Overheard at the USO: The WWII War Hero and the Rose of San Antone


As they provide a touch of home to the troops and military family members who pass through our USO Centers at Bush InterContinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU) Airports, our USO volunteers often hear incredible stories from service members. The following is a story an Air Force Major recently shared with volunteer, Paul, at the IAH USO Center. The Major encouraged us to share the story on our site.  


The year was 1944. My grandfather, John, was being medically evaluated in San Antonio and hoped to return to duty, this time in the Pacific. He had already served with the 3rd Infantry Division in the European Theater, earning a Silver Star and several Purple Hearts as the US Army fought its way through North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. But the doctor said, “Son, you’ve given enough,” and John was released from active duty due to his multiple injuries.


[Note: John’s birth name was actually J.W., but the Army did not accept the fact that his first and middle name were only initials so they "issued" the name John!]

John made the most of his downtime in San Antonio, seeing the sights with friends. One evening, John was standing on a bridge in downtown San Antonio, waiting for his friends, when an Army Chaplain approached him and suggested he head to the USO Center just down the street. As incentive, the Chaplain mentioned that some GIs met nice girls there who they’d ended up marrying. John scoffed at the idea, but he was a polite young man and honored the Chaplain's wishes by heading to the USO Center. John did not intend to stay for long.


At this particular USO Center that evening was a woman named Mary, who was born and raised in San Antonio. She and her friends would often go to the USO Center to provide company and friendly smiles for the homesick servicemen who had been through so much in the war. As he entered the USO Center, Mary immediately noticed John, who was, in her words, a "strapping man with a bunch of ribbons on his chest.” Likewise, John noticed Mary straightaway and decided he was going to talk to her.


They rendezvoused near one of the USO Center’s ping pong tables. Mary asked John if he could play and he vaguely stated that he couldn’t play very well. She kindly offered to give him some pointers and was pleased with how quickly he picked up the game. She attributed his rapid improvement to her quality instruction, not knowing that John was actually his company’s ping pong champion and was, in his words, "putting the moves" on her! They spent the next several hours together that evening, with John gathering key intelligence, such as where Mary attended church.


The following Sunday, Mary looked out from the choir at her church and was surprised to see John sitting in the congregation!  At the end of the service, she invited him to accompany her to her parents’ house for lunch that afternoon. He, of course, quickly accepted what he assumed was an exclusive offer, but was disappointed to find that Mary had invited another soldier to lunch, as well. Inviting several soldiers to Sunday lunch was a common practice during WWII, with local families wanting to provide a touch of home and hospitality for homesick troops. But John had no intention of spending the afternoon sharing Mary’s attentions with another soldier, and he vowed to do whatever he could to -- spoken with eyes twinkling -- “get rid of him!”


John was soon able to return to Olmstead, Illinois, his hometown, to reunite with his family. He was the town’s local war hero and they asked him to run for town sheriff. John politely declined, telling them he had unfinished business in Texas.


You can guess the rest of the story: John and Mary enjoyed a relatively short courtship, were soon married, and lived happily ever after. For the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, their daughter asked her son, the same Air Force Major who shared this story, to separately interview and record John and Mary’s versions of events. The Major combined the two halves of the story into one which he shared at the anniversary celebration. John then presented Mary with a yellow rose, since she was his "Rose of San Antone." John and Mary celebrated almost 56 years of marriage together before John passed away in 2001. His family misses him dearly and looks forward to seeing him again. 


Do you have a USO story to share? Contact us at usohouston@uso.org.