How my aunt maneuvered me into the upstairs rooms I do not remember. But I distinctly remember sitting on the bed in a bedroom, my aunt in front of me on a chair, and Loma Dillon sitting beside me, with the box of old family pictures on her lap.
The Unspoken Answer
As we were looking over the family pictures, my Aunt Emma told us that my Uncle George had courted her and that they became engaged to be married in those same upstairs rooms, over the store. Then suddenly, when my aunt and Bertha had their eyes on a picture, Loma leaned over and whispered in my ear that she had something to tell me, a big secret. I “got the message” and squeezed her hand, but neither of us gave the others any idea of what had happened under their very eyes.
Not a word was spoken at the moment. But of course Loma and I knew I had received the unspoken answer. She was now sure. And the following morning, waiting at the depot for the train to take me to Des Moines, we agreed we were engaged to be married.
Actually, I had never proposed—that is, in so many words. We simply knew—and verbally agreed that we were engaged.
The Cloud of War
But even the happiness of knowing we were in love and engaged to be married was clouded by the war. The United States had been drawn into World War I, declaring war on Germany April 6, just five weeks and four days before we were engaged. It had left my future gravely in doubt.
Immediately after the declaration of war, or as soon as the call went out for voluntary enlistments for the Officers’ Training Camp at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, I had applied for entrance.
The Army did not have a fraction of the needed number of commissioned officers. It was impossible for West Point to graduate the required number quickly. To meet the emergency, Officers’ Training Camps were set up immediately at various locations. Intensive rush training had to be given to qualified applicants in time to provide officers to train draftees and volunteer soldiers in the large cantonments all over the country as soon as they could be built.
To qualify for admission to an Officers’ Training Camp, a candidate was required to be a college graduate or its equivalent. Lacking a degree, the equivalent had to be testified to by three men of known prominence. I was very glad to be able to obtain a letter from Arthur Reynolds, President of Chicago’s largest bank, the Continental & Commercial National (now the Continental-Illinois National), saying he had been personally acquainted with me for several years (I knew him when he was President of the Des Moines National before he went to Chicago) and considered that I had acquired considerably more than the equivalent of a college education. I obtained similar letters from an official of Halsey-Stuart Company, prominent investment bankers, and from my friend Ralph G. Johnson, manager of the Chicago office of The Merchants Trade Journal.
Immediately I purchased an army officers’ military manual and began to study. Also I enrolled in a drill class organized for preliminary training of officer candidates at one of the armories. But as an army officer I was certainly a “greenhorn” as evidenced by a snapshot I had of Ralph Johnson and me patriotically trying to salute in front of the Hotel Del Prado, where we both lived. I had not yet learned that a soldier must keep his heels together.
Attempting to Be an Army Officer
I successfully passed the physical examination, and received notice that I had been accepted for admission, with orders to report at Ft. Sheridan on a definite date, which I do not now remember.
Then a few days before I was to enter camp, a second notice came. It advised me that in the last minute rush the Army had received six times as many applications as it could accept, and consequently first choice had been given to those with previous military experience, and secondly, to the taller men. I was only average height for those days. The notice expressed great appreciation by the government for my patriotism, but regretfully notified me that I could not now be accepted. However, I was advised that I might apply for enlistment in the second session after graduation of the first, some three months later.
Immediately I applied for entrance into the second Officers’ Training Camp. Again I was accepted, and notified to report on a definite date. But again, at the last minute, an overflow of applications by men of previous military experience or taller men crowded me out.
I applied for admission in the Quartermasters’ Corps, feeling that if I could not enter the army as an officer, I could serve better in its business department than as a private. But here again the rush of men enlisting was too great, and this department was already filled to capacity.
“Well,” I said in some disappointment, “I’ve tried. Now I’m going to let them throw a rope around my neck in the draft and come and get me.”
Meanwhile, as related above, Loma and I became engaged on May 15th.
The Marriage Problem of Every War
And immediately we faced the age-old problem that always has confronted engaged couples in time of war. Many of my readers also faced this same problem, either in World War I, World War II, the Korean war or the war in Vietnam. Those of you who have will understand.
I felt that our marriage should be postponed until after the war, as most men feel at such times. Loma wanted to be married before I donned a uniform—as girls in love usually do.
Our arguments will bring back memories to those of you who also found yourselves in love in time of war.
“Suppose,” I argued—as perhaps millions of men have argued—“I should be seriously wounded, and come home crippled for life. I wouldn’t want you to be tied for life to a disabled man. And then you’d never be free to marry another.”
