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Vietnam Veteran Couple Relive Love Story

By Allie Jennerjahn

“Well, I made up my mind. I was going to make the whole night miserable for all three of them.”

Mary Ford sat on a flower-patterned couch in her home with her husband of 53 years, Jerry Ford, to the left of her on a piano bench. She tilted her head back and started to laugh. Jerry crossed his arms and gave her a smile, followed by an adoring look.

At the age of 19, Mary spent her days working at an air base as a hostess at the Airman’s Club in Little Rock, Arkansas. She had a boyfriend at the time, but each shift they were allowed to dance with an airman three times.

“I took my best friend with me and while I was dancing and working, she was getting acquainted with my boyfriend. And they decided they wanted to go out, so they arranged for this blind date with Jerry.”

While Mary thought that she would spend the night sad and angry, she instead spent the night watching Goldfinger, and learning about the man she would soon marry.

Jerry grew up in Hartford City, Indiana. He joined the United States’ Air Force in 1963. He started out as an Air Policeman in Security, but was later chosen from 340 men to be cross trained to Administration. And on December 26, 1964, he fell in love with a hostess from Arkansas.

The two started dating and soon decided that they would get married the following October, barely ten months after their first date.

“For me, it was [love at first sight],” Jerry said.

Mary and Jerry Ford smile for a picture in their home. The couple has been married now for 53 years.  Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

Mary and Jerry Ford smile for a picture in their home. The couple has been married now for 53 years. Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

“I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had already lost several classmates in the Vietnam war… I waited on pins and needles for letters.”

—Mary

Jerry’s cap from Thailand.  Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

Jerry’s cap from Thailand. Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

However, a week before their wedding, Jerry received orders to go overseas to Thailand for a year. They had to do some fast thinking, but decided to go ahead with their wedding. It was held in Little Rock, the same place where just two months later, at noon on Christmas Day 1966, they would be separated for the first time since meeting.

“I was in uniform when I got on the bus to leave, and a tear started coming to my eye when I waved bye,” Jerry said. “This little boy was watching me and I had to turn my head. I didn’t want that little boy to think that an Airman First Class would be crying.”

“It was awful,” Mary added. “I didn’t know what he was going into. I had already lost several classmates in the Vietnam war… I waited on pins and needles for letters.”

For the next year the couple sent letters and made plans for their future – where they may live and when they would start a family. Jerry sent gifts, which Mary of course kept, and proudly showed off in her living room the afternoon I interviewed them.

He sent her two dresses made from Thailand silk clothing. One was a traditional dress – red with Thai flowers, a collar and buttons down the whole front. The other was a navy blue one he handmade for his wife.

“He had it made for me, and it fit just perfectly,” Mary said.

Mary shows the dress her husband handmade for her while in Thailand. The outfit dates back to 1967: the year Mary waited for her newly betrothed to return from the Vietnam War.  Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

Mary shows the dress her husband handmade for her while in Thailand. The outfit dates back to 1967: the year Mary waited for her newly betrothed to return from the Vietnam War. Photo submitted by Allie Jennerjahn

This is how their relationship progressed for the next year. Letters, gifts, eagerness, hope and love kept their new marriage strong. The next December, Mary’s dad picked her up and took her to the airport where she would soon be reunited with her airman.

“I was so nervous, I threw up,” Mary said, laughing.

As soon as Jerry’s bus pulled up and the doors opened, they ran to each other.

When asked what that moment was like, seeing each other for the first time in a year, all Mary could say was, “unbelievable.”

Jerry was discharged from the service as soon as he entered the United States again. His four years were up. He soon convinced Mary to move back to Hartford City where they later raised three kids: Cynthia, Christopher and Tracy. The rest, they say, is history.

Thank you for your service, Jerry. And Mary, thank you for your love.