By Cindy Hval
Excerpted from War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation, published by Casemate. Find Cindy’s excellent book online at casematepublishers.com or locally at Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane.
Above, Jack and Fran Rogers, 1946. Photo courtesy of the Rogers Family Archives.
When Jack Rogers walked into a friend’s home, she was the first thing he saw. She wore a blue dress with big spools of thread printed on the fabric and she sat on the floor next to the fireplace. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
Fran Rogers also remembers her first sight of Jack. “He was beautiful,” she said with a sigh. “He had a golden tan from the South Pacific and his hair was bleached almost white from the sun.”
More than six decades after that first glimpse of each other, the couple still smiles at the memory. They went to the local skating rink that night. Fran had been trying to learn but Jack’s skating skills were polished. “He was a beautiful skater,” she recalled. “And I was not. I was still hanging on to the walls.”
Yet Jack didn’t want to skate with anyone else. “I just skated backwards, if I recall,” he said.
A month later he proposed and two months later, they married. “It was a long engagement of three months,” said Jack, grinning. “I was convinced from the first day that she had it all. She just fit what I was looking for.”
Fran believes that Jack, like many soldiers returning from World War II, felt like he’d already lost three years of his life and didn’t want to lose any more time.
In 1943, at age 19, Jack had enlisted in the Army. “Most of the kids I went to school with at Roosevelt High, in Seattle, enlisted.”
He found it difficult to believe we were at war against Japan. “I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said, shaking his head. Jack even traveled to California to see a buddy from his high school tumbling team, only to find his friend and his family had been placed in an internment camp. Later that buddy worked as an interpreter for the Army.
Jack was assigned to the amphibious engineers unit and spent three years on active duty, most of it spent in the Philippines and as part of the occupational forces in Japan.
“Our whole company was made up of kids – kids dressed up as soldiers,” he said. “At 19 I was in charge of 55 men.” He shrugged. “You grew into the job.”
His outfit was the first one back into Manila, Philippines, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing. They were torpedoed by subs and shot at by kamikazes. But Jack found some humor in the midst of the horror.
One day in particular stands out. “We’d traveled all day down the Cagayan River to meet up with an anti-tank crew,” Jack recalled. Night fell and they couldn’t see a thing. They made the decision to drop anchor and wait it out.
“Japs were on both sides of the river. We waited all night for a hand grenade to be tossed. The next morning we resumed our journey and found our destination was just around the bend, less than 100 yards away!”
Then one night in 1945 an officer came up to Jack and said, “They just announced that the war is over– but hold your positions because the Japanese aren’t convinced.”
The rumor spread and the troops grew excited. The following morning the same officer returned. “False alarm!” he said.
But for every humorous story there are memories of being scared, alone and far from home. Memories of a hundreds of bodies left on streets and beaches by the retreating Japanese forces.
Jack grimaced. “It was pretty rough. In some cases we had to we had to push the bodies aside with bulldozers.”
That’s why he didn’t waste any time when he met Fran. “He just wanted a family because he’d never really had one,” said Fran.
Jack nodded. “I lived in a boarding house ‘til I was eight. I’d never seen my father.”
One February day, Jack and Fran set off with two other couples for a day of skiing at Steven’s Pass.
“Six of us traveled in tiny coupe,” Fran said. “In fact, I was sitting on Jack’s lap when he whispered in my ear, ‘I really think we ought to get married, don’t you?’”
So, on April 26, 1946 they married in the house where they met. Jack found work as a carpenter and soon they found some property. “I built a tiny, little house with second hand materials,” he said.
On December 26, they welcomed their first child. “He was a preemie and weighed less than five pounds,” Fran recalled. “When we brought him home the neighbor lady looked at him and said, ‘Boy, you’ll never raise that one.’”
She was wrong. And in 1949 a second son joined their family.
They struggled financially. Jack said he took every job he could find, often working two or three jobs at a time. A trip to California to visit an old friend proved providential. The friend was a commercial artist and Jack said, “That’s what I want to do.”
He’d always been artistic. When he was nine he sold his first piece, a drawing of an alligator swallowing a donkey, for $5. While working and raising a family, he attended the Carnegie Institute in Seattle got hired by a large company before he’d even graduated.
Eventually, a local advertising company recruited him to Spokane. Jack agreed to come for a year, and has been here ever since. It was a move his wife has never been happy about. “I love Seattle and LA,” she said. “There’s so much more to see.”
Jack cleared his throat and grinned. “She was very cordial about the whole thing.”
The birth of a daughter in 1953 made life even busier for Fran, and Jack had expanded his horizons as well. In 1963, he was asked to help start the art department at Spokane Falls Community College. He ended up teaching at the college for 26 years.
Fran went to work for JC Penney when their youngest started school and was named a department manager at a time when few women achieved that position. But their lives took an unexpected turn. At age 46, Fran found out she was expecting another child.
Their daughter was 17, and their sons grown and gone. The news came as quite a shock and the doctors were concerned. “They thought something was wrong with the baby,” Fran said quietly. “There was no movement.”
So, she did the only thing she could think of – she prayed. “I asked God, ‘If this baby is alive, would you please save it?’” Her eyes filled with tears at the memory. “And the baby kicked me.” She gave birth to a healthy daughter on March 3, 1970.
“Our lives started over again,” she with an eloquent shrug. Not only did they raise their surprise baby, but they also raised their granddaughter, Jennifer from the time she was three.
“We’ve had 58 years of nonstop parenting,” Fran said. Yet the couple, recently completed Bloomsday, an annual 12 kilometer timed road race. Jack has never missed a race and this year Fran wanted to walk it with him, even though she’d recently had knee replacement surgery.
It was harder than she’d anticipated, but Jack held her hand the entire way. “The last two miles, I leaned on him,” she admitted. But she wouldn’t quit. “I have to finish everything I start,” she said.
The best marital advice they offer is stay busy and take care of your health. The active couple has backpacked, skied and worked out together for most of their married life.
Though they’ve had differences, divorce was never an option. “We never had enough money to get a divorce,” said Fran with a twinkle in her eye. “And nobody wanted to get stuck with the kids!”
She threw back her head and laughed. Across the table Jack smiled and watched. He still can’t take his eyes off her.