“I would never want to marry anyone else,” she countered. “And if you should come home crippled or disabled, then more than ever I would want to be your wife to help you. But if we were not already married, you’d be too proud to marry me then—you’d think I was marrying you out of pity, and you’d refuse. So I want to be your wife before you go into the army.”
“Yes, but I might even be killed in action, and then you’d be a widow. I would rather leave you still single and free to marry someone else.”
“If you should be killed,” came her immediate answer, “then I would want to be your widow. And as for falling in love with anyone else, you look here, Herbert Armstrong! Do you think you could fall in love with some other girl?”
“No of course not!” I replied.
Around and around we went. As fast as I could think of another reason for waiting until after the war, she countered with a ready answer. We simply could not agree.
Finally, “Tell you what I’ll do,” I concluded. “I will take our problem to the chairman of my draft board. He is a college professor, Prof. J. Paul Goode of the University of Chicago.”
Finally she agreed to this.
One of my strongest arguments against pre-war marriage had been the fact that thousands were getting married to escape the draft. At the outset of World War I, married men were not being drafted. Those who married to escape the draft became contemptuously referred to as “slackers.” I did not want to be called a “slacker.” I was sure that Dr. Goode would advise me not to marry prior to war service.
Accordingly, as soon as I returned to Chicago, I sought and obtained an interview with Dr. Goode. He listened attentively, asked questions, got all the facts. Then he surprised me by advising me to marry Miss Dillon at once.
It is, of course, difficult to remember many details and dates of such events after forty-one years. But a letter to my mother (then in Weiser, Idaho, partially reproduced in this volume), brings much vividly to memory.
This letter was written Friday night, July 20th. The first drawings of draft numbers, to determine by lot which men would be called to camp first, had taken place in Washington, D. C. that morning. My registration number was 1858. It was one of the earliest numbers drawn. I wrote that I figured I would be among the first 80,000 men drafted in the entire country. And since an army of some four million was actually put into service, it was apparent that I would be called to training camp on the very first group.
It appeared, however, that due to delays in building and equipping the training camps the first contingent would not be sent to camp before October 1st.
I had been out to Motor, Iowa, visiting Loma on this trip and now was on my way back to Chicago. However, on getting this news of my early draft, I stated in this letter: “This is Friday night, so I am going back to Motor early in the morning, to spend Saturday and Sunday with Loma. It’s getting harder to remain away from her, someway, and I can’t return to Chicago now without another visit. Loma still wants to be married before I go (into service). I have put up every possible objection to it I could think of, and they are numerous, but she brushes them all aside, says she has considered them all and still wants to (be married first).”
We Set the Date
Next morning Loma and her father met me at the depot with their Ford car. I had given her, by long distance telephone, the news of the draft. For the first time she was not beautiful. She was sobbing. Leaning her head on my shoulder, her tears dripping down my chest, she sobbed that she wanted to be married before I went to camp.
What man is strong enough to resist a woman’s tears?
My Aunt Emma had been on her side. Professor Goode had been on her side. And her tears were on her side. I was unanimously outvoted—for this swung even me over on her side—and I acquiesced, as I suppose men have done in such circumstances ever since Adam and Eve.
We decided to be married as soon as possible. She needed a week to make all preparations to come to Chicago. I needed a week to locate a place for us to live. It was now July 21st. My twenty-fifth birthday was the 31st. We decided she was to be the finest birthday present of my life.
Sunday night I caught the sleeper in Des Moines for Chicago. Loma spent a busy week sewing and preparing. The minister’s wife gave a shower for her, attended by nearly everyone in the neighborhood. Mrs. Gertie Shoemaker, mother of one of her first grade little girls, Irene, worked steadily with Loma, sewing, all that week. She is still one of Mrs. Armstrong’s best friends, whom she visits whenever she is in Iowa—and that little first-grade daughter of Mrs. Shoemaker is today herself the mother of a fifteen-year-old daughter, Mary Kay.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, I had succeeded in renting a nicely furnished apartment for six weeks from a family going away on vacation. It was located on the North side on Wilson Avenue, between the Evanston “L” line and the lake.
The Wedding Day
On Monday, July 30th, Loma, accompanied by her father and stepmother (her own mother had died when she was twelve), did her final shopping in Des Moines, and boarded the night sleeper for Chicago. We had arranged for her to leave the train at suburban Englewood station, and I was to meet her there.
She would never let me forget that I was ten or fifteen minutes late in arriving. Never having been in so large a city before, she was frightened. She telephoned my office, but I was on an “L” train en route to meet her.
