“It takes about eight or ten people behind the lines to support one person in the front lines.”
(Thomas Diener, Oral History Interview, 2005)
Thomas Diener never saw combat while serving during World War II with the Army Air Corps, but he was one of the essential troops supporting those at the front.
And behind all those troops are the supporting friends, families and spouses on the home front. Our service men and women rely on the encouragement and loyalty of their loved ones at home. For Thomas Diener, those loved ones were his family in Milwaukee, and most importantly, his sweetheart and later wife, Betty Jean Dealy.
Betty Jean and Tom both grew up in Milwaukee and started “going together” as young teens. Tom enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, and from July 5, 1943 until his discharge in 1946, he and Betty Jean were apart; their worlds turned upside down by the war. Despite the hardships faced, at home and abroad, they kept up a steady correspondence and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum is proud to have dozens of letters exchanged between the couple during wartime. It is obvious from reading these letters that their love and support for one another played a pivotal role in how they survived the war.
In this clip from his oral history interview, Tom mentions the letters between himself and Betty Jean and talks about the feelings of sacrifice and separation. In a letter (partially pictured and transcribed below), Betty Jean relays her reactions to V-J Day to Tom and her wish to share the celebration with him.
People ran out ~ kids yelled & blew horns & banged kettles & pots, etc. And I sat there ~ I couldn’t run out or do anything – you’ll probably think I’m crazy, but honey I couldn’t help crying ~ I tried not to ~ but I didn’t succeed. I ran in my bedroom ~ fell on the bed and just sobbed & sobbed ~ I was so happy ~ I just cried like I couldn’t stop ~ and I couldn’t ~ it seemed I cried for everything I had held deep inside for 4 years ~ I cried because the war was over ~ everything I’d lived and prayed and hoped for, for 4 years finally came true ~ and I couldn’t control myself ~ …
Now the next thing I want to celebrate is your homecoming ~ oh Darling, now maybe our dreams will begin to come true ~ Tommy there is no sense in me telling you how terribly much I wanted to be with you yesterday ~ or how much I thought about you ~ just every second Tommy darling!
(Betty Jean to Tom, dated August 15, 1945)
Betty Jean and Tom were married in 1948.
Not only did Betty Jean’s letters and love carry Tom through the war, her work in the post-war years when he was unemployed, helped put him through college. Of the war years and the years after, Tom said, “Through all of this, my wife was part of my life, of course. The most important part.”