and he and employees took the seats out of the booth where she had sat, crawled around with flashlights, but found nothing.
The ring was lost, but, Smith-Voelker said, It has to be out there somewhere.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and it’s times like this that people start to think about the people they’ve known, the soldiers, the ones who never came home, like her first husband, and the ones who did, like her second husband, and her third, who was also in WWII.
A few years ago, one of Smith-Voelker’s grandsons, Nathan Marquardt, was in Manila on business and found a memorial with names of World War II casualties. The name of Smith-Voelker’s first husband was there, at eye level. He took a photograph of it, and it’s now framed in Smith-Voelker’s home. It gave her some closure, she says, since her first husband’s body was never found.
But she thinks of that ring.
I thought that if I lost that, it would be like losing my husband all over again, she says.
And now she’s lost it.
She said she wishes she had a picture of the ring, which is distinctive.
We’ve both got a good mental picture of it, Robert Voelker said.
Maybe someone found it, she thought, someone, somewhere, and maybe there’s a remote chance she’ll get it back someday.
She’s 89, and it represents two dead husbands, one to whom she was married for only three months.
When you get into your 80s, you reminisce a lot, her husband said.
Especially on Memorial Day.