Couple recalls how a war disrupted their lives

May 22, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

It looks like the home of grandparents -- photos of babies and grown children grace tables and walls, capturing snippets of Paul "Gene" and Mary Lynch's 48 years of marriage. They are happy reminders of a long life together -- a lifetime they almost didn't get to share.

Like many couples of their generation, the Lynches had their lives changed by World War II. One day, 21-year-old Mary Kahoe was ordering dresses for her bridesmaids; the next, Mr. Lynch was being shipped out to the Pacific by the Marine Corps, and the wedding was on hold.

It was June 1944.

Fifty years -- and a Purple Heart -- later, Mr. Lynch is finally able to talk about that painful time in his life when he was wounded in action and witnessed others being killed in combat.

The 73-year-old retired home builder is hesitant at first, but his wife prods him and occasionally fills in the gaps.

They sit side by side on a love seat in their living room in Fallston, correcting and humoring each other the way that only ++ long-time couples can. Their affection is evident.

It started early in their lives, at least on Mrs. Lynch's part. "He was an altar boy, and I was in second grade when I saw him at Mass," says the 71-year-old homemaker. "I had my eye on you," she tells her husband with a smile.

Mr. Lynch looks amused, clearly enjoying his wife's story.

They grew up in Harford County, and their lives crisscrossed haphazardly until a summer dance after a jousting tournament when they realized their mutual attraction.

But the carefree days of jousting and parties were about to end, as the United States became ensnared in war in Europe, and then the Pacific.

The Lynches remember where they were when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. "I was at Mass, in Fallston, at St. Mark's," Mr. Lynch says.

"I was in the living room, listening to the radio with my father," says Mrs. Lynch, who grew up on a dairy farm near Fallston. "He had tears coming down his cheeks. I knew this must be terrible."

Two and a half years went by before Mr. Lynch, a 23-year-old sheet metal worker, had his deferment canceled.

Before long, he was packed onto a ship with thousands of other men, heading for a small island called Iwo Jima in the West Pacific -- and one of the fiercest battles of the war.

"For 48 days, we slept under the stars -- it rained every night," says Mr. Lynch about the tedious ship crossing.

The soldiers didn't know where they were going, he says, but at 9 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1945, he and his shipmates became the first wave of a bloody engagement that would last for a month before the Japanese surrendered the strategic location to the Americans.

"We were immediately pinned down under heavy fire," Mr. Lynch recalls.

Only five days after the landing, he awoke in a foxhole with a chilling prediction: "I knew that day I'd get killed or wounded."

He says his wife-to-be indirectly saved his life.

In one of those inexplicable acts, he decided to move his wallet, which had her photo in it, from his knapsack to his pants' pocket. While making the transfer, he sat up.

Then the gunfire -- and searing pain -- hit.

"If I had been flat, I would have been killed," he says softly. He still has the worn, brown leather wallet and color-tinted photo of Mrs. Lynch.

His left leg and hand were severely injured during the attack, and he was evacuated from the island as Japanese bullets whizzed overhead and morphine blurred his surroundings.

"I was supposed to lose my fingers," he says. "But there were bigger casualties [than me]."

His thigh was also torn apart, but after being moved to military hospitals, it slowly began to mend, although he still has "a little shrapnel in there today."

Meanwhile, back home, his mother received an official notice that her son had been injured, and she shared the news with her future daughter-in-law.

"There were no specifics," says Mrs. Lynch, who at the time was working at Aberdeen Proving Ground as an office worker. "It was rough waiting."

Eventually, she received a letter, written by an Army nurse and dictated by her injured fiance from the Pacific island of Saipan. "I've saved all his letters," she says.

The correspondence didn't always give details of the wartime hospitals. "[The nurses] worked in horrible conditions," Mr. Lynch remembers. "It was so crude, no wash cloths, towels or other things."

Many months would go by before the couple would see each other at a Navy hospital in Bainbridge.

"I was excited and nervous," Mrs. Lynch says. "You were more serious," she tells her husband.

Mr. Lynch was nervous about the reunion too, he says. "I thought maybe you'd pass up a good thing," he says with a mischievous glance at his wife.

They both laugh.

Finally, on Sept. 1, 1945, Mrs. Lynch and Mr. Lynch, who was on rehabilitative leave, were able to marry. Shortly afterward, the Marine was discharged from the service because of his injuries and awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in action.

Since then, the couple have raised seven children and have 14 grandchildren.

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