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Manatee couple looks back on marriage that withstood World War II

ELLENTON

There was no honeymoon for the newlyweds.

What little money Eleanor and Ivan Marion possessed went toward furniture and their first apartment.

That’s where they got married that winter almost 70 years ago in Cortland, N.Y.

“We were broke,” said Eleanor, 90.

“Tough times back then,” said Ivan, 89.

They were about to get a lot tougher.

For them. For every American.

On the eve of their 69th wedding anniversary, the couple are forever grateful for their good fortune -- a lasting marriage whose foundation was forged during war.

“They’re a team,” said daughter Connie Rejman, 58.

The Marions were married Dec. 6, 1941, and awoke the following day to news of a Japanese attack that would plunge the U.S. into World War II.

“We heard a paper boy shouting, ‘Special, special! Read all about it! Pearl Harbor’s been attacked.’ I didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was,” Ivan Marion said. “We knew war was threatening. So when that happened, we knew I was on my way somewhere and soon.”

A year later, Marion was in North Africa, part of a tank crew in the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron under Gen. George Patton.

During the next 34 months Marion would be part of the invasion of Sicily and the battle for Italy under Gen. Mark Clark until war’s end at the Switzerland border.

“We were the scouts -- the point people -- and had 60 percent casualties,” he said. “We knew pretty much what the situation was when we entered a town. If it was a ghost town, watch your step. The Germans were still there. It was tough fighting.”

Liberating Rome was different.

Marion’s armored unit was one of the first into the Eternal City.

“People were lining both sidewalks, trying to hand you a glass of wine, throwing flowers,” he said. “It was pretty safe.”

His wife knew better.

Eleanor Marion worked in a munitions plant and many of her co-workers also had husbands in harm’s way.

Whether she received mail from him was a reliable indicator how his war was going.

“You could tell when he was at the front, because we didn’t get letters for quite a while,” Marion’s wife said. “Then you would. That’s how we kept track of him.”

Waiting for word was difficult.

“You’re tense. Afraid,” she said. “You always had that on your mind, that he might not come back. So I kept on working. If he didn’t, OK, I’d have to continue on.”

Eleanor Marion had seen several co-workers receive such dreaded news and shared their heartache.

“So many of my friends in the factory, their husbands didn’t make it. There were a lot of us in the same boat. You felt for them because you knew he might be next,” she said. “I was very lucky.”

Their reunion in October 1945 was romantic.

It was also comical.

Discharged at midnight from Fort Dix, N.J., Ivan Marion went to Philadelphia where Eleanor was staying at another couple’s home.

Only he didn’t know which of two rowhouses it was in the darkness.

“I figured I’d recognize the house, but two were exactly alike,” he said. “So I picked one, knocked on the door, got no answer and carefully opened the door.”

Marion went inside, turned on a light and saw was a banner that said “Welcome Home.”

“But it didn’t tell me whether it was the right house because a lot of guys were coming home,” he said.

Marion proceeded to a stairway door, hollered, got no response, tiptoed up and opened a bedroom door.

Inside was a woman asleep with her back toward him.

Marion tapped her on the shoulder.

“I thought, if I got the wrong woman, after going through a war and making it home, I’m going to get shot,” he kidded.

It was Eleanor Marion.

“After a few tears and kisses,” he said, “I knew I had the right person.”

“It was wonderful,” she said.

The Marions returned to upstate New York, raised a family and made a life.

There was time for ballroom dancing, hunting in the Adirondacks and fishing in Canada.

They moved here in 1992 and Ivan Marion joined the Audubon Society.

“It’s been a nice, interesting clean life,” his wife said.

A long, fulfilling one, too.

“We’re old school. You get married, you make it a lifetime proposition,” Ivan Marion said. “We’re going to go on a honeymoon one of these days, too.”

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