Happy Diamond Jubilee
Longtime Washingtonians Clarence and Doris Roedell celebrate their 75th Wedding Anniversary
Doris spent a lot of time at Carol’s and sometimes Clarence saw her asleep on the couch when he came home after midnight from his job. “I thought she was cute,” says Clarence. “I thought he was pretty nice,” remembers Doris. He started calling her Dorie May; she called him June just like the rest of his family (short for Junior).
What was their courtship like? “We didn’t do much of anything at first,” says Doris. “We did a lot of necking,” reveals Clarence with a grin.
The relationship was growing strong until May of 1943 when Clarence went into the Army and was shipped out to New Orleans for basic training.
“I was lonesome,” says Doris of the separation. Frequent letters kept the long-distance relationship alive. They have kept those letters to this day.
Clarence was transferred to South Carolina where, at Christmastime, he received a one-week pass and decided to head home. Trouble was, home was a seven-day round-trip on the train. Once he arrived in Seattle, Clarence hoped he could finagle extra days. Otherwise, he would have to get straight back on the train. He considered the possibility of seeing Doris worth the risk.
Clarence fell asleep on the crowded train “settin’ on a suitcase because there wasn’t room anywhere. The vestibules were full of sailors.” That train was the Atlantic Coast Line that derailed in North Carolina on December 16, 1943. It is considered one of the worst train wrecks in U.S. history. Seventy-four people died in the crash. Clarence was among the 187 injured. He was to spend the next six months in the hospital.
Back home in Seattle, a reporter tracked down Clarence’s father and informed him that his son was killed in the wreck. Luckily, the truth came out before Doris heard the news.
That wreck and those long months of recovery probably saved Clarence’s life. His training as an amphibious pilot would have put him square in the Pacific theater of war, where statistics show that pilots of J-boats couldn’t necessarily expect to survive. After rehab he went back to duty, but his extensive injuries prevented him from shipping out.
As an aside, Clarence was Doris’ steady fella, although the couple didn’t have specific plans to marry. Nevertheless, she was already a part of the Roedell family. The Roedells were known for parlor games and a silly secret family initiation called “The Roedell Airline,” which Doris would soon experience first-hand. And despite not knowing when she herself might marry, Doris was no stranger to weddings or even honeymoons. For the record, although she may try to deny it, she accompanied her best friend Carol on her honeymoon. But that is another story.
By Christmastime 1944, Clarence was stationed in Florida. He received another pass and once again boarded a train for the three-and-a-half-day ride home. The young Doris, barely out of girlhood, began to fret about what to buy Clarence for a Christmas present. “I didn’t know what you were supposed to get for a serious boyfriend,” she says. A married friend suggested the same gift she got her husband: a lifetime subscription to Reader’s Digest. That $25 turned into a lifetime investment; after 75 years the magazine still arrives faithfully each month.