& Ellen Jo
This is a love story.
On a hot summer day in 1941, Waylon's eyes met Ellen Jo's for the first time. Over the next 33 years, their eyes would laugh together and cry together, but they would always love.
Waylon lived in North Carolina. He had come to Union that Sunday afternoon, like so many times before, to visit his uncle, Jonathan Rogers and Jonathan's step-daughter, Mary who lived across the street from the local church. This Sunday would be very different.
Sitting on the porch swing hoping for a late-afternoon breeze, talk would eventually turn from family news to the war and the recent German invasion in Russia. Waylon wondered out loud if the United States would eventually send troops to help fight the Nazis. Jonathan thought it was an inevitable fact. If so, Waylon confessed, he had thought about enlisting. Mary had been silent for a while -- feeling uneasy with all the talk of war. Suddenly, she stood up and sat her iced tea on the porch railing. "I have an idea," she announced. Her idea would affect the future of two people she loved very much. Mary took Waylon to meet her best friend, Ellen Jo.
Waylon and Ellen Jo enjoyed each other's company very much and before the day was over,Waylon made a plan to return to see Ellen Jo again soon. They would spend several Sunday afternoons together and with friends and thankfully, they eventually fell in love.
The United States would officially enter WWII in December of 1941. Waylon was eager to serve his country and as he had contemplated that summer Sunday, he enlisted in the Army in January, 1942. He was soon sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for boot camp. Waylon knew he was doing the right thing but he hated leaving Ellen Jo behind. He made her promise to "sling him some ink", which she gladly did. They had grown close over the months and they grew closer through their letters to one another... Waylon now knew he wanted to spend his life loving Ellen Jo.
Waylon was sent to Camp Cooke, California, and while home on his first furlough, Waylon and Ellen Jo were married at the Methodist parsonage on December 5, 1942. Waylon was 28 and Ellen Jo had just turned 18. He had to return to California on the 8th of December but they made plans for Ellen Jo to join him after the first of the new year. In January of 1943, Ellen Jo set out on the long train ride to California to finally be with her new husband. Betty Everling, the wife of a fellow soldier who was a friend of Waylon's, met Ellen Jo at the train station. They would all become good friends, remaining close through three more reassignments to Tennessee, New York and finally, Pennsylvania.
Regular home life wasn't to be in the cards for the newlyweds just yet. Waylon's assignment to Pennsylvania would end at the gangplank. Under strictest secrecy, he received his orders to ship out overseas. Waylon was not able to tell Ellen Jo where he was going; he didn't even know himself. Ellen Jo was crushed.
Don Everling got his orders to ship out at the same time as Waylon. Don and Betty made a plan ... they agreed that Don's first letter home to Betty would contain a code, giving away his location. The first letter of each sentence in the first paragraph would spell out the name of the secret location where Don and Waylon had been assigned. Betty would definitely let Ellen Jo know where they were as soon as she found out. On his last furlough State-side,Waylon said an emotional goodbye to Ellen Jo, now six month's pregnant with their first child.
Ellen Jo would have to wait for a time, but she would eventually learn that her husband had been sent to England. He would train for combat there for 4 months. Waylon was brave and proud to be fighting for his country but at the same time, he was lonely for Ellen Jo. And hungry for a decent meal. And wet and cold. Food was scarce and often a first sergeant was posted by the garbage cans to make sure no edible food was thrown away. The rain was endless and seemed to saturate even the pores of his skin. The days were long and though heavy with fatigue, Waylon lay awake many nights, unable to sleep. He would listen to the drone from the radial engines of the German planes overhead. He would think about his wife and his unborn child.
On June 6th, 1944, the day before Waylon would become a father for the first time, a heavy rumble rolled across the channel from France, violently shaking window panes in their frames, and the German radio announced that Allied troops had landed on the beaches of Normandy.
Now came an eleventh-hour period of intense training before Waylon also moved onto the battlefield. The rehearsals were almost over. July 26, 1944 -- Today, ahead of him, from the deck of a ship, France lay like a long thin line on the horizon. Behind him were many thousands of difficult hours of drilling, maneuvering and learning how to fight in a modern war. Now he would face the enemy.
Waylon served as a Staff Sergeant during WWII as a tank radio operator in the Fifth Armored (Victory) Division, Tenth Tank Battalion, Company C.
March 1944 -- Meanwhile, Ellen Jo had returned home to her parents' house to begin the long and lonely wait for her Waylon to return safely so their family could be whole. Even though being with her mother, father and little brother helped to ease the loneliness, the days sometimes felt endless and empty for Ellen Jo. She would busy herself in preparation for the baby and with helping around the house, but nothing could fill the longing she felt forWaylon. Anxiety was a constant companion as she worried for Waylon's safety minute by minute, day by day. She would sit on the front porch in the evenings, hoping that Waylon was safe and thinking of her at that moment. Feeling helpless, she would turn to God regularly and pray that He would wrap his arms around Waylon, keep him from harm, and help them both endure this frightening and lonely time.
