Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gene and Adeleen Bangs -- A WWII Love Story

It took more than five years, but I finally found "the rest of the story"
of an intriguing WWII postcard that I
Scrapbook with Gene Bangs' postcard and postmarks
picked up in an antique store.
Sometime around 2009, while living in Richmond, Kentucky, I found a scrapbook page in an antique store near Lexington, Kentucky. The page contained a postcard written by Corporal Eugene Bangs to his wife, Adeleen, in Lexington, along with a photo of a man in uniform, presumably Corporal Bangs. The page also contained about 70 postmarks that were meticulously cut out and pasted on the page.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find information on Gene or Adeleen. The scrapbook page and postcard went into my “too tough” pile, and there it stayed for several years. A year or so ago I revisited the file and, with information found in obituaries, located Corporal Bangs’ niece, Barbie Freed, who lives in Lexington, Illinois. (There are too many Lexingtons in this story.) Barbie provided information about Gene and Adeleen and sent a selection of photos from family albums.

Eugene was born in 1918, grew up in Dows, Iowa, earned a degree in engineering, and was working for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad when he was inducted into the Army in April 1942. He was assigned to an Army unit in Lexington, Kentucky, housed at the Phoenix Hotel, a Lexington landmark that is now gone.

 While in Lexington he met Adeleen Gilbert, a local girl who worked at the University of Kentucky. They were married in Lexington on December 19, 1942. He must have shipped out in the next few weeks, because the scrapbook contains postmarks from Texas dated January 1943. Adeleen stayed in Lexington and continued working at the university while Gene served his country. I don’t know much about Gene’s service, except that he served in engineering units. In one photo he’s wearing a Staff Sergeant’s stripes, and at the end of the war he was in France.

After the war he went back to work for the railroad as a bridge inspector, and he and Adeleen lived in Skokie, Illinois. They did not have children. One of the photos Barbie sent me shows them on a cruise ship in 1960, and in another photo Adeleen is standing in front of a group of totem poles in Vancouver, British Columbia. Gene died in 1968, and Adeleen passed away in 1980.

During WWII, letters and postcards were the primary link between men in the service and their wives back home. There was, of course, no email or Facebook, and even a phone call was rare. I find it touching to think of Adeleen sitting home in Kentucky, carefully cutting out every postmark from Gene’s postcards and putting them in a scrapbook. I also marvel at these wartime marriages. Gene and Adeleen only knew each other a few months before they married, and less than a month later he was off to war and didn't return for nearly three years.

We’re rapidly losing “Greatest Generation” people like Gene and Adeleen Bangs. I’m glad we still have postcards and photos to tell their stories.

Adaleen (top left) and Gene (top right) in undated family photos; on a cruise in 1960, and Adaleen in British Columbia..

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