"The judge started the ceremony. His wife sat at a desk, and he’s standing up there in front of us and reading off this rigamarole, and she’s there filling out official papers. There were two kids on the floor under the desk playing Monopoly, and Jack got anxious and kissed me, and the judge said, ‘Now if you'll wait just a few minutes, son, this will be all over.’ "
Widow of Jack Roland, 712th Tank Battalion veteran
Jan. 26, 1995
I met Jack when he was at Pine Camp, in New York State, and I was teaching school. One of my students was going with a soldier there. I had a car and I took her out there and I met Jack, and every time that we’d get in that car to head for Watertown, New York, the state troopers would stop us. I hadn’t been driving very long and I was scared anyway, and the first time they stopped me, I thought, "Oh my God, what have I done?" They wanted to see my driver’s license and the registration to be sure that I owned the car and that I wasn’t some soldier’s girlfriend that was just driving.
After it happened three or four times, when they’d stop me I’d laugh and they’d say, "Well, you’ve been stopped before," because they didn’t think I looked old enough to be driving.
I was just out of college then. When Jack and I were in Georgia, I was walking down the street one day and this old lady was out sweeping her lawn. There was no grass, but she was out there with this whisk broom, and she said, "You’d better hurry, little girl, you’ll be late for school." And I thought, "Little do you know. …"
We were married in August of ’42 in Phenix City, Alabama. I got off the train, which I’d been on for a day and a half, and Jack wouldn’t wait till the next day. It was 9:30 at night, and we went over the bridge from Columbus, Georgia, to Phenix City. We went up on the hill to the judge’s home. There were cabs lined up there; a lot of other young people were getting married, too.
Phenix City was also called Sin City. I’m sure the judge was busy during the day, downtown, but he lived way up on a hill; it looked down at night, and it was quite a beautiful sight. And people were lined up there, waiting to get married.
It cost two dollars. No blood test. They asked what my address was and Jack said 600 Broad Street, Columbus, Georgia, which was where we were going to live. So the judge started the ceremony, his wife sat at a desk, he’s standing up there in front of us and reading off this rigamarole, she’s filling out official papers, and there are two kids on the floor under the desk playing Monopoly, and Jack got anxious and kissed me, and the judge said, "Now if you’ll wait just a few minutes, son, this will be all over. …"
Ohh, I was thinking the other day how young and unsophisticated we were. There were so many things we didn’t know that kindergartners could teach us today.
We were in Columbus for about a year, and then we were in Augusta, and then Columbia, South Carolina. Jack was in the intelligence department, and one of his friends was having a hard time convincing his wife, Millie, that she and I and all the other wives had to leave, because the men were going to go overseas. Millie said, "Oh, I’ve heard that story before. I’m not packing. They’re not sending us anyplace." And Fred, her husband, said to her, "If Jack Roland said that the wives have to leave – he knows what you don’t know – you have to leave."
The men left in February. Of course we kept hoping that war was going to end by Christmas [of 1944], and we waited, and waited, and waited, and it didn’t. And it wasn’t easy.
As a teacher in 1941, I was one of the people who had to sign people up for ration books for tires, for gasoline, for meat, for sugar, for coffee and so forth. I was a home economics teacher, and one of the things we did was I had the women in this small community get together to put on a meal for a large number of people, for practice, in case we had to have some kind of help for people. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Those were some experiences.
I went to the University of Buffalo. When I was teaching, one of my students had a boyfriend in Pine Camp, which was probably ten miles from the little town where I lived, so I offered to take her out there. That’s how I met Jack. I had a 1935 Ford. Four-door. I got that big salary, eleven hundred dollars a year. And about half of it went for the car payments and upkeep. But I got room and board with one of the local families for ten dollars a month. She even packed my lunch to take to school.
