PLATTSBURGH — U.S. Army Capt. Edward Siegel, his love life in tatters, was assigned to the 375th General Hospital on Okinawa, Japan.
During the Battle of Okinawa, “Operation Iceberg” thoroughly blitzed the largest of the Ryukyu Islands.
Jane Whitmore transcribed her father’s recollections of that ravaged sector of the Pacific Theater during World War II.
“When we landed on Okinawa, there was absolutely nothing on the island. Only thing standing was a small part Shuri Castle in Naha, which was the capital, and this was tilted on the side. It almost looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The rest of the island was absolutely decimated by gunfire, explosions, bombings, and so forth. There was no water, no facilities, no electricity, absolutely nothing.”
Siegel, a New York Orthodox Jew, called the Pentagon. The powers that were ordered the woman he loved, Capt. Gretchen Boody, a Wisconsin Methodist and nurse, to Okinawa.
It was a reunion for the faith-crossed lovers on the island where more than 65,000 Allies were killed, wounded or missing in action and more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, captured or committed suicide.
“They are so thrilled,” Whitmore said. “They’re off to a theater of war. They are there from June of 1945 until September 1945.”
There, the faith-crossed couple’s romance weathered typhoons and near annihilation.
Siegel was deep into Kathleen Windsor’s novel “Forever Amber,” when “the world around us became one of sound and fury, and wind and dirt, and so forth.”
In the aftermath of a Japanese-ammunition dump’s ignition by sniper fire, a red-hot, unexploded, 3-inch naval shell fell into the trench Siegel shared with Johnny Tice, a dentist sandpapering a model airplane. Siegel dog-eared his page. Tice packed his airplane in its plastic box. Wordlessly, they exited the trench. Their subsequent shakes continued long after their realization of their luck.
Down with a bout of bacillary dysentery and unable to sleep, Boody left her cot to take a walk. Two minutes later, the night erupted. When she returned, her cot was totally shredded by flying shrapnel.
Those mortal brushes, along with Boody’s stateside orders, crystallized the couple’s decision to wed despite his parents’ vehement disapproval.
“They decide if they don’t get married, then they will never will because their paths will never cross,” Whitmore said.
The captains and their comrades mobilized to pull off war-zone wedding nuptials.
Nurses whipped up Boody’s wedding gown and veil from a flyboy’s parachute. The hem’s seam was weighted with a ripcord. The Dental Corps worked metallurgy magic. Siegel’s wedding band was melted-down gold teeth of Japanese POWs. Boody’s ring was a sterling insert of a Norden bombsight.
Gen. Joseph Warren Stillwell “Vinegar Joe” marched the bride down the aisle of the Chapel of Peace, built by U.S. Marines. The bride and groom were married Sept. 25, 1945, by Rabbi Hershel Lyman.
Equally spectacular, the honeymooners trekked in a jeep on impassable and impossible roads 40 miles north to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, several Quonset huts hosting the only flush toilet on the island.
“The soldiers at MacArthur’s headquarters had pushed two cots together and covered it with mosquito netting,” Whitmore said.
Mr. and Mrs. Siegel spent mere hours in their wedding boudoir, as it were, and were awakened by a blaring “Happy Birthday,” the only celebratory song in the GI’s repertoire.
There was a miraculous wedding cake and a humorous second marriage in California.
To see how the Siegels pulled it all off, read “Memoirs of a Wartime Romance: The Story of Mr. Bops and Miss Boo” edited by Jane Siegel Whitmore and Andrea Siegel Feinberg and forthcoming at Trafford Publishing.
CAPTURING THE PAST
“As far as their private goings-on, that generation didn’t speak about romance,” Feinberg said. “They were extremely private physically and extremely private emotionally.”
Capt. Siegel’s nursing career ended when she married.
“My mother was a housewife all the years she raised my sister and myself,” Feinberg said. “Mom took a different role. She became very active in the state university system, the recycling program she set up with the public health department. She became this strong, female figure. My dad allowed her to be all she could be. He was her greatest fan.”
It is up to the children like Whitmore and Feinberg of “The Greatest Generation” to tell their parents’ stories so they are not lost forever.
“Most of my friends don’t have a clue what their parents did in the war,” Feinberg said. “My mom was a farm girl. She saved everything. She told my sister and I about these letters.”
This is the final installment of a three-part series that chronicles the tumultuous, faith-crossed love affair between U.S. Army Capt. Edward Siegel, an Orthodox Jew, and Capt. Gretchen Boody, a Methodist, during World War II. The couple raised their children, Jane and Andrea, in Plattsburgh, where Dr. Siegel became chief of medicine at Champlain Valley Hospital. They were members of the Plattsburgh Elks Club and each were president of the Bluff Point Golf Club.
The Siegels’ courtship unfurls in “Memoirs of a War Time Romance: The Story of Mr. Bops and Miss Boo” edited by Jane Siegel Whitmore and Andrea Siegel Feinberg.
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