June 7, 1944 -- The day of an answered prayer -- with her mother by her side, Ellen Jo gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Karen Lynn. Karen was perfect in every way and she was a pleasant distraction from thoughts of war as Ellen Jo poured herself into caring for her new baby daughter. Though she never stopped fearing for his safety, having Karen made her feel closer to Waylon -- since she now had his child to hold and to love.
Ellen Jo made frequent visits to the photographer on main street to document every phase of little Karen's fast-developing life. Waylon would later say that he knew how Karen would look when he saw her for the first time because Ellen Jo sent him so many photos of his precious daughter. He treasured those photos on the battlefield and they made him more eager to get home and start a normal life with his family he loved and missed so much. Karen would be 13 months old before Waylon would hold her in his arms and look in her baby blue eyes for the first time.
Being a young, first-time mother, Ellen Jo was happy to have her mother so close by to help her learn about caring for her new baby. Ida had three children of her own and taught Ellen Jo about the things a new mother needs to know ... from changing diapers to coping with colic. Most comforting was just the fact that Ida was there for Ellen Jo to lean on and learn from.
Then, in a tragic moment, Ellen Jo's world would be shaken. She never received the news she most feared everyday -- that something had happened to her Waylon. The tragedy happened under the same roof. Ida Elise, Ellen Jo's mother, died suddenly at age 42 in January 1945. Even more devastating was that her mother was 8 months pregnant at the time of her death.
Ellen Jo's heart was shattered. Heavy with grief, the next few months were a blur for Ellen Jo as she tried to pick up the pieces of sorrow and occupied herself with caring for Karen, her father and her little brother. Karen was a mere 7 months old. Ellen Jo didn't know a lot about cooking, being only 20 years old, but she had to learn fast. Her Aunt Lola would stop by from time to time and check on the family and occasionally cook for them.
At first, time simply stood still for Ellen Jo, her heart was aching and she longed more than ever for the love and comfort of her husband whom she adored. So cold he could barely move,Waylon would be sitting in the snow when he found out about Ida through a letter from Ellen Jo. He would cry for both of them in a faraway Belgian forest.
Karen seemed to know her mother's sadness and God would send Ellen Jo a million smiles through Karen's eyes. Little by little, Ellen Jo would learn to cook and little by little she would learn to smile back.
It would be 6 months, June 30, 1945, beforeWaylon left Germany to begin the long-awaited trip back to the arms of his beloved wife and daughter. The trans-Atlantic crossing took 20 days and he arrived home July 19, 1945. Waylon never told Ellen Jo he was on his way home to her. Instead, he arrived by taxi around midnight July 19 and surprised everyone by his appearance. When Ellen Jo was asked how she felt seeing Waylon, she recalled it as the happiest day of her life. When asked how they reacted, she replied, "I think Pop [her father] put on a pot of coffee."
(Waylon and Ellen Jo would go on to have 3 more children and a happy family life. They were separated again only when Waylon passed away September 19, 1974.)
Waylon & Ellen Jo
is nothing more lovely in life than the union of two people whose love for one
another has grown through the years, from the small acorn of passion, into a great
Waylon and Ellen Jo
So happy together!
Waylon, Ellen Jo, Mary and friend Paul
Waylon, Ellen Jo, Frances and Waylon's cousin Hobert. Recognize this young lady on the right? click here
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Waylon and Ellen Jo
mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon
us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with
us in our sunshine, desert us when troubles thicken around us, still will she
cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the
clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts." - Washington
Little Ellen Jo
Ellen Jo, second from left on porch. Her sister Connie in the foreground.
Ellen Jo's high school graduation day. She was not only beautiful, she was a smart student!
Ellen Jo -- the house where she waited for Waylon to return.
Ellen Jo's parents and little brother -- Ida, Leland Cunningham (Pop) and Morris David (Bud)
Leland Cunningham Ida Elise
Ellen Jo and sister-in-law, Annie and Annie's daughter, Peggy Jo. Annie is the youngest sibling in Waylon's family and is the only one still living.
Ellen Jo with Waylon's parents -- Malcolm Argyl and Annie Elizabeth
Ellen Jo and baby Karen
Ellen Jo and baby Karen
Karen at age 3
Postcard Waylon sent to Ellen Jo just days before one of the fiercest battles for the 5AD -- The Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. It's assumed he picked this up on their march through Paris just one week after Liberation Day. It says 'Paris' in the small print.
July 11, 1915 - Sept. 19, 1974
Ever since your eyes have closed, mine have not stopped crying.
Betty Everling remembers Waylon as "slight, very very kind and very very intelligent."
Waylon with Army buddy
Oops, what happened here?!
Waylon's account of his trip home from Europe. Notice it's written in a German address book.
Waylon with baby Karen ... at last
Waylon and son, David circa 1950
Waylon and Ellen Jo's two other daughters, Vicki and Bonnie circa 1957
Waylon at work at the US Forestry Service Lab after his return home. How amazing that these soldiers could experience such a hellish war and return home to a normal, everyday life, most of them rarely talking about the past.
Waylon's twin brother, Wilburn and wife, Heloise
Wilburn, Heloise and her sisters
Waylon and Ellen Jo - August 1974
is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved.
I love you Mother and Daddy.
Midi - Theme from Forrest Gump