Every love story should have a Jimmy Stewart moment. Tony and Doris Provenzano have theirs, and we'll get to it in a minute.
They'll celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in December. It's a marriage that overcame D-Day, not to mention hardship and various post-World War II challenges.
Tony and Doris met in Liverpool, England, in 1943. He was a 19-year-old Chicagoan serving in the Army. She was a 16-year-old schoolgirl.
"His Army camp was 10 minutes from our house, and one of the officers rounded up all the girls (from the vicinity)," Doris says, sitting at a picnic table on their patio in Hoffman Estates. "He said they were having a dance and didn't want the men dancing with each other, so they wanted us to come. We did. Everyone was jitterbugging. That was the big thing then.
"But Tony didn't dance. He was very shy. He spent the whole night holding my coat."
"She stood out a little bit from the rest of them," Tony says with a little smile.
Their relationship took root. They went out for about six months, spending a lot of time at the movies. But then Tony was shipped out in anticipation of the D-Day invasion (he served as a medic on a ship). They managed to stay in touch.
"He kept writing that he'd come back, and we'd get married," Doris says. "But I figured he'd meet a French girl."
Cue the Jimmy Stewart moment, where the sweet, shy guy makes his move.
Doris and a group of girlfriends were standing in line, waiting to go into a movie.
"I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was him."
It was Dec. 10, 1945.
He had secured a leave and was there to marry his sweetheart. Even though marriage had been discussed, he still had some reservations.
"I was a little concerned, her being so young, about taking her away from her family," Tony says.
Her family not only gave the marriage their blessing, they also threw themselves into putting together a wedding on very short notice in a country with more bombed buildings than wedding dresses. They were married on Dec. 21.
Their wedding afterglow was short. He had less than a week to report back to France, where he was working in a hospital, treating former American POWs. They didn't see each other for six months. Tony, in that time, was sent back to the States. Doris became one of the estimated 70,000 war brides coming to the U.S., finally arriving in New York in May 1946. From there she took a train to St. Louis, where Tony and his family had relocated.
"Before I left (Liverpool), my mother said, 'You're not going there looking like a refugee.' So I took the whole family's war ration booklets, six of them, and bought a wool tweed suit and my heavy English shoes. All to meet Tony's family. I stepped off the train in St. Louis, and it was 100 degrees. Tony's standing there in shorts; I almost didn't recognize him out of uniform."
Tony's family soon moved back to Chicago, but in September 1946 he ended up in west suburban Hines Veterans Hospital with tuberculosis, contracted in France. He spent two years there, with Doris taking a factory job and moving to a small apartment closer to Hines. Life was a challenge.
"I wrote my mom and dad, 'I don't like it here. I want to come home,' " she recalled. "Dad said, 'Your place is with your husband.' "
After Tony left Hines, he returned to school to study accounting, which became his career until he retired in 1986.