BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s a love story for the ages, one that has endured since World War II, and one that continues just as strong today as it did 72 years ago.
Harry and Jean Rhizor first met in 1946 while stationed in Florida. The World War II veterans married less than a year later and have shared a lifetime of adventures together since then.
Now at 91 and 93, the couple continue to share their lives together while living at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.
“We’re living happily ever after,” said Harry with a smile.
On June 6, 1944, Allied soldiers stormed the the beaches of Normandy, which led to the eventual downfall of German forces. A few years later, the date would come to hold even more significance for Harry and Jean when the couple married on the anniversary of D-Day.
It was a fitting date to get married on, said the couple, because Harry and Jean are both World War II Navy veterans.
“That war was the war everybody responded to,” said Harry.
And like so many people from that generation, Harry and Jean volunteered their services to the war effort as soon as they were old enough. Harry was only 17 at the time.
“In those days, everybody wanted to go into the service," he recalled. "A lot of guys signed up to go at 15, 16 years of age illegally.”
“When I signed up, I was ready to go wherever they sent me," said Jean.
While Harry trained to be a radioman and gunner, Jean was part of the Navy Wave for women. But the war came to an end before either of them was called to duty overseas.
“The war was coming to an end and while I was in training, Germany surrendered," said Harry. "A lot of us were thinking we’re not going to get to go to combat; and it wound up that’s what happened.”
Shortly after that, Harry and Jean’s life together began. They met at Naval Station Banana River near Cocoa Beach, Fla. in 1946. A courtship began soon after.
Laughing together, the couple remember those early days as being a little uncertain.
“She was a little skeptical,” said Harry.
“Yeah, I was a little skeptical! There were so many choices back then!” exclaimed Jean. "One day, I had a date in the afternoon with one guy and a date that night with someone different. So I had a big selection. But of course, you know, you must’ve stood out.”
“Probably because I was the youngest one!” laughed Harry.
After the war ended, Harry continued on with his military career and Jean went home to finish college. The couple exchanged vows not long after.
“The first time, we rented a car in Alabama, drove all the way to Alabama to the justice of the peace, to find out I needed a permission from my parents," said Harry. "I was only 19. But we got it and went back.”
They went on to have three boys, two of them twins. With Harry still in the service, Jean adjusted to life as a military wife, which left her alone for long periods of time to raise the boys.
“I’ve heard so many women say to their kids, ‘You just wait until your father gets home,’" she said. "And that’s not right! You’ve got to discipline them and get it done when it happens.”
“She did an excellent job," said Harry. "She should get a mother of two decades award!”
It’s that kind of mutual respect and teamwork that helped them through their ups and downs, and that teamwork continues today. They work together to stay healthy and active, hitting the one-mile walking trail several days a week. Harry attributes their relatively good health to Jean.
“I’ve always been the health nut!" said Jean. “I try to drag him along and he digs his heels in but usually he’s pretty good.”
They also believe in keeping it simple, and that communication is one of the keys to a successful marriage and family. That’s one reason they don’t have a computer and they only have one cell phone between the two of them for emergencies.
“People don’t talk to each other any more,” said Harry. “You see them at restaurants and everywhere playing with their little toys, not talking.”
Growing up during the Great Depression followed by World War II, the couple learned important life lessons that have served them well.
“We knew how to suffer," said Jean. "We knew how to make do with what we had. We didn’t have to go buy stuff and max out credit cards. We didn’t have credit cards. We didn’t watch TV or have TV! We had a good beginning and I think that made a big difference. We weren’t so spoiled.”
With their 72nd wedding anniversary approaching, the couple reflects on their past and on the many sacrifices so many made on D-Day.
“The Americans and the Allies did something that had never been done before," said Harry. "They stopped two countries from trying to conquer the world. And they did a good job of it. It’s just at that time, we probably were the best generation the country has ever had.”
The Rhizors will spend their anniversary on D-Day traveling with a group of over 40 World War II veterans to the World War II Museum in New Orleans as part of a bus tour.