A Wartime Romance: Armstrong professors and students uncover a never-ending love story.
Sara and Marvin King had a love that was unwavering, even in the face of physical separation. Marvin enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in November 1944, while Sara remained at their home in Royston, Ga.
“Realizing the days are numbered for us to be together may seem awful but not so bad as you think,” Marvin wrote to Sara on November 13, 1944. “We may be apart for a while as far as our bodies are concerned but we’ll really be close to each other. I won’t ever forget to think about you every day darling.”
Marvin and Sara aren’t characters from a Nicholas Sparks romance novel, but rather the center of an artifact that is currently sitting in the Armstrong archives. In the fall of 2013, Armstrong professor of history June Hopkins came into possession of a World War II era trunk.
“Zack Blaylock was a student from my U.S. Surveys class,” explains Hopkins. “One day, he brought me a trunk that his grandmother bought at an auction and later passed down to him. I opened it, and my eyes popped out.”
Inside the trunk was a lifelong story told through letters, war uniforms, report cards, and even homemade scrapbooks of a soldier named Marvin and his loving wife Sara. From 1928
through 1962, fragments of their life were documented and are now being examined by Hopkins, Armstrong professor of history Barbara Fertig, and Armstrong students who have become invested in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore this unique wartime romance.
The story of the trunk’s contents began to unfold in Fertig’s Museum Studies class in the fall. Undergraduate and graduate students worked side by side and began to organize and index the artifacts in preparation for the contents to be studied.
For eight weeks, Fertig’s students diligently cataloged all the contents of the trunk down to a single, cryptic button imprinted with an anchor that, for some unknown reason, Sara kept.
“They found all the contents quite exciting,” she explains. “This experience has now made them academic historians and preservationists.”
Fertig’s students made a virtual exhibit of the trunk’s contents and presented their findings to Hopkins’ special topics history class on the New Deal and World War II. As Hopkins’ students
began to delve further into their study of the war era, they had hands-on access to the trunk.
With every letter, scrapbook, and piece of memorabilia that was analyzed and researched, Marvin and Sara began to come to life. Armstrong students were no longer just studying history, they were helping history unfold into one of those rare love stories that captivates us even generations beyond its existence.
Sara Wakefield was intelligent, as reflected in her stellar grade school report cards from the 1920s and ’30s. During her seventh grade year at Harrison Consolidated School in Myrtle Turner’s class, she met the love of her life, Marvin. The pair eventually married and, though they never had children together, their lives were fulfilled by the deep love and admiration they shared.
“From the letters and the scrapbooks, we know that Sara was a very romantic woman, and she and Marvin had a very close relationship,” says Fertig. “And if you read Marvin’s letters, they were just as romantic as Sara’s.”
Both Marvin and Sara were in their 20s when Marvin was away with the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war, and Sara did everything she could to remain close to Marvin throughout their time apart. By reading letters from Sara to Marvin and examining two ice cream cups, students discovered Marvin was away for one of his birthdays, so Sara held a party for him.
“Sara had a birthday party, but it was just her,” explains Hopkins. “She made two Skippy cups of ice cream, ate hers, ate Marvin’s and then cleaned both of the cups and placed them in the trunk.”
Sara was a collector of memories, and many of her keepsakes and scrapbooks in the trunk can
be compared to the modern day utilization of Pinterest. Thanks to these artifacts, Hopkins, Fertig and their students have been able to construct the story of Marvin and Sara’s life from grade school through World War II.
The trunk abruptly ends with a single postcard from Sara dated May 30, 1962, which contains the imprints of four kisses made in red lipstick. This postcard is just one example of the many questions the trunk leaves.
Why was there a postcard from almost 20 years after World War II? The trunk offers no explanation of the paths Marvin and Sara’s lives took after the war. However, from the kissed postcard, we do know that the couple was still very much in love 20 years after the war ended.
The trunk has found a permanent home at Armstrong, and according to Hopkins and Fertig, its contents will continue to be studied by students for years to come. While Marvin and Sara never rose to become famous historical figures, the story of their love has made its mark in history many decades later.