A Lawrence WWII vet remembers the song he wrote for the girl back home; 72 years later, their love story endures
Music is what brought Bruce and Chris Linton together as college sweethearts 75 years ago. It’s also what kept the couple connected to each other while war tore the rest of the world apart.
Their story is one of love surmounting all odds, like something out of a wind-swept romance starring the handsome American soldier and the pretty girl waiting for him back home. The Lintons’ story has all that and more — because it actually happened.
On Friday, the eve of Veterans Day, Bruce and Chris shared their memories of WWII — and how a mysterious poem, likely written by a fellow solider stationed overseas, inspired Bruce to write a love song to the “beautiful girl” he’d left behind.
That girl, of course, was Chris. And the song was a wistful, Cole Porter-style ballad simply titled “You and Me.”
“It’s a beautiful gift,” pianist Linda Mannering said of “You and Me,” which Bruce, then a 22-year-old Army corporal stationed in Fontainebleau, France, composed in June 1945.
Mannering accompanied the Lintons and a handful of their friends in a sing-along of “You and Me” Friday morning at the University of Kansas’ Adams Alumni Center, where members of KU’s Endacott Society meet every month to sing together just for fun.
“The best gift is a gift from the heart, and a gift of a song is something that only a few people could do,” Mannering said. “Only Bruce,” she added, could do that for Chris.
Bruce, a retired KU journalism professor, met his wife as a college sophomore (she was a freshman) during the first week of classes at Ohio’s Muskingum University in the fall of 1942. Chris played the glockenspiel in the school band; Bruce played the clarinet.
“It was in the reed section — I was a clarinetist — and I see this beautiful girl, this beautiful young lady, across the room, and I think, ‘I’ve got to meet her,'” Bruce remembered of his crush on the pretty glockenspiel player. “And I managed to do that the next day.”
“After band practice he said, ‘Let’s go have a Coke,'” Chris said. And that was that. Bruce promptly fell in love with her, but also felt called to service in 1943. He’d joined the Army to fight in Europe, where he served as a runner relaying messages between officers.
So, Bruce gave Chris a promise ring — she still wears the heart-shaped black onyx all these years later — and asked her if she’d consider a sort of unofficial engagement. They never announced it, Bruce recalls, and he thought it only fair that Chris have the chance to date around in college, but he kept his “fingers crossed” that she’d still want him when, and if, he came back.
By spring 1945, the fighting in Europe was over, and Bruce, after having been wounded in battle, was beyond homesick. He was walking the streets of Fontainebleau one day in June when he spotted a copy of either Yank magazine or Stars and Stripes.
He can’t recall which publication it was, but he does remember the anonymous poem printed on one of its pages, likely written by a fellow GI, he said.
The poem, which included dreamy images of “days gone by” and romantic walks under the moon, expressed many of the same “homesick” feelings Bruce was experiencing after two years away at war.
“Just about the way a GI would feel after quite a bit of battle in Europe and ready to come home — and not particularly ready to go fight in Japan,” Bruce said. “Let’s face it, I’d had enough.”
“By the time I wrote this, it was 1945, and I’d been away a long time,” he said. “Mail services were good, even when the war was still going in Europe.”
So, he composed his little ballad on June 10 and sent the sheet music off to Chris back in the States, to her complete surprise. Thousands of miles away, Chris sat down at the piano and played her soldier’s song. She liked it, and she wrote Bruce in France to tell him so.
In December, Bruce finally came home. Chris had dated around while Bruce was away, even going out with one fellow the night before they were finally reunited. Even so, she rode “all night” on the train to Bruce’s hometown in Illinois barely a day after he’d returned stateside.
“As soon as I saw him standing at the bottom of the train steps, I knew,” Chris recalled. “A lot of times vets came home, and they’d been separated and they broke up. That happened a lot. But we didn’t.”
That night, Bruce proposed, and Chris said yes.
“So, I had some letters to write to some guys telling them I was now engaged,” Chris recalled. “And I’d gotten some lovely Christmas presents from some of them.”
The Lintons were married on Valentine’s Day 1946. In just a few months, the pair will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary. Their song, “You and Me,” was sung by Chris’ bridesmaid at their wedding, and on two other occasions by Bruce — including a surprise performance on their 50th anniversary — but never with piano accompaniment.
Until Friday, that is. Now the Lintons and their Endacott Society friends plan on adding “You and Me” to their repertoire for future get-togethers.
Bruce said his friend, fellow KU retiree Paul Lim, convinced him to share the song with the group simply because the couple’s love story, he felt, was worth sharing.
Bruce, ever the journalism professor, thinks folks could use a bit good news these days anyway. He’s also a bit modest when it comes to having the story of his little song printed in the newspaper.
“I wish it were my words, but they weren’t,” Bruce said of the anonymous poem that inspired it.
Mannering, the pianist, told Bruce he’d written a “great song.”
“That would be a real heartwarming feeling to get a song like that,” she said to Chris. “It’d kind of make you weepy, wouldn’t it?”
Chris said she didn’t know whether it made her weepy, but she “sure was excited” when it arrived in the mail unannounced.
“Not many men could have done that,” Mannering said.
“No,” Chris agreed. “It was special.”