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Our War: Bible kept soldier safe; took hit from shrapnel

Margaret Woodrome holds the bible she gave her late husband Woody during WWII.
Margaret Woodrome holds the bible she gave her late husband Woody during WWII.

On Sept. 11, 1944, Margaret Woodrome bought her husband, Harold "Woody" Woodrome, a pocket-size Bible to carry while fighting overseas. "I found this Bible and I just knew I had to have it," she said. "I just wasn't sure that he would come home."

"To My Beloved Husband," Margaret wrote inside the Bible's metal front cover. "Hurry and come home, home to your wife and your expected child. We will be waiting forever for the sweetest, most lovable husband and father in the world. May God watch over you constantly and bring you home safely to us. I love you, my darling, forever and ever. Margie." They'd met in grade school and had their first date on a small bridge near what ended up being their home, where Margaret still lives today.

Woody was drafted into the Army in January 1941, seven months after he and Margaret married. He was deployed to Europe in August 1944, serving in Company K of the 290th Infantry Regiment's 75th Division.

Margaret said she sent the Bible to Woody while he was in England, where he stayed after completing a training program in South Wales. He kept it in one of his coat pockets, near his heart.

He left England in December 1944. His division headed to France for the Battle of the Bulge.

It was early Christmas morning in Soy, Belgium, during the first day of the operation when Woody received his baptism by fire. Woody killed a German soldier that night, shooting him in the stomach.

After getting three soldiers from his unit to an aid station, Woody returned to the battle with two other soldiers to look for Lt. Paul Ellis, their platoon leader.

They found Ellis and two other American soldiers being chased by three German soldiers. When Ellis got stuck in a barbed-wire fence, Woody ordered fire on the Germans, killing them.

Woody got a call from Ellis 40 years later, thanking him for saving his life.

Woody was hit by shrapnel twice in the coming weeks.

He was hit in the shoulder while in crossfire. Margaret said he was certain he was bleeding and expected to die.

"He just put his (weapon) away and laid down in a ditch and waited for his buddies to come," she said.

She said his fellow soldiers found him, but they didn't see any blood. The metal was caught in his clothing.

Then in late December he was hit in the chest during combat. When he checked to see whether there was any bleeding, he found the Bible that Margaret had sent him, its metal cover dented.

"It saved his life," Margaret said. "Thank God it helped and did the trick."

Margaret had her own battles at home.

She'd endured a difficult pregnancy while Woody was stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., leaving her in a coma for several months. Five months into the pregnancy and still in a coma, she gave birth in February 1942 to conjoined twins, joined at the chest, at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. The twins, Mary Ann and Elizabeth Ann, survived about a half-hour.

Doctors predicted Margaret would die.

She defied their expectations and awoke from the coma. She credits a visit from Woody.

"I was supposed to die, that's why they let him off," she said, adding Woody had been granted leave to make arrangements for her funeral. "When he came in the hospital, he kissed me on the forehead and I woke up."

Margaret laughed as she remembered waking up and telling her husband she could tell he'd had a few beers.

When she felt well enough, she packed her things and moved to California to be with Woody.

"I was in a coma and my babies died, and I wanted to go follow Woody," she said. "I wanted to go to California, or wherever he was."

When Woody left for Europe, Margaret stayed in California, where she said she suffered a great deal of loneliness.

Her emotions got the best of her one night in El Cerrito, where she worked as a waitress.

A man had asked her for coffee and snails. Confused, she unsuccessfully searched the restaurant for snails, only to find out the man had been referring to the doughnutlike desserts that had been on the counter the whole time.

After serving him, she sat in a booth and began to cry.

"I started crying because I'd lost my babies and I'd lost myself," she said.

The man learned why she had been crying, and stayed with her at the restaurant the rest of her shift. She later learned he was the deputy sheriff of Berkeley County.

He called her story in to a San Francisco radio station, which led to an invitation for Margaret to live with Merle and Herbert Norris, a well-known couple in Berkeley society.

Margaret said the Norrises dubbed her their "little girl," while securing her a job and teaching her proper etiquette. While living in Berkeley, she still missed Woody but kept herself busy by going to church, taking day trips to San Francisco with her friends and making scrapbooks with all the newspaper clippings and photos from the war.

"He was gone five and a half years, so I had plenty of time," she said. "I just walked with God all the while he was gone."

Woody received an honorable discharge in March 1945. By that time, Margaret had moved back to Belleville to give birth to their daughter, Tama , who was nearly 11 months old when Woody first met her. By having Tama, Margaret had once again proved doctors wrong. She and Woody went on to have two more children, John and Gary.

Margaret still has all of Woody's war artifacts on display in their home or archived in her extensive collection of photo albums and scrapbooks. Brandon Woodrome, their grandson and a Belleville West High School history teacher, documented their story for his college thesis paper.

And the life-saving Bible? It is locked away in a safe place in Margaret and Woody's home in Belleville, its metal cover stating, "May the Lord be with you."

Woody died March 28, 2005. After 65 years of marriage, Margaret described their life together as "perfect."

"Nobody in this whole wide world had a better life than we have had. It's been a terrific, terrific life."

Contact reporter Rickeena J. Richards at rrichards@bnd.com or 239-2562.

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