Separated First By War, Then Sickness, 2 WWII Veterans Are Laid To Rest Together

12 hours ago
Originally published on November 13, 2017 11:26 am

Every love story must have an ending. For Isabell and Preble Staver, the end came quietly last month, after more than seven decades of marriage.

The Stavers, who died in Norfolk on Oct. 25, were two of the hundreds of World War II veterans who are dying each day in the United States.

Isabell Whitney and Preble Staver met on a blind date while they were both studying in Philadelphia. A romance blossomed, their daughter Laurie Staver Clinton said, but was interrupted by the war. Her mother was a Navy nurse and her father was in the U.S. Marine Corps.

They married soon after the war ended and started a family with children — five in total.

Staver Clinton describes her father Preble, a Bronze Star recipient, as a tall, outgoing man with a strong, "larger than life" personality. She describes her mother as "my heart."

"She taught me how to be a kind person, how to be a compassionate person," she says.

Isabell spent years raising the couple's five children before eventually returning to work as a nurse. Staver Clinton says her mother kept the family running through multiple moves for Preble's career, and the loss of one of their sons, Peter, who died after a high school football injury in 1975.

At her home in Norfolk, Va., Staver Clinton said her mother's life was infused with a nurse's compassion — even when she was the patient. As Isabell slipped into dementia in recent years, Preble struggled to cope. They had to be moved to separate rooms at their long-term care facility, Staver Clinton said.

"When I would explain the need for the separation, Mom would go, 'But that's Daddy, that's Preble,' " she said. "Even in her demented state, she had that compassion and understanding that my dad's reaction to some of the disease process wasn't really a reaction to her, and she still wanted to be with him."

Jim Need, a friend from church who visited Preble often as his health began to fail, said his friend's love for Isabell was clear.

"Sometimes he was a little frustrated because she may not recognize him. But ... when she did, you could always just see him — just smiling, like crazy," Need said.

Staver Clinton said her parents shared an unexpected moment like that just days before their deaths, when Isabell was taken to visit Preble for his 96th birthday on Oct. 17.

"All of a sudden I heard this little warbly voice," Staver Clinton said. "And Mom, totally unprompted, sang 'Happy Birthday' to Dad."

It was all the more remarkable, she said, because her mother had stopped communicating with her father at that point.

Staver Clinton said Preble had told her months before that all he wanted for his birthday was to take a nap next to his wife, something they had been unable to do for a while because of their health. The family arranged for the couple to lie in bed together, where they slept side by side for two or three hours.

"It was the, really, the catalyst of them being able to let go, I believe," Staver Clinton said.

She said both of her parents seemed calmer and more peaceful afterward. Within a few days, a hospice nurse told Staver Clinton that both were moving closer to death.

On Oct. 25, days before what would have been her own 96th birthday, Isabell received last rites from their Episcopal priest while Preble held her hand. Preble died about 14 hours after Isabell, on the same day.

Jim Need said he thinks Preble was holding on, just long enough.

"I honestly feel he was waiting for her ... [the] Marine mentality," Need said. "He was going to take care of her until he knew she was OK."

On Nov. 10, the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, friends and family gathered in a Virginia Beach church for a joint funeral. With a Marine honor guard standing by, Isabell and Preble Staver were laid down together one last time — side by side in the old church cemetery.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The love story between Isabell and Preble Staver came quietly to an end last month. The couple was together for more than seven decades. The Stavers were two of the hundreds of World War II veterans who are dying each day. NPR's Sarah McCammon attended their funeral in Virginia Beach over Veterans Day weekend, and she has this remembrance.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Like so many couples of their generation, the romance of Isabell Whitney and Preble Staver was interrupted by World War II.

LAURIE STAVER CLINTON: They met on a blind date, and the romance bloomed.

MCCAMMON: Laurie Staver Clinton says her parents both served, her mother as a Navy nurse and her father in the Marine Corps. They were married soon after the war ended. Staver Clinton describes Preble Staver, a Bronze Star recipient, as a tall, outgoing man with a strong, larger-than-life personality.

CLINTON: And then Mom, oh, my gosh. She really was my heart.

MCCAMMON: Isabell Staver spent years raising the couple's five children before eventually returning to work. Staver Clinton says her mom kept the family running through multiple moves for Preble's career and the loss of one of their sons, Peter, who died after a high school football injury in the 1970s.

CLINTON: She taught me how to be a kind person, how to be a compassionate person.

MCCAMMON: As Isabell slipped into dementia in recent years, Preble struggled to cope. Last year, they had to be moved to separate rooms at their long-term care facility.

CLINTON: So when I would explain the need for the separation, Mom would look and see - she would go, but that's Daddy. That's Preble.

MCCAMMON: Jim Need, a friend from church who visited Preble often as his health began to fail, says his love for Isabell was clear.

JIM NEED: Sometimes he was a little frustrated because he - she may not recognize him, but the few times when she did, you could always see him just smiling, you know, like crazy.

MCCAMMON: Laurie Staver Clinton says her parents shared a moment like that just days before their death when Isabell was taken to visit Preble's room for his 96th birthday.

CLINTON: Then all of a sudden, I heard this little, warbly voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISABELL STAVER: (Singing) Happy birthday, dear Preble. Happy birthday to you.

CLINTON: Mom had stopped initiating course of conversation due to the disease process, and for her on Dad's birthday to sing "Happy Birthday" to him was just so touching.

MCCAMMON: Staver Clinton says all her father wanted for his birthday was to take a nap next to his wife, something they hadn't been able to do for a while. So the family arranged to lay Preble and Isabell in bed together where they slept side by side for two or three hours.

CLINTON: And it was really the catalyst of them being able to let go, I believe. Mom was much calmer after that.

MCCAMMON: Within a few days, a hospice nurse told Staver Clinton that both of her parents were moving closer to death. On October 25, days before what would have been her 96th birthday, Isabell received last rites from their Episcopal priest while Preble held her hand. About 14 hours after Isabel died, Preble was gone, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Lord be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: And with thy spirit.

MCCAMMON: Preble's friend Jim Need says he thinks Preble was holding on just long enough.

NEED: I have no doubt. I honestly feel he was waiting for her, you know, the - kind of the Marine - and this is a good thing - Marine mentality. He was going to take care of her until he knew she was OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Oh, God, our help in ages past...

MCCAMMON: On Friday afternoon, with a Marine honor guard standing by, Isabell and Preble Staver were laid down together one last time, side by side in the old church cemetery. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Virginia Beach. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.