MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Sept. 18, 2011) --
The love of marriage lauds the lives of many, but the longevity of its hand-holding, heartfelt teenage innocence rarely lasts.
On Nov. 4, 1961, young Marine Joe E. Williams, a slick, dark-haired, 19-year-old lance corporal stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., wed his childhood sweetheart, Maureen, a 20-year-old, beautiful, blonde-haired vixen, who ran away from her hometown in Pennsylvania to marry Joe in nearby New Bern, N.C.
“Nobody was involved except him and his buddies from the squadron,” Maureen said without a hint of regret. “We were poor, but we had a good time.”
Joe served for 10 years in the Corps, seven at Cherry Point, where he and Maureen began their life a half a century ago. The couple had never been back, until Sept. 18, when their four children surprised them with a trip back to the air station to savor the significance of such a rare occasion – their upcoming 50th anniversary.
“I am without words,” Joe said. “I couldn’t believe how they kept all of it secret.”
Yet there was still more. Joe and Maureen flew into town a few days before their visit to Cherry Point, not knowing their children were already in town, hiding out in rooms at the same bed and breakfast they were.
“I never had a hint,” Joe said. “Not the slightest hint.”
Joe and Maureen were busy rekindling old times, walking through New Bern on a breezy overcast evening they won’t soon forget, remembering when they were starting out. Then a horse carriage rode up the small road in front of their bed and breakfast.
Joe and Maureen walked through the front entryway onto what looked like a movie stage setting, set for a night their children had anticipated for them for months. Joe stepped up into the carriage first and grabbed Maureen’s hand, gently setting her into her seat.
“I felt like I was 20 years old again,” Maureen said. The horse ride took them through New Bern’s Victorian styled downtown, along the massive Neuse River front, before dropping them off for their dinner reservations.
They walked into the crowded restaurant and were brought to where they’d be seated, where their four children and their families could hardly contain themselves any longer, waiting to see the reaction on their parents’ faces.
“Surprise! – Happy 50th!” the family shouted, standing from their chairs.
Hugs, happiness, looks of disbelief and a few sighs of relief followed.
“This is a thousand times better than a Caribbean cruise,” Maureen said.
The elaborate cat was finally out of the bag and Mom and Dad were still awe stricken.
“It takes a lot to amaze me,” Joe said. “Our children put everything together so well.”
Their daughter, Sharon Skripko, and her siblings began planning for this nearly eight months earlier in January.
“If she said it once, she said it a million times,” Sharon explained of her mother wanting to get back to eastern North Carolina.
The next day, the surprises, the travels and all of the planning culminated in a drive to Cherry Point, their old stomping grounds, and a guided tour across the air station.
“Some of the old hangars are still there,” Joe said as he peered through the bus windows. “I have several fond memories of the many days I spent in those hangars.”
Joe was an electronics technician with one of the station’s fighter jet squadrons and during the tour, he couldn’t help but notice the newer barracks on the air station.
“They’re spoiled! We got a bucket and a pack of matches,” he said.
Only two of the kids were born at the air station, and they were too young to really remember what it was like and the influence the Marine Corps had on their father and family.
“I can always remember feeling the respect for my father, knowing that he was a Marine,” Sharon said. “To see him here today was really special – trying to picture him in our minds what he was like back then, knowing why he is the man he is today.
“I think the Marines had a lot to do with that and how he raised his family.”
“I’m in seventh heaven,” Maureen said. “This was a wish I had for several years.”
The tour ended at the base chapel, where they were going to check out some of its “remodeling,” as the tour guide put it. She was in on all of the weekend’s surprises.
A priest greeted the couple as they walked in, and their family funneled them toward the altar. They had a sneaking suspicion of what was next.
The priest renewed their vows, and just hearing the words of what they’ve dedicated their lives to for so many years solidified with the words, “you may kiss the bride.”
“Well – you’re re-hitched!” Sharon said.
The family stood together at Cherry Point, where the foundation for their family was created.
“We always worked ourselves out of the trouble spots and glided through the easy spots,” Joe said.
“We married for life, not to see how it would work, or to try it out.”
Fifty years, four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, there’s no doubt it’s working out.
“We’re going to have another exciting 20-30 years,” Joe said.