Military wives share stories

Abbi Overfelt Editor

November 11, 2013

LAURINBURG — Maura Coulter first set eyes on her husband Danny in a restaurant in Fort Sheridan, Ill.

The two were married the next year, in 1967. Five months later, he went to fight in Vietnam.

“To see your husband have to leave and know he’s going off to war? I can’t even describe it,” she said. “It tears your heart.”

Maura and Danny lived in Highwood, Ill., a small town just outside the base. When Danny left, Maura moved back in with her parents for the support she knew they could offer.

While her husband was gone, the pregnant Maura stayed away from the television at night. She couldn’t bear to watch it, or to think her Danny might be counted in the death tally that only continued to rise with each passing day.

“Every night it was all caskets coming home, and you never knew,” she said. “It was like you were just waiting for a letter every day. I wouldn’t watch the news until after he came home.”

When that day came, the Army Sergeant was greeted with a 6-month-old son who bore his name.

“He had his uniform on and he had buttons all down his uniform,” Maura said, “and all he did was touch his buttons. We were overjoyed, we had our family back together.”

Danny thought about re-enlisting and the money that it would bring, but chose to retire after 6 years than once again face the horrors of war.

“I just know they have a hard time coming back into civilian life, after being in war like that, it’s just hard,” Maura said.

But would she do it again?

“Well yeah, because I love him,” she said. “I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s made our marriage stronger, I know that. These days people get divorced over the silliest things. When you go through something that hard, it makes you realize what you have.”

The couple have lived in Laurinburg for 41 years. Danny recently returned from Danny’s Service Station, a shop he owned on Atkinson Street. Danny Jr. now runs the business. The couple also had a daughter, Holly, who lives in Greensboro. Like her brother, she couldn’t miss the Scotland-Richmond football game Friday night.

Since Danny has been retired, the couple has visited Legion Park for the annual Veteran’s Service.

“We should appreciate the veterans and all the sacrifices they made for our country and never forget that we wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for them,” she said.

‘They’re the strongest women that you’re going to meet.”

In December 1962, Nancy and Howard Reichner met at Fort Knox, Ken., through a mutual friend who thought they would “hit it off.”

The two started dating in March. Howard proposed in June, and on Aug. 31, 1963, they were married.

Nancy was an elementary school teacher. Howard was an aide to a general and would later go on to take an armor course, designed for captains.

They had two children, born 22 months apart. Howard left for Vietnam in August 1966, leaving Nancy home alone to raise both of them until he returned a year later.

“We knew it was going to happen, we knew that he would be going to Vietnam,” Nancy said. “That’s just how it was in that particular time, he accepted it and I accepted it.”

Still, Nancy was unprepared for just how difficult it would be. She moved herself and her boys back in with her parents and continued her teaching career. Then, in December 1966, her father died. With the only communication with her husband being letters that took all too long to reach him, Nancy was unable to reach her other half for the support she needed.

“My father was buried before my husband even knew that his father-in-law had passed away,” she said. “I tried to get in touch with him through the Red Cross, but it was not as accomplished as it is today.”

When Howard returned home, he continued his studies at the University of Tennessee as well as teaching ROTC before he was once again sent back to Vietnam. They had three children at that point, one little more than a baby.

For a shoulder to lean on, Nancy turned to fellow military wives whose husbands were also involved in the ROTC program. She had close civilian friends, but military spouses were told not to broadcast that their husbands were away at war — both because the war was very unpopular and because it would signify that they were alone.

“Military wives, they’re the strongest women that you’re going to meet because they have to handle so many many things completely on their own,” she said.

“We discussed raising children, the difficulty of not having a spouse, and a worry that was never really voiced that they wouldn’t come home,” she said. “We never talked about it. We didn’t want to face having to think about what would happen if they didn’t come home.”

Her saving grace, she said, was that with her children, her volunteer work at their school, and caring for her aging mother, she was always busy.

“I prayed constantly, but didn’t have that much time to worry,” she said.

Then, the telegram arrived.

“I saw through the clear cellophane that it said his name and it said “wounded,” and I was so nervous that I couldn’t open the telegram,” she said. “It actually made the wound sound more serious than what it really was.”

Nancy can look back on the scene with humor, now that her husband’s leg injury has healed fully: The telegram was delivered by a man without his proper reading glasses who couldn’t read it; she could read it, but couldn’t open it; and both felt so sorry for each other, she for him being put in the situation of having to deliver bad news, and he for her, not knowing how she would react to it.

“I couldn’t get too upset, because I had babies,” she said.

Howard didn’t want to come home because he feared that a break in his tour would cause it to be extended. So he healed where he was, and went back to his job a little after a month later.

In 1978, Howard came home, and he retired in the late 1980s as a colonel. Nancy took a teaching position at Ft. Bragg, where she had taught several years before during one of Howard’s brief assignments.

Six months later, he got his teaching certificate and took a position at St. Andrews University. He is going on his 22nd year there and teaches politics part-time.

After all is said and done, Nancy said she wouldn’t have her life any other way.

“We have met some of the finest people you would ever want to meet in the military,” she said. “There is a bond there that really cannot be broken. It has afforded us to have some wonderful opportunities that you would not be able to have otherwise.

“It wasn’t always a bed of roses, but yet I would do it again. It wasn’t perfect but it was a very fine life.”