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Til we meet again

Finding love against the backdrop of war

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October 22nd, 2015
Ray and Betty Whipps
Ray and Betty Whipps

Ray Whipps remembers the moment he first set foot on Utah Beach as though it were yesterday.

A week had passed since the initial wave of Allied troops stormed the Normandy coastline in the bloody D-Day invasion. On June 6, 1944, the air bristled with the thunder of artillery and the crackle of the Wehrmacht’s dreaded MG42 machine guns.

Yet when Whipps landed, a strange quiet prevailed. 

Yes, there was the low rumble of boat engines, the slosh of rolling surf, and the chatter of Army activity. But the sounds of war that he’d assumed he would encounter were conspicuously absent—a pleasant surprise for a green private in his mid-20s.

Sitting in his Portland, Ore., condominium 71 years later, he can still recall the feeling of relief that washed over him. Save for hazy details he’d gleaned from the combat stories that circulated among the troops, he had little idea of what to expect.

As he would soon learn, heavy fighting lay beyond the secured beachhead.

Such vivid recollections form the bedrock of Whipps’ book ’Til We Meet Again: A Memoir of Love and War (Tyndale House, 2015), in which he shows readers the Second World War as he experienced it. 

Personal account

Far from a dry string of names, dates, and military campaigns, this memoir seamlessly blends historical events with the emotional interpretations of a man who witnessed and took part in them. The result is a deeply human account of the war that forged what Tom Brokaw so aptly dubbed “The Greatest Generation.”

The reader is with Whipps on every page, fighting his way around the hedgerows of the French countryside and, later, making a push for Paris alongside Gen. George S. Patton’s armored division. 

“I was surprised at how easy it was for me to remember everything,” marvels Whipps. “Of course, it’s pretty hard to forget the kinds of things you see in combat.”

These “things” to which he refers range from sleeping in muddy foxholes to watching your friends die. Whipps saw his most intense action in a dense, coniferous woodland just east of the German border.

The Battle of Hurtgen Forest raged from September into December 1944 and left a staggering 33,000 Americans dead or wounded. Whipps was one of them.

“Fighting in that forest was a nightmare,” he says. “It was cold, dark, and, overall, much more dangerous than the combat we saw in the hedgerows.”

Artillery was a continuous threat, day and night. At any point, the Germans could fire their 88mm anti-tank guns, hurling exploding shells into the tree canopy over the American line. 

By this time a sergeant in command of a squad in the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry, Whipps was assiduously mindful of the fact that he was now responsible for lives other than his own. After a day of fighting, he routinely went from foxhole to foxhole to check on his men. 

That’s what he was doing when a German shell exploded, its shrapnel cutting a jagged gash that ran the length of his thigh and down to the bone. He was the only one hit. 

The wound was serious and, within a week, he was awaiting surgery at a hospital in France, where something totally unexpected occurred.

Serendipitous encounter

One day, while reading his Bible in bed, Whipps happened to look up from the page. The Army nurse on duty caught his eye—Lt. Betty Carter, a petite beauty with thick, dark hair and a bright smile.

Whipps was in love.

“The second I saw her, all the bells and whistles went off in my head,” he recalls. “She saw that I was reading my Bible and asked me if I was a Christian.”

Both of them devoutly religious, they connected from the start.

“Initially, it was difficult for us to really get acquainted,” explains Betty, “because I was an officer and he was an enlisted man. You could get in a lot of trouble for fraternizing, so we had to be creative about how we interacted.”

They did whatever they could to see each other without attracting the scrutiny of senior officers. They sat together at church services and, when possible, managed to steal a few seconds of inconspicuous conversation. 

Then, out of the blue, Whipps asked her to marry him.

“I knew she was the girl for me,” he says. “Seventy years later, we have 7 children, 19 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren, none of whom would be here if I didn’t take that piece of shrapnel.”

This is the stuff of great memoirs. When Ray and Betty reminisce, they do so not only as World War II veterans but as husband and wife; their love for their country and for each other is unmistakable. 

Stories like theirs are hard to find.

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