I was imbued with the advertising man’s flare for first impressions. In those days I felt very proud of Chicago. I always enjoyed showing visitors the biggest or the largest of everything—the largest stockyards in the world, the largest store, the largest theatre (until New York built bigger). I wanted my bride’s first glimpse of Chicago’s “Loop” to be the impressive Grant Park view, overlooking Michigan Boulevard. So I took her on an “L” train over to the Illinois Central commuter train in Jackson Park, thence to the “I. C.” commuter station in downtown Grant Park.
We walked through Chicago’s “Loop,” up to my office, where by this time I was sharing a private office with another tenant; then a block north on Clark Street to the County Building and the Marriage License Bureau, where we obtained our marriage license.
We had lunch at the then most famous Chinese restaurant in Chicago, King Joy Lo’s. We went back out to Jackson Park on the South Side, took some camera pictures, then to the Hotel Del Prado where I had lived for nearly two years. I asked Miss Lucy Cunningham, the 70-year-old most popular “girl” in residence at the Del Prado, to accompany us as a witness to the marriage ceremony. She took Loma to her room for a little relaxing rest and freshening up. Then we three walked a short distance to the residence of Dr. Gilkey, pastor of the Hyde Park Baptist Church. I much admired his preaching.
I had made arrangements beforehand for the wedding at the home of Dr. Gilkey. He had been unexpectedly called out of the city. But his father-in-law, a Dr. Brown, pastor of the Oak Park Baptist Church, was on hand to perform the ceremony. Dr. Brown was a very handsome and distinguished appearing elderly man. Mrs. Gilkey was the second witness.
And so, in what I have always felt was the nicest simple little wedding ceremony I have ever seen, with only five people present, we were married for the remainder of our natural lives, and I placed the wedding ring on her finger and kissed my own darling wife.
I myself have since officiated at so many weddings I have long since lost count of the number—some of them somewhat more elaborate, with many guests—some as plain and simple as our own. But somehow I have always felt there is no nicer wedding than a plain, simple ceremony without ostentation of formal dress, with only the minister and two witnesses present.
I think it is usually the brides’ mothers who engineer the lavish weddings.
In any event, we were married, not as so many deluded people are today, “till divorce do us part,” but till death do us part.
The Unrecognized Call
Our first home together seemed to us to be a very lovely apartment. Of course we were to have it only six weeks, but it was nice while it lasted. It had to substitute for a honeymoon. The beach was only about two blocks down Wilson Avenue. We spent many hours there.
One night my wife had a dream so vivid and impressive it overwhelmed and shook her tremendously. It was so realistic it seemed more like a vision. For two or three days afterward everything else seemed unreal—as if in a daze—and only this extraordinary dream seemed real.
In her dream she and I were crossing the wide intersection, only a block or two from our apartment, where Broadway diagonally crosses Sheridan Road. Suddenly there appeared an awesome sight in the sky above. It was a dazzling spectacle—the sky filled with a gigantic solid mass of brilliant stars, shaped like a huge banner. The stars began to quiver and separate, finally vanishing. She called my attention to the vanishing stars, when another huge grouping of flashing stars appeared, then quivering, separating, and vanishing like the first.
As she and I, in her dream, looked upward at the vanishing stars, three large white birds suddenly appeared in the sky between us and the vanishing stars. These great white birds flew directly toward us. As they descended nearer, she perceived that they were angels.
“Then,” my wife wrote a day or two after the dream, in a letter to my mother which I have just run across among old family pictures, “it dawned on me that Christ was coming, and I was so happy I was just crying for joy. Then suddenly I thought of Herbert and was rather worried.”
She knew I had evidenced very little religious interest, although we had attended a corner church two or three times.
Then it seemed that, from among these angels in her dream, that, “Christ descended from among them and stood directly in front of us. At first I was a little doubtful and afraid of how He would receive us, because I remembered we had neglected our Bible study and had our minds too much on things apart from His interests. But as we went up to Him, He put His arms around both of us, and we were so happy! I thought people all over the world had seen Him come. As far as we could see, people were just swarming into the streets at this broad intersection. Some were glad and some were afraid.
“Then it seemed He had changed into an angel. I was terribly disappointed at first, until he told me Christ was really coming in a very short time.”
At that time, we had been going quite regularly to motion-picture theatres. She asked the angel if this were wrong. He replied Christ had important work for us to do, preparing for His coming—there would be no time for “movies.” (Those were the days of the “silent” pictures.) Then the angel and the whole spectacle seemed to vanish, and she awakened, shaken and wondering!
In the morning, she told me of her dream. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to think about it, yet I was afraid to totally dismiss it. I thought of a logical way to evade it myself, and still solve it.
“Why don’t you tell it to the minister of the church up on the corner,” I casually suggested, “and ask him whether it means anything.”
With that, I managed to put it out of my mind.
