WWII veteran, wife celebrate 75 years of marriage

Jimmie and Jean Shields raised their family in Vandalia

Credit: Justin Spivey

Credit: Justin Spivey

Seventy-six years after World War II ended, only about 325,000 of its veterans are alive, and for many, the memories of those years are fading. In September of 1945, Jimmie Shields of Vandalia returned to the United States and began his life after the war.

Shields joined the Navy at just 16 years old and served two years. He signed on and finished high school at 17 and eventually was stationed in Hawaii. After fighting in seven major battles, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, which famously marked the United States’ official entry into the war, Shields’ military career ended when the war was over.

“I was born and raised in Covington, and I went home after the war,” Jimmie said. “I started enjoying my life as much as possible!”

Jimmie had his eye on a young woman named Alberta, with whom he went to high school. What was supposed to be a first date changed the course of his life forever.

The date with Alberta ended up being dinner and a concert with her entire family. Afterward, Alberta’s younger sister, Jean, told her that she wanted Jimmie for herself. And Alberta backed off immediately. On Sept. 21, 1946, Jimmie and Jean were married in their hometown of Covington, Kentucky when Jimmie was 21 and Jean was 16.

“Television was really ramping up at that time and I was into electronics,” Jimmie said. “I decided to go to school in Chicago.”

After they were married, Jimmie knew he needed to be home more than just weekends. The couple moved in with Jean’s mother and Jimmie got a job at the H. & S. Pogue Company in Cincinnati, selling shoes.

In 1947, the couple bought their first home in Newport, Kentucky, where their three children — Brenda (Doran), Beverly (Kelley) and Barry were born. Eventually Jimmie decided to sell insurance, got his license in three states and opened his first office in Dayton.

“We came to Ohio in 1955 and decided to move to Vandalia,” Jimmie said. “We thought it would be an excellent place for our children to grow up.”

Jean, who loves small town living, recalled that Vandalia was not yet a city and significantly smaller at that time.

For daughter Brenda Doran, now living in West Carrollton, growing up in Vandalia was idyllic. She and her siblings made new friends and enjoyed school. The one drawback was that without bus service at that time, Vandalia seemed far away from everything.

Doran said that growing up with young parents ended up being “really fun,” as they took the children everywhere and went on adventures together.

“My dad would spontaneously say things like ‘let’s go sledding,’” Doran said. “We’d cram the whole family into the car and a few friends and go to the sledding hill.”

Doran said her mother made the family her full-time job. But when her youngest child went to school, Jean got a job at Elder-Beerman in Dayton to supplement the family’s income. She stayed with the store for about 15 years.

When Jimmie retired, the couple bought a motor home and started traveling around the country. And throughout those years, their inspiring love story continued.

“I remember our parents would drop us off at the movie house,” Beverly Kelley said. “We’d turn around and they would be in the back row, snuggling!”

Earlier this week, the couple celebrated their 75th anniversary with a small family gathering. Today they have eight grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and 12 great-great grandchildren. And more than seven decades of wonderful memories.

Jean said she believes the secret to long and happy marriages is to always do things for one another and spend time together.

“He surprised me a lot with flowers,” Jean said. “And I still get them almost every week.”

Jimmie said the marriage has been nothing but wonderful from the beginning until now.

“If I made a trip somewhere, I’d always ask her to come along,” Jimmie said. “Fifty percent of the time, she would!”

Besides their children, the couple has shared interests, like playing pool and traveling. Though Jean is the more reserved of the two, she enjoyed watching her husband race cars and motorcycles as well as boats.

“I’d run my boat up to 70 miles per hour,” Jimmie said. “And she was right there with me. All the time.”

And until the global pandemic shut down everything, the couple went out dancing and to dinner every week.

“My baby was with me throughout everything,” Jimmie said. “I shot trap, fished in tournaments, skated and raced my boats. I was never without her. It has been more than I could ask for.”

Contact this contributing writer at banspach@ymail.com.

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