Henry and Thelma Ritter of New Freedom married in 1943 and will celebrate 70 years of marriage on Wednesday.
Henry and Thelma Ritter of New Freedom married in 1943 and will celebrate 70 years of marriage on Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

Henry and Thelma Ritter of New Freedom finally did it.

After living through several wars, making the transition from V-mail to email and keeping their love alive along the way, the two have met their goal of 70 years of marriage together.

Wed on Aug. 7, 1943, in their hometown of Baltimore, the Ritters shared their story with openness and just a touch of nostalgia.

"We wonder where the time went," Thelma said.

At first sight: Henry, 93, and Thelma, 90, met for the first time at a print shop: He was a printer; she was a bookkeeper.

"Right away, we knew," she said.

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

Henry was drafted into the Army on Nov. 21, 1941, just before Pearl Harbor. That interrupted his printing apprenticeship, and he began to train as a private at Camp Cooke in California. During his three-day pass there, he made a point to come home and see his future wife.

"We had three dates, that's all," she said. Then he asked her to marry him.

When they wed, Thelma was 19; Henry was 23.

"His mother thought he was going to be a bachelor because his sisters all got married at 16," she said.

The night of their wedding, they traveled by steam train to Watertown,

N.Y., where Henry was stationed at the time. That trip was basically their honeymoon.

Thelma stayed in New York with Henry until he was deployed to England in February 1944. They wouldn't see each other again for a year and a half.

One of the ghosts: While Henry was away, Thelma continued her work as a bookkeeper and remained loyal.

"A lot of them in his outfit got 'Dear John' letters. They did," she said. "That was terrible."

The only way the two could communicate was through V-mail, a censored letter-sending process used during World War II. Thelma would get her husband's letters only to find they were full of holes because he wrote things he wasn't supposed to, she said.

"All you could really say was you're still alive," Henry said.

But what Thelma didn't know at the time was he was a member of the 22nd Armored Engineers in the 5th Armored Division, also known as Patton's Ghosts because no one knew where they were located.

"We didn't know half the time," he joked.

In October 1945, Henry returned to his wife. They then built a home in Parkville, Md., and lived there for 49 years while Henry worked as a publications officer for the U.S. Supreme Court and Thelma took care of their children and home. They moved to New Freedom in 1998.

The couple has two sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

True love: After 70 years together, Henry and Thelma are well aware of their blessings. Although he is legally blind and she has trouble with her knees, the two are as much in love as they have ever been, they said.

"What happens is as you get older, you still have the love, but it's a different love," Henry said.

The two depend on each other and help one another through the tough times: Since he can't see so well, she reads to him occasionally.

"We got a lot of angels watching us," Thelma said. "It was the good life. It was."

And even though they've quite literally been through the war together, she wouldn't change a thing.

"I feel sorry sometimes for the kids that don't have what we had," she said. "Even though we came through a Depression and a war, I still think we had it better than any of them growing up now."

And a love like theirs is very practical, Thelma said. It's about balance -- give and take, she said, and it's nothing fancy.

"We don't always have to be going someplace, you know. We can just sit and be quiet, be together," she said.

While contemplating the next milestone, Henry said they probably would have gotten married even sooner had he not been drafted.

"Just like anything: If it's true and real, it will win out," he said. "But then war came along and put a lot of things on hold."

"Not us, though, hon," Thelma replied.

--Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.