Shared Stories: They Never Stopped Dancing

When World War II was over, young men and women were anxious to put the war behind them and start a family. Gail Earl’s father was a survivor from Iwo Jima, and Gail’s description of his blind date with a young nurse sounds like “love at first sight.” Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Gail Earl

It was 1944.  Donald was a marine in the hospital recovering from his war wounds from Iwo Jima.  He was shot through the shoulder and shot through the knee.  His recovery would be long and challenging.

After the initial months of rebuilding his leg, Donald was finally able to start with braces and orthotics and learn to walk again.  He was hospitalized for over one year.

When Donald was released, he went into vocational rehabilitation to learn a new profession.  He went into orthotics and worked mainly on artificial limbs.  In those days, artificial limbs were heavy and made from wood.

While in vocational rehab, Donald met Elizabeth on a blind date.  She was in the Nurses Corp. and dealt with many returning soldiers who had injuries.  They had an immediate attraction and respect for each other’s position at the time.

Donald proposed after one week.  Elizabeth’s family was not happy with her choice.  At that time they considered him a “cripple,” and the family feared for her future.  Donald’s family was not happy either because of religious differences.  Donald and Elizabeth were in love and wanted to spend their lives together.  Because of the family resistance, they agreed to put their marriage off for a while.  

Three weeks later, they wed.  Over the next eight years they had four children: Don, Sharon, Gail, and Jan.  Life was very busy for them raising small children.

Don and Elizabeth were very good at teaching important lessons in life.  They always concentrated on teaching kindness and compassion.  Our family was extraordinarily close and loving.  From very early on, each child knew the importance of family; and family time was very precious.

Donald was the tender heart and Elizabeth was the structure.  They made such a beautiful couple.  They danced all through their marriage – his earlier war injuries were no impediment. The kids loved to watch them dance and laugh in each other’s company.

As the years went on, Elizabeth worked with Donald, and Donald remained in orthotics. That business changed so much over the years that there were always new techniques to master and new advances possible.  He no longer worked with just artificial limbs and teaching patients to walk with them.  

Donald advanced to working mainly in the operating rooms in Los Angeles on patients with broken necks.  He would install a “Halo” on the patient’s head.  In earlier days, if you broke your neck, you were either dead or at least confined to a bed for a very long time.  The “Halo” is a large metal cage that attaches to the skull and totally immobilizes the spine so no movement is possible.  It enables the patient to be up and around.

Donald and Elizabeth loved working in the field of orthotics, and loved all of the time they got to work together.  Elizabeth especially loved working with all of the special needs children.
Together they enjoyed forty-seven years of a beautiful, happy marriage before Don died from a heart attack.

Now, as a grown woman, I count my blessings every single day of my life, for the many life lessons that Don and Elizabeth taught. Those lessons have truly filled my life with smiles.

Looking back, I have two thoughts:

1.) That must have been some blind date!

2.) Now I understand why there were always wooden legs burning in our fireplace!