From Wartime Tragedy to Love

George Harper and his wife Joy.

Reporter: Len Stevens

Goode, VA - George Harper has made quite a journey since his time in World War II.

He made it through the Battle of the Bulge, through a serious injury, and back home, where he found love.

Harper joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and went to war.

He was a navigator on a B-24 bomber with a solid crew. His job was to get his plane in position to knock out enemy transportation and supply lines.

"That's what cost 'em finally. They bogged down at that point," Harper said.

And he was good at it- constantly figuring and refiguring where his crew was and where they were going.

"I guess being an engineer, I enjoyed the numbers," Harper said.

But it was dangerous work. His 10th and final bombing run came on New Year's Day, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. Enemy flak had apparently punched a hole in their gas tank. They were nearly out of fuel, in enemy territory.

They turned to George.

"They asked me 'Okay, what's my heading?'" Harper recalled. "I said 'Southwest, sir.'"

To take advantage of a strong jet stream from the Northeast. With the wind at their backs... they made it to France.

"We were probably about 14,000 feet when we bailed out," Harper said.

All nine men leapt from the plane, minutes before it crashed. But as Harper descended, he only saw eight open chutes- including his own.

"Now, there was one missing. It was Dave, who went ahead of me," Harper said.

Dave Hensley 's chute never opened. He died at age 22. Harper nearly died. His chute was too small.

"When I got down closer to the ground, that ground was moving fast," Harper said.

He shattered his heel. Everything hurt. But he would recover and come home. Months later, on a trip to Texas, he sought out Dave's young widow, to tell her what happened.

"Every Christmastime after that, I sent everybody in the crew a Christmas card and I always included her," Harper said.

His wife Joy was impressed, particularly when another Christmas brought another card. The two started writing regularly.

"And all he wanted to do was go out and have fun," she said.

And they fell in love.

"Ended up getting hitched. And that was 63-plus years ago," Harper said.

The Harpers have done so much since then, even raised emus at one point. They're still in love. And it was war and Christmas cards that brought them together.

"He still thanks me for spending a three cent stamp on him!" Joy said laughing.

The Harpers now have five children, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

Harper says he's proud of his service, but a little sad to hear the Willow Run facility in Michigan, where his B-24 was built, has shut down. He sees that as the end of an era.