Ocean City Today

Couple still together after meeting during World War II

By Greg Ellison | Nov 09, 2017
Photo by: Greg Ellison Still in love after seven decades, John and Jacqueline Roman, who crossed paths while he was stationed in France during World War II, stopped by the Blue Dog Cafe in Snow Hill for a recent performance by patriotic-themed WW IIunes.

(Nov. 10, 2017) Despite earning a pair of Purple Hearts for his service during the invasion of Normandy, World War II veteran John Roman said his biggest reward was winning the heart of Jacqueline, his wife of more than seven decades.

Roman, who now resides in Fenwick Island, Delaware, recently spoke about his exposures to combat, including two narrow brushes with death, and how he finally crossed paths and won the affection of his lifelong bride.

“I landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944 at about 11 a.m. with the fourth wave,” he said. “When I came in, we were just getting shelled from artillery tanks.”

Roman enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1943. He first saw combat as one of 21,000 members of the 4th Infantry Division that landed in Normandy on a section code-named Utah Beach.

Roman survived the initial landing unscathed, but was seriously injured on June 19 as a member of the 9th Infantry Division during the Battle of Cherbourg. The fight to end Nazi control of the fortified port city of Cherbourg began directly after the Normandy landings, eventually ending in an Allied victory on June 30.

“This officer took us diagonally across a field where the Germans spotted us and started shooting airbursts, which are cannons that have bombs that explode up in the air and the shrapnel is just thrown all over you,” he said. “I start running … and I felt this pain in my left shoulder and down I went.”

After calling out for a medic, Roman received treatment and was shuttled off the battlefield. Although he earned a Purple Heart following the incident, the reprieve from fighting was brief.

“I stayed three days and went back to my outfit on the June 22. That was my 19th birthday,” he said.

Roman stayed on active duty until the beginning of August, when he was critically wounded by Nazi gunfire and was awarded a second Purple Heart.

“We were on patrol and I got hit and was sent back to England, and I was in the hospital about four months,” he said. “That was a bullet to my side.”

Following extensive rehabilitation, Roman was once again returned to the battlefront, albeit in a slightly less-dangerous role.

“They said your wounds are too bad, you will not be going into a combat outfit,” he said.

While he envisioned being sent stateside after getting twice struck by German artillery, the return to France enabled his life to take an unexpected turn. On July 15, 1945, he first laid eyes on his future wife while having a beer and listening to music in a small café with a military cohort.

When two pretty girls got up to dance, his friend offered, “You take the one on the left and I’ll take the one on the right.”

His friend managed to score a turn on the dance floor, but Roman’s request was rebuked.

“This young woman just looks at me and walks away,” he said.

Dismayed, but not defeated, Roman redoubled his efforts and tried again. And again.

“Finally, her sister said to her, ‘dance with him and get it over with,’” he said. “That young lady is now my wife of 71 years.”

After the chance first encounter, Roman befriended Jacqueline and quickly became acquainted with her family.

The couple began spending free time together until Roman eventually popped the big question.

“One day we were sitting down and I said, ‘You know I kind of like you, would you marry me?’” he said. “She didn’t say a word and then she said, ‘You’ve got to ask my mother.’”

Although Jacqueline spoke fluent English, the same could not be said for her French parents. Roman tasked a multi-lingual U.S. Army sergeant to help compose a note asking for her hand in marriage.

“I handed the mother the note and she said, ‘She’s too young,’” he said with a laugh. “She turned it over to her father and he said the same thing, but, ‘it’s up to Jacqueline.’ So I said, ‘what about it?’ and finally she said yes.”

John and Jacqueline Roman exchanged vows on April 20, 1946 at Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc Catholic Church in Charleville, France.

Shortly after completing their nuptials, Roman was transferred to Germany, where the young couple rented a house in Fulda. They moved to the United States on a small, converted cargo shop in December 1947.

Jacqueline, who was pregnant at the time with her first of six children, became extremely ill during the passage.

“We had rough weather and it took us 15 days to come across,” Roman said. “We would go one mile forward, three miles back and then turn.

“When we finally got to the states and Jacqueline saw the Statue of Liberty she said, ‘I guess I’ll never see my mother again if I have to travel by ship,’” he said.

Luckily for Jacqueline, air travel has since become much more prevalent, which has allowed the Romans to make numerous trips to visit relatives in France during the last several decades.

The Romans began regularly visiting Worcester County, specifically the Blue Dog Café in Snow Hill, after a chance meeting during a Normandy-related ceremony in Bethany Beach two years ago.

Roman provided the keynote speech and WWIIunes and bandleader Frank Nanna performed during the ceremony. The band is a staple on Friday nights at the Blue Dog.

Afterward Nanna, struck by Roman’s remembrance of finding love during the darkest of days, made a point to strike up a conversation.

“He came over to me and said, ‘that’s a great story. I’ll always remember that,’” Roman said.

The couple inquired about the band’s schedule and Nanna explained where the Blue Dog was based. In short order, a pilgrimage was planned.

Roman remembers that first trip, driving down and wondering what they were getting themselves into.

“I said, ‘Jacqueline, the Blue Dog doesn’t sound like a big restaurant, I wonder what they sell,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘They might sell hot dogs and hamburgers.’”

The couple was prepared for average pub food, only to discover a menu full of culinary pleasures.

“When we got there we discovered the food is out of this world,” Roman said. “We [also] enjoy the music, because it brings back a lot of memories.”

John and Jacqueline Roman have established a strong family legacy after raising half-a-dozen children: John, Jacqueline, Phillip, Michael, James and Kathleen. They also have 14 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

The Romans, who are organizing a massive gathering of the entire clan for an excursion to the Blue Dog next year, are also hoping the WWIIunes will return for the annual ceremony in Bethany.

“I’m hoping they bring them back this year to play,” Roman said. “Todd sang a couple of French songs and Jacqueline said he does pretty well.”

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