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A Family Treasure Chest

Love letters from 1950s Navy sweethearts

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letters

STAMPED WITH LOVE Hundreds of letters penned by Vic and Teddi Laux Vine between 1951 and the 1970s were discovered after they had both passed away. Each envelope contains a time capsule of their military life and love for each other.

The exterior of the weathered black trunk, erratically battle-scarred with shipping labels to exotic (and not-so-exotic) locations creates an intriguing scavenger hunt to my father’s 30-year Navy career journey. The trunk currently sits unassumingly in the corner of our family’s den, camouflaged into a shabby chic table that holds shiny, framed photos of smiling people much younger than the trunk – photos of the offspring of the trunk’s owner.

But like any good box, the real story lies inside. The scratchy, gold, tarnished latches have clung together over 70 years, guarding the intimate love stories and secrets of my parents. It’s quite a treasure since the trunk has outlived them both.

My mother, Teddi, passed away in 1978 and my father, Vic, died in 2004. I never knew the trunk existed until a few years after my father’s death. Thankfully, my dad’s second wife, Cleary, who has been a second mom to me, told me it had been in their attic for years and she thought I should have it.

My parents’ handwritten letters are dated from November 1951, when they first met, until the 1970s. My dad was a midshipman at the Naval Academy and my mom lived in Philadelphia when they met.  My dad retired from the Navy in 1976, when I was in fourth grade. Looking through the trunk as an adult, it was cathartic to discover some of the stories our parents are unable to share today.

I’m the youngest of three so I didn’t move quite as much as my older brother and sister, Vic and Kathy. But even just in my first eight years of life, we lived in Charlottesville, Va., Coronado, Calif., Okinawa, Japan, Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas. As the youngest, I probably remember the least about our family’s history. I know my dad played football at the Naval Academy and he would talk about that, but he didn’t detail much about being a pilot in the Navy or his military career overall.

Teddi Vine, Vic Vine

Newlyweds Teddi and Lieutenant Junior Grade Vic Vine are all smiles leaving the Pensacola Naval Air Station Chapel under an arch of swords on March 7, 1953.

And when you’re a kid, your parents are just your parents, right? It doesn’t seem to really matter what their job is. But the more I learn about veterans and the people who served our country during the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s – or any era, for that matter – I have begun to truly appreciate all that my father did and empathize with how challenging it must have been on my mom. Now that I am also a mom, it’s hard to imagine dealing with your spouse being away a lot of the time – often to places that can’t be disclosed – and having to move every few years.

I haven’t made it through the hundreds of letters in that trunk yet but so many of them hold clues as to what it was like in the military. They also hold a reminder of what life was like before modern luxuries like computers and cell phones.

The letters include phrases like:

By the time you get this letter, we will have had our phone conversation tomorrow night and already I’ll be looking forward to next Sunday night so I can tell you that I love you again. Teddi

I was so happy today. I got all three of your letters at one time. Vic

I hope your flying is coming along good, Darling, and your studies aren’t too hard. You’re darned right I want you to be a good pilot and I know you will be. I have lots of faith in you. I know that flying is what you want to do and I want to do everything I can to help you because I know it will make you happy. Teddi

Hello, Angel. Your letters lifted me from the depths of despondency to the heights of happiness. You do write wonderful letters, darling. Vic

I’m so sorry that you won’t be home for Thanksgiving like we planned. Hopefully they won’t move back your return date another two weeks. Teddi

The kids were so happy to get your beautiful birthday cards you sent them. Teddi

I miss you so much I can’t stand it. Vic

If you only knew how much those wonderful letters of yours mean to me ... I hope you can keep them coming even if they have to be short ones. Teddi

I’m here in Florida, and yet I’m with you in Philadelphia. I’m flying in an airplane and yet I’m wondering what you are doing at your job. Vic

trunk

The weathered black trunk in the corner of the Fuller family den is a treasure chest of a young Navy couple’s letters and a glimpse into their journey that started 70 years ago.

Every so often I read a few of the letters, get a bit overwhelmed, and then close the lid to the trunk and slide it back into its life of a nice conversational piece in our den. The smiling family members in those framed photos that sit on top of the trunk have no idea of the stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents that lurk beneath them. It is a blessing to be able to share stories and glimpses into military work and family life from the letters with our son, nieces, nephews, and their children.

Thank you to my parents and all the veterans and their families that have sacrificed and continue to do so by serving their country. I look forward to discovering more about my parents’ military and personal journey – letter by letter.

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