There were several of us girls from that little community who were going with soldiers. When Jack and some of the rest of them left to go to Fort Knox and then on to form the cadre at Fort Benning, I was playing the piano for church services, and I was very fond of the minister and his wife. She had a new baby and I went into Watertown to see her, and I was weeping and carrying on because my boyfriend had gone. Some of the other girls were confiding in the minister. Then one day, while I was in Columbus, Georgia, this man in civilian clothes came and showed me his identification, and wanted to talk to me about this minister in this little town up in the Adirondacks. He questioned me at great length, and then he said, "When is your husband going to be here?"
I said, "The bus brings him back about 7 o’clock at night."
So the man came back, and he and Jack went in the kitchen and shut the door. Oh, we had a fancy place, boy, it’s a good thing there was rent control because we paid eight dollars a week and we were lucky to have a rotten bedroom and a kitchen we shared with people. But Jack and this fellow went in the kitchen and shut the door, and he was questioning Jack at great length, because of his intelligence work. And Jack would never tell me what was said, but do you know that a few months later I discovered that the minister was a German spy? I was just flabbergasted!
I had several miscarriages, but we have one child, a daughter. She has four children. She married in ’72, this young man who got a job in Canada doing cancer research. They had the children, and then he decided that he wasn’t making enough money, so he went to medical school. For five years we subsidized that, and he divorced her. Then for five years she was alone and took care of those four kids; they were from 2 to 9 or 10. And finally she met this young man; we were up there to visit her and the kids, and we met him one summer, and along in the spring of the next year he called us and said, "I’d like permission to marry your daughter." And I thought, now, there’s a change! They’ve been married, it’ll be five years this spring.
The two oldest grandchildren are a freshman and sophomore at university this year, and then there are two teens at home. Three girls and one boy. The boy’s the youngest; he was born on our anniversary.
Jack and I were married in August, and boy, was it hot in Georgia! And I was never colder anyplace than I was that winter. The house was sitting up on blocks and the wind went howling underneath. But it was hot in the summer. There was one place in the city that was air conditioned, and that was the theater, and we didn’t have money enough to go too frequently.
We were friendly with one couple, Fred and Millie Lemm. Fred and Millie were married three weeks after we got married, and we stood up with them at the ceremony. When the war was over, they lived in Cleveland, and Jack and I used to go out there, and then they’d come to New York to visit us. They had two girls, about the age of my daughter. And then Fred developed a kind of cancer, and for five years he was in and out of the hospital, and just going downhill. Millie would call us and say Fred was in the hospital, and Jack would be down in the basement of our big old Victorian house, which is where his darkroom was, and he’d hang up his phone down there and come upstairs and say, "Let’s pack," and we would go out there. We went to their daughters’ weddings; they came to New York to our daughter’s weddings. We raised our kids together. Then finally, Millie called and said that Fred was very bad. So we dropped everything and went out there. Before the freeway was built, it took us about six hours to get there, but I tell you, I’d drive to the Cleveland Clinic, I could find that place in the dark with my eyes closed we went there so often to see him.
When the war was over, Jack came home and wanted to go to photography school, and he was accepted. We lived in western New York. So we got in the car and went to New York. When we got there, it was November, and they said the classes are all full, you’ll have to wait until March. Jack was so upset; what will we do? And I said, "Let’s go over to Long Island," because I had an aunt and uncle there. At that time, there was only one hotel, the Garden City Hotel; no motel, in fact there are not too many motels even now. So the next day I said, "Why don’t we go over to Rockville Centre, to the employment office, and see if we can get something to keep us occupied and pay the rent until you can go to school?" There was an excellent photo studio in Rockville Centre that had just gone into the employment office and said they’d like an apprentice, and Jack got the job. And he got much better experience than he would have had he gone to school. Because he got the business aspect of it, and the whole thing.
After he’d been there a couple of years, we decided that we were going to go back to my hometown in western New York and start a studio.
What was it like when Jack was overseas? It was hell. I was teaching school, in another small town, over towards Elmira. When he came home, I hadn’t heard from him for weeks. When the war ended, he was in Germany having his appendix taken out. The war in Europe ended in May, and he came home in September.
