The wedding of Carl and Betty Kilgore was a simple ceremony performed at her parents’ home in Harveytown by the Rev. Sheridan Sprecker. No flower girl, no limousine or a honeymoon that they couldn’t afford — just a drive in Carl’s old Chevy sedan back to their rented apartment to begin a marriage that celebrated 70 years in December.
“Betty told me that she had her eyes on me even before our first date,” Carl said. “Her sister Maxine had married my brother Ernest, and we became acquainted during family gatherings. We dated less than four months when I showed Betty an engagement ring one evening at a Westmoreland restaurant. She gave the ring a closer look, tried it on for size and said in a matter-of-fact voice: ‘It’s about time.’ ”
They spent the weekend alone after the wedding.
“Monday morning, Betty went back to her cashier job at the grocery store next to the Abbott Theater on 14th Street, and I went back to Nabisco Company on 7th Avenue,” Carl said. “We began saving a little money and making plans for the future when almost three months to the day — I was drafted.”
The draft notice ripped their world apart. Even the promise that Nabisco would save Carl’s job met little with the thought of separating from Betty. They stored or sold what furniture they had acquired, and 19-year-old Betty went back home to Harveytown to help with the care of her grandmother while telling herself that two years would pass quickly.
“After I was tested, inspected and categorized at the recruiting center in the Ventura Hotel in Ashland, Kentucky, I reported to the Huntington train station the next morning for boot camp,” Carl said.
In March 1951, 21-year-old Private Kilgore boarded a troop train loaded with new recruits with freshly shaved heads and headed for Camp Pickett, Virginia. The only thing of value he took with him was a wedding picture.
“Worst thing about boot camp was trying to understand the reason for most of it,” Carl said. “It was quite a surprise to learn firsthand that the food wasn’t all that bad. We marched a lot. I think we marched just to keep us busy.”
Carl’s assignment to Germany was an ocean crossing that became an adventure he will never forget.
“It was early on the 4th of November, 1951,” said Kilgore. “We were sailing in the North Sea to Bremerhaven, Germany, on the troop ship General M.L. Hersey. Then, it was almost like we struck an iceberg. The ship shook; some were knocked from their bunk. For a while, things got quite chaotic”.
Records tell of the fog that morning being so thick it was spooky. Still questions remain, but the M.L. Hersey had struck an Argentine luxury motor ship named Maipo with 238 people on board. The Maipo sank in three hours, but not before everyone was safely transported to the M.L. Hersey.
“I finished my hitch in Germany,” Carl said. “Mostly doing patrols, guard duty, walking a sentry post, firing weapons and more training.”
Among the things to do when he returned home was to fulfill a wedding promise.
“Betty and I left for a weeklong honeymoon to Niagara Falls shortly after my discharge from the Army,” he said. “True to their promise, Nabisco gave me back my job, and I kept it for 40 years until I retired.”
The Kilgores bought their Wayne County home for $5,000 in 1953, and they raised four children there. Betty worked at Sylvania Electric until the firstborn, after that she became involved with everything the kids brought home. Carl tried Marshall for a year thinking he might like to teach, but it became too much with other obligations.
Over the years, there have been trips to visit family in Florida, and later a couple of South America cruise vacations. Carl had nearly 7,000 hours volunteering at Cabell Huntington Hospital before COVID-19 terminated all volunteers. Betty stayed involved with support of any team her children got involved with.
“It’s OK to discuss different opinions,” Betty said, “but never a reason to raise your voice. Make sure you know what your wedding vows mean, know they are sacred and not to be taken lightly.”
“I never go to bed mad,” Carl said. “Maybe a little confused at times, but never mad.”
Four children, 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandkids — all from a marriage of two young devout Christians who have shared something special for 70 years.