and because she saved Tater's bacon a time or two, we give her her own page.
Carl Janssen was the typical teenage heartthrob. He played on the football team, though he wasn't captain, he played hockey occassionally, but never so much that he lost his teeth, baseball was his springtime passion, and he served proudly in the Marine Corp in Viet Nam.
His biggest problem in life, before he came home from Viet Nam anyway, was explaining to Mary Beth Passley's daddy how he managed to get her pregnant, when he was supposedly out of town looking for a job, and she was supposed to have been staying with an aunt up north for the summer.
But I don't want to go tail over withers and get ahead of myself here.
Carl Janssen and Mary Beth Passley - or I should say, Mary Beth Janssen - did get married, but not after her daddy found out she was pregnant. No, she and Carl had actually gotten married after they graduated from high school, but before he shipped out to Viet Nam. That happened quite a bit in those days, marrying your high school sweetheart, before going off to war. A time honored tradition, if you think back on your history, but something that's quite fallen out of favor in more recent years.
But in Carl and Mary Beth's case, they got married and didn't tell anyone about it. She was just sixteen, and though she graduated with Carl, she was ahead of the rest of the girls her age. Real smart, that one was. Well, book smart, maybe, since she obviously didn't take any precautions against gettin' pregnant.
So, there they were, graduated from high school, him scheduled to go off to the Marines in August, but not telling anyone about it, and they decided to get married. She convinced her aunt that she wasn't coming, that her daddy was making her stay home to care for her younger brothers, and her daddy that plans with the aunt were a go. The two of them drove to Kentucky, where they could get married with no fuss. He told his daddy that he was going to Louisville to look for a job in the mill there. They managed to spend nearly two months together, before Carl had to go off to boot camp.
Mary Beth and Carl had their lives all planned out. He would serve his time in the Marines, learn a skill and get to do a bit of travelling. She would stay home, go to school, and let her family think that she was still waiting for Carl to come home again, to get married. Things never seem to work out the way you plan 'em though, when deception is a part of those plans.
Their two month honeymoon in Kentucky ended in August, with her pregnant, but not knowin' it yet. Carl went off to boot camp, she went home to her ma and daddy's place, and kept her secret once she realized what had happened.
Carl wrote quite faithfully for the first three months or so, then sporadically after that. At Christmas, she finally had to confess the secret of her big sweaters and loose skirts to her parents. There was hell to pay over that lie, I can tell you! Mary Beth was their only daughter, and Mr. Passley's high blood pressure shot through the roof!
They held off telling Mr. Janssen until February, when word finally arrived that Carl was missing in action. Poor Mr. Janssen received word that he had a daughter-in-law, was going to be a grandpa, and that his son was MIA, all at the same time. I don't know how he did it, to tell you the truth. Since Mary Beth was Carl's wife, the Marines notified her, not his daddy. That must have been a blow as well, to not even be the one to get the official word.
Let me see, where was I? Ah, yes - February.
As I said, Carl Janssen's letters had been getting a bit sporadic throughout December and January. War does have a way of interfering with true love, as I'm sure you know. When Carl was reported as MIA in February, Mary Beth's mama and daddy feared for her at first, so pale she got when the Marine officers showed up at the door, so quiet for a long time afterwards. But, as they were watching her, they saw a transformation take place right before their eyes. It was like she growed up, all in an instant. Her eyes sparkled with tears, but they sparked too, with the knowledge that she now had a mission: to find her baby's daddy, and to take care of his family - meaning that babe growin' inside of her, and his daddy.
She asked her daddy to bring the Buick around from the garage, and then requested her parents' company on this most unpleasant of visits. She took the letter the Marine officers had left with her, found her marriage certificate, and the copy of the pregnancy test results Doc had given her, and even had a copy of the will that every serviceman had to fill out before he entered a combat zone. Carl had sent her a copy of it the day he'd signed it.
The three of them, Mary Beth, her daddy, and her mama drove to Mr. Janssen's place in silence. They stepped up onto his porch together, walked into his parlor together, and cried together, along with Mr. Janssen, when the tellin' was done, and the commisseratin' had begun.
She then asked the three adults for their help. It wasn't like a child pleading with its' parents for their intervention, but more one adult to another, a simple, "I'm going to find Carl, but I'm going to need your help." Her mama pledged to help with the baby when it came, her daddy offered to contact their congressman to see what could be learned, and Mr. Janssen set off right away for the VFW hall in town, to see what the best way to proceed would be.
By spring, they knew that Carl wasn't missing, he was a POW. Ruth Carol Janssen was born on May 11th, and was named after her grandmother, and her daddy. She was a tiny thing, but healthy in every way, and quickly became the apple of her three grandparents' eyes. Her curly blonde hair reminded her grandaddy so much of her father, that just looking at her brought tears to his eyes. Sometimes you'd catch him just gazing at that baby like his heart was gonna break.
Carl didn't even know he had a daughter.
Though the Red Cross finally made contact with Carl before his daughter's second birthday, that first year or two was rough on the whole family. Mary Beth got involved with the folks that were protesting the war, and was instrumental in the POW memorial bracelet movement, if you remember those. Thousands of people, young and old, all across the country wore an aluminum bracelet with the name of a POW/MIA serviceman engraved on it. Some folks wore those bracelets for years, hoping against all odds that "their" POW/MIA serviceman would be found. Some, quietly and reverently put their bracelet away, when it became obvious that no further word would ever be heard. Did you know that organization that Mary Beth Passley was involved with still exists to this very day? I'd guess, that some folks just can't ever say goodbye.
Just a few short months after Carl was captured, the Marines pulled most of their folks out of Viet Nam.
Mary Beth wrote to Carl every week, sent the letters off to the Red Cross, and just kept her fingers crossed that at least one or two would reach him. Ruth had her first birthday, then her second, and was part-way to the third, when a second letter that would change their lives forever arrived at Mary Beth Janssen's home. Carl had been released, and was coming home.