I weighed 104 pounds. I weighed 120 went he went overseas. I was so frantic, not knowing where he was. I boarded with a woman who was a volunteer for the Red Cross, and she came and called up the stairway one day and said, "Jean, how long has it been since you’ve had any word from Jack?"
And I said, "Eight weeks."
She said, "Would you like me to do something about it?"
I said, "Yes." A lot of mail was lost, there were all kinds of complications, but I was worried to death.
I had lost so much weight that Jack said when he got off that train, if he’d taken a good look at me, he’d have gone back. The bones in my hips were showing. But it was no worse for me than it was for anybody else. I’m sure.
Jack was wounded in the summertime. I was at my mother and father’s house in Friendship, New York, when the letter came, and I opened it up, and he said, "I have been wounded and I’m in the hospital in England." Well, I got in my car and took off for my friend’s house, I was so upset, and my father started looking for me all over town. In a few days I got a telegram from the War Department, but I’d already had the letter.
That was at the end of July and he was in the hospital until Thanksgiving. He had been hit in the front and the back with shrapnel. He went back in time for the Battle of the Bulge. Penicillin had just come out as a treatment and they used to put it in the shoulder. It was mixed with oil I guess and stung like mad, and he just about punched out the nurse one night, and finally he said, "Don’t come in here and give me a shot until you know that I am thoroughly awake!" Because it hurts a lot. But I’m sure it saved a lot of lives, too.
When Jack came home he was not the same person that went overseas. And we didn’t talk about it. He never did tell me a whole lot about what went on. He had nightmares. He’d get up out of bed in the middle of the night and get in the car and disappear.
But I don’t think any of these men came home the same as they went.
Before he went away, we laughed and laughed and laughed. Everything was lovely. When he came home he was more serious, but also, he was just not himself.
After he got his photography training we went into business, and we had to struggle like everybody else, but we did it ourselves. He opened a photo studio over a store in the center of town. And then we found this big old Victorian house, three stories, fifteen rooms, full basement which we finished off, in Friendship. And he got a GI loan. We struggled awhile, and he worked himself to death. But we worked like mad, and when our daughter was five years old and started kindergarten, I went back to teaching, and I helped him in the studio.
I was just going to go back to teaching for a while, but I stayed 25 years. And Jack built up his business and his reputation so that he had all the carriage trade from western New York; he even went to Buffalo to take weddings, and as far west as Jamestown. In fact, he’d sometimes do three weddings on a Saturday. He worked, and as he worked and worked, he pushed himself, and he pushed the food. And he got heavier and heavier, which was not healthy, but nobody can diet for you, you have to do it yourself.
We stayed in business until the doctor told me that I had to retire, because of the climate, so Jack said, "If you’re going to Florida, I am, too." So we sold the house and the business; it’s not the easiest thing in the world to sell a great big house like that. But we found a buyer, and Jack trained a young fellow, and I was in Florida all of that winter. Then he said, "Come home and sell this furniture or I’ll burn it." And so he finished training the young fellow and moved to Florida, and the place that I had been renting became available that fall to buy, so we bought it.
My parents were descendants of people who came from England and Scotland in the 1600s. One of my brothers who was a teacher did a genealogy, and he and his wife went to graveyards all over New York State and up into New England, and searched county historical groups and so on.
My maiden name was Dodson. Some of the family, way back, were named Dodgson.
Jack was born in Virginia and grew up in Kentucky. And then he went to Indiana. He was 15 years old when he went into the Army. He and his friend enlisted at the same time and signed each other’s papers. He said that he wasn’t heavy enough to be accepted, and the guy at the recruiting station said, "Go eat some bananas and drink some water, and come back," and he did. He said, "I gained two pounds."
Jack’s father died before I met him, and his mother I’d rather not discuss. He had a painful childhood.
Was he younger than me? Before we were married, I said to him, "When is your birthday?"
I said, "Well, you’re three months older than I am," and he never cracked a smile or said a word. Later, he said, "I’m a child groom. I’m not even 21."
That was after we were married, yessss. Oh, he was a pistol.