World War Two proved to be the undoing of countless communities and families. Relationships were torn apart and loved ones were taken too soon. And while these tragic tales have inspired numerous novels and films that will have you reaching for a tissue, this is a love story that stood the test of both the war and of time.
Isabell Whitney and Preble Staver are one couple whose love not only survived the war, but also numerous other obstacles. Although their relationship deserves its own film, their first meeting was surprisingly ordinary. They met on a blind date, in fact, in the “city of brotherly love,” Philadelphia. It seems that the old dating methods work, after all!
Their relationship flourished but before too long, the pair had signed up to the U.S. war effort. Isabelle offered her nursing skills to the Navy and was sent to Maryland, while Preble joined the U.S. Marine Corps. For the entirety of the war, then, they were separated from each other, but they never forgot the time they’d had together.
While he was a Marine, Preble awarded a Bronze Star for his contribution to the war effort. This award is given to anyone within the U.S. Armed Forces who has performed a heroic service or act. The specific actions for which Preble was honored are unknown, but it seems that he served his country with selfless commitment and pride.
The war ended in 1945, although it was to almost half a year before Isabelle and Preble would be reunited. They wasted no time in confirming their love for one another. and their wedding took place in February 1946. The couple would eventually have a grand total of five children together.
One of their children, Laurie Staver Clinton, spoke to NPR in November 2017 about what her parents were like at home. Her father was known to be a “larger than life” individual, while her mother was more tender. Staver Clinton described her as “my heart” because “she taught me how to be a kind person, how to be a compassionate person.”
Staver Clinton pointed out how different Isabelle and Preble were to one another. While her mother had a forgiving attitude towards other people, her father by contrast was a “prickly pear.” She described their dynamic, saying, “Dad was the strict one. Mom tried to be strict, but we knew what we could get away with her. It was pretty much a father rules the roost sort of thing.”
Isabelle and Preble successfully created a family together, nurturing their five children. They led an itinerant life, due to Preble’s employment as a banker and lobbyist. Isabelle continued to look after the children while Preble worked, and when the children were old enough, she went back to being a nurse.
However, life wasn’t all plain sailing for the family, and in 1975 they endured the most painful of tragedies. Their son, Peter, passed away after suffering a serious injury while playing football at school. For Isabelle and Preble, dealing with the grief was their greatest challenge yet.
The couple vowed to support one another in the aftermath of the tragedy, and this in turn brought about a change in her father. “We began to really see a softer side of my dad,” Staver Clinton said. “Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids, and that really took a toll on my folks, but it also brought them together.”
In time, Isabell and Preble overcame the family’s devastation and proceeded to make the most of their own lives. They continued to move around and experience new places, even residing on a golf course at one point! And eventually, they settled in Virginia.
After moving permanently to Virginia, it became clear that Isabell was in the early stages of dementia. As a result, in 2013 the couple were relocated to a care home. They were later moved into separate rooms, as the distress of seeing his wife’s decline was proving tough for Prabel to take. After decades by each other’s sides, it was another shock to the system.
Although their living arrangements had changed drastically, the strength of their love for each other never faltered. Staver Clinton recalled the ways in which the pair preserved their special connection. She revealed that Preble would visit Isabell’s unit and “the first thing they’d do was put their hands out and hold each other’s hand and tell each other they loved each other.”
While the majority of her memories faded, Isabell could always remember her darling Preble. Staver Clinton recalled moments when her mother clearly recognized her father even in the latter stages of her illness. “Sometimes we’d have to tell her to focus and look,” Staver Clinton said. “But when she looked and knew it was dad, she’d get that little smile.”
At times, Isabell didn’t understand why she needed to be kept away from her husband. Staver Clinton described her mother’s confusion, saying, “When I would explain the need for the separation, Mom would go, ‘But that’s Daddy, that’s Preble.’ Even in her demented state, she had that compassion and understanding that my dad’s reaction to some of the disease process wasn’t really a reaction to her, and she still wanted to be with him.”
The couple’s sacred bond was still as strong as ever, and on his 96th birthday Preble decided to enjoy his wife’s company doing one of the things they liked best, perhaps for the last time. He requested to have a nap with her. His wish was granted and they lay peacefully next to one another, holding hands, for a few hours.
And Preble’s birthday was about to get even better, because later on – without any prompting – Isabell started singing “Happy Birthday!” Staver Clinton was as shocked as everyone else. “I heard this little warbly voice, and I realize, oh my gosh, Mom’s singing,” Staver Clinton told People. “And she sang the song twice. She didn’t miss a word.”
Just days after Preble’s birthday, however, Isabell was close to breathing her last. Preble was taken to her room and said his last goodbye to his companion of 70 years. “He held her hand, and it was just so tender,” Staver Clinton recalled. “I asked him if he wanted to stay after the prayers, and he shook his head. I said, ‘Okay, but you know that means you’re going to have to let go of her hand?’ I was crying, and he was crying.”
Moreover, a mere 14 hours after Isabell passed away, Preble died. Jim Need, the couple’s minister who performed Isabell’s last rites, believed Preble could have been clutching on just to say goodbye to Isabell properly. “I honestly feel he was waiting for her… [the] Marine mentality,” Need said. “He was going to take care of her until he knew she was OK.”
Isabell and Preble’s loved ones congregated at Virginia Beach on 10 November, 2017, for the couple’s joint funeral. The day, which was also the anniversary of the creation of the Marine Corps, was attended by an honor guard in acknowledgment of Preble’s services for his country. Having stuck together to the very end, the pair were buried next to one another so they could be together always.