The Longest Wait by Robert Kurson, Part 5, The Dear Jacquelyn Letter

From England, Randy asked another patient to write a letter to Jacquelyn telling her that he had been wounded. Although his body was filled with shrapnel and his eyes were bandaged, no one yet knew the extent of his injuries.  All he could tell Jacquelyn was that he would be transferred to a hospital in Valley Forge, PA, where specialists could make a diagnosis.  Jacquelyn and her mother immediately caught the next train to Valley Forge to see Randy.

Wounded Soldier brought to Valley Forge Hospital in 1943 Courtesy Historical Society Phoenixville, PA

At the hospital, doctors inspected Randy’s eyes.  “I’m the last man on the totem pole,” one physician told Randy.  “That’s why they have sent me to tell you this – you’ll never see again.”  Randy’s optic nerves had been irreparably damaged.  He would never forget that doctor’s cold delivery, but for the time being, he lay there and thought, What am I going to do?  What does this mean for Jacquelyn?

Jacquelyn and Enoree arrived at the hospital.  It took one second for Jacquelyn to spot Randy across the ward.  She called his name and he sprang up in bed.  Jacquelyn dashed across the ward, leaped onto his bed, kissed and hugged him passionately.  An old nurse told Jacquelyn that such behavior wasn’t proper in a hospital, young lady, but the couple didn’t pay her any mind.

Randy wore no bandages and his eyes looked perfect as the day she’d met him.  By now, Jacquelyn had figured out this was a hospital for the blind.  Randy said, “Jacquelyn, I will get over the other injuries but I’m never going to see again.”  She asked to give Randy one of her eyes; it would be easy, let’s do it today.  But Randy told her there was nothing to be done.

Jacquelyn stayed at the hospital for a week, standing in chow lines with uniformed officers and nurses, spending every moment by Randy’s side.  At week’s end, she invited Randy to visit her in Alabama and Randy agreed.  They would still get married, Jacquelyn knew.  It would be a different marriage, but nothing mattered as long as she was married to Randy.

A few months later, his limbs still filled with shrapnel, Randy got leave to visit Jacquelyn in Alabama.  At the airport, she rushed across the tarmac.  Randy knew the patter of her feet – no mortar could blast that sound from his memory – and he knew just when to reach out to hold her.  Jacquelyn begged him to go with her to Birmingham to dance – they danced so beautifully before the war.  Randy said that was impossible now that he was blind.  Nonsense, Jacquelyn said, and she dragged him to the dance floor and took the lead and waited for him to get his bearings.  Before long no one in the place knew anything of a blind guy; they just knew that the young couple on the dance floor looked as if they had been dancing forever.

Picnics and walks and talks filled the days, though Randy still hadn’t pulled out an engagement ring Jacquelyn longed for; he had not even broached the topic of marriage, which Jacquelyn found odd because she was ready to marry him then and there.  A few nights later, Enoree cooked a roast for the family dinner.  When she walked over to serve Randy a second helping, he whirled around planted a doozy of a kiss on her lips.  “Randy, that was Mother,” Enoree told him.  “Jacquelyn is over there.”

The rest of the visit was as wonderful and as natural as it had been the first week they met.  Still, Randy never spoke of marriage.  When Jacquelyn took him to his airplane, they kissed and said I love you and promised to see each other again soon.

Several weeks later, a letter arrived at Jacquelyn’s sorority house.  It was from Randy.  It said that he no longer intended to marry her.  It said that he could plan anything until he had learned how to survive.   It said, “Please do not call me or write me or contact me ever again. ”

And that was it.

To be continued.

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