Let me say here that in about 99,999 times out of 100,000, when people think God is speaking to them in a dream or vision in this day and age, it is pure imagination, or some form of self-hypnotism or self-deception. I have only come to believe that this dream was a bonafide call from God in the light of subsequent events.
Do not hastily ascribe a dream to God. True, the Bible shows that God has spoken to His own chosen servants by this means of communication—primarily in the Old Testament, and before the writing of the Bible was completed. But most dreams mean nothing. And false prophets have misled people by telling false dreams, representing their dreams to be the Word of God (Jeremiah 23, where God says, “I am against prophets who recount lying dreams, leading my people astray with their lies and their empty pretensions, though I never sent them, never commissioned them”—verse 32, Moffatt translation).
Certainly I did not ascribe this dream to God. It made me feel a little uncomfortable at the time, and I was anxious to forget it—which I did for some years. I was twenty-five at the time. God left me to my own ways for five more years. But when I was age thirty, He began to deal with me in no uncertain terms, and from that time every business or money-making venture I attempted was turned into utter defeat.
The Draft Classification
Upon return of the people from whom we rented the apartment, we stayed on in the bedroom we had occupied a few days. A friend of theirs, a desk clerk at Hotel Sherman, was looking for temporary tenants on a similar basis. His wife and children were to be gone a month. He kept one room for himself, and rented the rest of the apartment to us for the month. Then we moved to a single bedroom of an apartment occupied by a Mrs. Brookhart in the same general North Side neighborhood, where we had dining room and kitchen privileges at times when Mrs. Brookhart was not using them. By this time we knew that we were to become parents.
It was about this time, probably late September, that the draft boards had their questionnaires ready for filling out. The questionnaire included a question as to marriage status, whether there were children or a pregnancy; and also a question regarding religious affiliation. I wrote down “Quaker,” but realizing the Quakers were being granted exemption as conscientious objectors, I wrote in the words: “I do not ask for exemption because of Church affiliation.”
I was still expecting to go to army camp as soon as the camps were ready. But no call came, and a few weeks later I received my draft classification card. Dr. Goode had personally marked it “Class IV, Noncombatant,” probably because he remembered I had married on his personal advice, with no intention of evading the draft.
I have mentioned that I sold advertising space by first writing the copy and selling that. Always these ads were carefully gone over with my wife before submitting them to prospective advertisers. The surveys made were discussed and planned with her active participation. From the time of marriage, we have always been partners in whatever was my work.
I remember her saying, not many days after we were married: “They say a wife either makes or breaks her husband. Well, you just watch me make mine!” But do not receive the impression that she “wore the trousers” in our family. She was a woman of purpose, of ideas, vision, depth of mind, resourcefulness and great initiative. But the responsibility of being head of the family was mine, and I have assumed it.
An Emergency Call
About one o’clock one afternoon a telephone call came from my wife. It was a desperate emergency call. She was sobbing so that she could hardly talk. “Something terrible has happened,” she said between sobs. “Hurry! Come home quickly!”
“What’s happened?” I asked. She couldn’t tell me, over the telephone. “Just hurry home—quick! Oh, it’s terrible! Hurry!”
I ran full speed to the elevator, and out to the street below, where I hailed a cab. No time to take the “L” train. I asked the cab driver to rush full speed to our address.
Dashing up the stairs two steps at a time, I ran into our apartment and took my sobbing wife in my arms.
“What on earth is it?” I demanded.
Then she told me, still sobbing. She had lost faith in two women!
“Those women told dirty stories!”
She had been introduced to an elderly woman by the people of the second apartment we had occupied after marriage. She had seemed such a kindly, nice old lady. My wife had gone to visit with her several times.
On this particular day, this lady was entertaining my wife and one other woman at luncheon. These two women began to tell dirty stories and laugh at them. Mrs. Armstrong was shocked. She had never heard that kind of language come from the mouth of a woman before. She was horrified! Manners or no manners, she suddenly excused herself, and ran from the woman’s apartment. She continued running all the way to our apartment and immediately called me.
I looked at my innocent, naive, trusting little wife incredulously!
“Is that all!” I exploded, almost speechless. “Look here, Loma! Do you mean to tell me you called me away from an important business conference, and caused me to waste cab fare all the way out here, for nothing more serious than that?”
My sweet, trusting little wife was so broken up at having to lose faith in people that I found it necessary to remain with her the rest of the day. We took a long walk out Sheridan Road, and probably then went to a movie to get her mind off of it.
The disillusionment she experienced in Chicago caused her a great deal of suffering. She learned that many if not most people in a great metropolitan city become hard, suspicious, selfish, more mechanical than human. •