Harold and Clara Cross as seen in a recent photo.

Harold and Clara Cross as seen in a recent photo. Credit: Handout

Clara and Harold "Hal" Cross of Riverhead celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this year. Hal recalls how they broke all the rules to be together.

I met Clara Vespucci in 1942. We were serving in the Army during World War II at Camp Clayborne in central Louisiana. I was a 19-year-old medic from Canton, Ohio. Clara, 22, was a registered nurse and hailed from Brooklyn. I was hooked the first time I saw her. She also impressed me with the compassion she showed her patients.

Clara was attracted to me, too, but kept turning me down when I asked for a date. She was a first lieutenant, and I was a private. I took orders from her (still do). Officers and enlisted personnel are not allowed to fraternize, and she was concerned that I'd end up in the brig.

However, everyone at the camp could see we were falling in love and turned a blind eye when Clara finally agreed to a date. I would pick her up at the officers' barracks for our dates, and no one ever reported us. They even set up a bench in the back of the camp's movie theater -- which had separate seating for enlistees and officers -- so we could sit together.

Clara kept turning down my marriage proposals too until I told her I was being shipped out to Taunton, England. On Aug. 7, 1943, the day before I was to leave, we got permission from the colonel, grabbed the chaplain and were married at the camp's chapel.

I was in England for a year before I joined the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Clara and I wrote to each other over the next two years.

When the war ended I was put on a ship to New York. Clara was serving in Longview, Texas, and would soon be discharged. I got a furlough and went to Brooklyn to meet my in-laws for the first time. Then I made my way to Texas. There was one problem: I hadn't gotten my discharge papers yet, so I was considered AWOL, or absent without official leave. The military police arrested me as soon as I got to the base and brought me in front of the colonel. When I told him I was just there to get my wife and that I had a train ticket back to New York, he put me in Clara's custody with orders to get me on that train.

Clara retired in 1980 from Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, where she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit. She had been a registered nurse for 35 years. I retired in 1985 as chief draftsman with Foster Wheeler in Manhattan. I still serve as a guest preacher at the Church of Christ in Riverhead.

We have three daughters, 10 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. After 70 years of marriage, she's still my doll and I'm still her boyfriend.

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