Published: July 8, 2013
In 1948, Harold Peterson did what a lot of young troops do.
He fell in love and he married quick.
The 21-year-old may have been wet behind the ears, but he wasn't naive. He'd served in the Army during wartime and knew what he wanted out of life.
He wanted Gwenlynn Dau, a clerk at a Chicago department store where he worked as a maintenance man.
"He used to come by every week to get his paycheck," Gwenlynn recalled. "He said, 'Are you going to help me spend it someday?'"
Her reply: "Yes, I am."
The couple married a handful of days after their first date.
Late last week, four generations of the couple's progeny gathered at the couple's Florissant home for a rare family reunion, and to celebrate the couple's upcoming 65th wedding anniversary.
As cool rainwater seeped through gaps in a tent outside the couple's secluded home Friday, the two lovebirds and their five daughters kept warm by reminiscing about Harold's military career, which spanned two branches of service and multiple wars.
Harold, now 86, enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1944 at the age of 17. After basic training, he shipped out to Germany, where he spent his time guarding ammunition depots and "Axis Sally" Mildred Gillars, a blond American bombshell with a sultry voice who worked as a radio actress for the Nazis and was arrested for treason after the war.
It wasn't as exciting as it sounds.
"I never did see her," said Harold, who spent many a day in a hallway outside of where Gillars was being held.
After his contract was up, Harold left the Army and began work at Wieboldt's department store in Chicago, where he met Gwenlynn.
By 1951, he was back in the service - this time in the Air Force. Seven years later, he deployed to South Korea.
In 1970, he deployed to Vietnam, where he served as aircraft mechanic.
Harold recalls sleeping in a flack suit and a steel helmet with a gun at his side while in Vietnam because "you didn't know if someone would attack the base."
While Harold was away in Vietnam, Gwenlynn rarely heard from her husband. The deployment-tested Air Force wife was used to raising the couple's six children alone.
But going four months without hearing from her husband was a bit much.
Tears welled up in Harold's eyes as Gwenlynn recalled how she feared he'd been captured or killed, and how when he did return home, it was to a largely ungrateful nation.
But the lack of a warm reception from others outside his family "didn't bother me in the least, because I was home," Harold said, his voice cracking.
The trauma the Petersons went through while Harold was in Vietnam didn't dissuade his daughters from marrying into the service.
Kit, Kris and Kelly married Navy. Kathy and Karen married Air Force.
Harold's 26-year military career left the family with "some hair-raising tales," Gwenlynn said.
But it also gave the family an opportunity to live in and visit countries such as Holland and Greenland.
"I don't think any of us had any regrets about it," Kathy said as she sat huddled close to her father in the tent.
"They all enjoyed it," he said.
A smile crept over his lips.