Highland News Leader

July 4 dance sparked 70-year romance, and she’s still my Valentine

Roland and Lorna Harris
Roland and Lorna Harris

Holidays have always been very important to me.

Sure, Christmas tops the list. It is in first place.

But not far behind is Valentine’s Day. It has always been special to me since I was a kid.

Then, along came the Fourth of July with sparklers and a few noise makers, then getting to go to Highland for the fireworks at Lindendale Park. We would take our old horse blanket and sit on the hillside where the Helvetia Sharpshooters and Madison County Fair grandstands are today. What a thrill.

My mother, Maybelle Willman Harris, loved to dance. But my dad didn’t, and he would only dance the first and last dance of the evening, as these were slow waltz dances. This was at Harmonie Hall, later called Alhambra Firemen’s Hall.

Mother started teaching my brother Udell and I how to dance when we were very young. We learned the waltz, then the fox trot, the “Schottische,” and the square dance. Then came the jitterbug. I could not wait until Mom learned to jitterbug. Soon, she taught us how to jitterbug. It is my favorite dance.

When I went to Highland High School (1942-43), we danced on the stage of the gym every noon hour. It was the jitterbug for almost everyone.

Then, in 1943, came the big Fourth of July dance at Lindendale Park Ballroom. I had gone to the dance with Allan Landolt. I was able to dance with a special girl, Lorna Ritt. She was a great dancer. We danced and danced. What a special evening.

Allan and I were able to take Lorna to her home after the dance. I didn’t even steal a kiss, but I did make a date for the next Saturday night to take Lorna back to the dance at Lindendale Park.

But I had problem. Would I have enough gas in my parent’s car to get to Highland on Saturday night and to Grantfork on Sunday morning for church? Gas was being rationed at that time.

My good friend Lester Gentry came to the rescue. He gave me about three gallons of gas, and Lorna and I had our date.

Fourth of July was now in second place.

Lorna and I had more dates to go dancing, or to the movie, the rest of the summer … and into the fall, whenever I had gas for the car.

Then came my “going into service” party and bond fire put on by my Alhambra friends. Lorna came to the party. Those next two weeks, seeing Lorna almost every evening, were really special — dances, movies, and Buster Brown’s Café for an evening snack, and more dancing.

While I was in Service, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, holidays took on even more meaning, but sometimes, they were sad days. But greater thing were to come.

Mail call became very special. My mother wrote a couple time a week, and Lorna wrote, sometimes.

After my first 16 weeks furlough, we dated some more. We had a great time dancing. Mail from Lorna improved. By Oct. 31, 1944, I was on my way to Fort Ord, California, for additional training. On Dec. 31, 1944, I was boarding a ship at San Francisco, bound for the South Pacific.

Thirty days later, our convey landed us in the South Pacific, on New Caledonia, an island in the triangle between New Zealand and Australia. This is were we met our new outfit and gave additional training to them. They had been in the Battle of Guadalcanal as a 75 mm artillery “Mule Pack Battalion.” I went as a sergeant replacement and instructor, assigned to the 97th Field Artillery Battalion. We were attached artillery for three different divisions. I and the other 26 replacements in our company taught the 105 mm Howitzer and the use of our new half-track trucks.

By early April 1945, we loaded our equipment and men onto the troop ship the USS Effingham and headed for the Philippines. (Aboard ship is where five of us played bridge. For 31 days, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., we played as one was always in the chow line.)

We saw action on Leyte Island in the Philippines, going from Leyte Bay, across the Island, to the west seaport of Ormoc. Then we trained for the invasion of Japan. The dropping of the atomic bomb really saved our lives, as they forced the Japanese to surrender and the invasion was not needed.

After the atomic bombs were dropped, I was on my way to Manila, on Luzon Island. We interviewed our former prisoners of war who were held by the Japanese. It was the most nerve-racking job that I ever had, hearing of all the atrocities the Japanese did to our soldiers and having to type all of this information on to 3 by 5 file cards. Fortunately, I was moved up to acting 1st sergeant after three weeks. I started assigning our interviewers to their jobs, instead of interviewing our POWs myself.

March 29, 1946 was a great day. I was coming home from the Philippines aboard the USS Gen. W. C. Langfitt to San Francisco.

I took a train to St. Louis and was discharged at Jefferson Barracks. My special girl, Lorna, was waiting. It was Easter Sunday, April 21, 1946. My mom and dad had brought Lorna to Jefferson Barracks. That put Easter back into second place.

Then came Christmas 1946. This became our extra special day. I gave Lorna an engagement ring. Christmas is still in first place — always was and always will be.

I graduated from embalming college on June 11, 1947. We couldn’t get married on Fathers Day, June 15, as it is always a Sunday. So we chose Tuesday, June 17 as our wedding day.

Last year, we celebrated our 70th wedding anniversary. So guess what has been our second-place special holiday for the last 70 years? Yep, our wedding anniversary.

Third place is a tie several ways between birthdays ours and those close to us — our four sons, their families, our parents, my brother Udell and his wife, and Lorna’s sister, Ellen Ritt (Mrs. Walter) Bellm and her family.

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