Forest Grove couple found love on the battlefield
Standing on the side of a road at the Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam on Aug. 6, 1969, Jim Morris asked his wife, Diane, to marry him.
They had only known each other for three days, but Jim said, "I don't think she waited five seconds. She said, 'I think that's a good idea.'"
Jim was a U.S. Air Force maintenance officer and Diane was part of the Red Cross' Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas program. Women in the program, who were better known to soldiers as "doughnut dollies," organized activities at military bases and worked to comfort soldiers.
The couple, who live in Forest Grove and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, said both soldiers and doughnut dollies were instructed not to have intimate relationships with each other. But out of the horror of the war and an instant connection, their love evolved in a few days, they said.
"What you realize if you live long enough is that life is about 90% luck," Jim said.
It was luck that they were both transferred to Phan Rang from elsewhere in Southeast Asia — Diane from a base near Danang, Vietnam, and Jim from a base in Thailand — but they met through a mutual friend, Sgt. Clarence Edgeworth.
"Clarence Edgeworth was our angel," Diane said.
Edgeworth had a feeling they would get along and he arranged their first date. "It took all the nerve I had," Jim said.
After the first attempt at a date failed when Jim parked the 2½-ton maintenance truck outside the Red Cross center where Diane couldn't see him, the couple got pizza from the mess hall and sat in the truck together the next day. They agreed to meet each of the next three days.
"Those conversations we had, you're in a war zone, you're talking about the most important things to you," Diane said.
She said three days seems like nothing to an average person, but in a war zone, witnessing people coming back to the base with serious injuries, both physical and mental, time is warped, and the shock of the war forced out "the core of who we were."
"You can tell when you're talking to somebody, it's not code words, it's code feelings, you can really tell down two or three layers into them what they're really like," Jim said.
Jim said when they agreed to get married, they knew there would be consequences for Diane, who had a couple more months in Vietnam. Jim's tour was coming to an end, and even though Diane's position was voluntary, it was a one-year commitment.
Diane's Red Cross supervisors urged her to change her mind about Jim. When she refused, they sent her home early.
Diane and Jim moved to Oregon 20 years ago after running a photography business in North Carolina for years after the war — they wanted to be closer to their two children who lived in Oregon. The war cultivated their passion for photography and they still occasionally look through an album of the photos they took in Vietnam.
They said they've resisted telling the story of how they met publicly because they felt uneasy talking about such a positive thing in their lives in the context of a war that took so many lives and divided the country.
"We've told a few friends and really only here, some people back in North Carolina knew, because it was almost like it wasn't right for us to feel so great about something that everybody else felt so terrible about," Jim said. "Either by losing family and friends out of the 55,000 that were killed or by protesting and having all the stress and strife that went with that."
Although Diane is sure she would have had a successful life if she had never met Jim, she said she would never trade it for a different life as she evoked her children.
"It was a terrible, horrible time for our country, and I'm not sure still, it's going to be 100 years before they figure out what all the ramifications were," Diane said. "But of all that negative, awful, terrible stuff that happened, was this wonderful, wonderful experience for us. And it was the best thing that ever happened to us."
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