Looking Back: Doris and Charles — and a love affair to be remembered


arlington_aerialviewYou may be surprised to learn this is actually a story about genealogy research. However, I am something of a romanticist when it comes to genealogy, and I definitely saw that this particular research project is all about romance.

Unlike most of my Looking Back stories, this one doesn’t take place locally; instead it has its beginnings in Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky, where Doris was born in 1923, and onto Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, where Charles was born in 1924. It follows in 1946 to the office of the sheriff in Covington, Fountain County, Indiana and at exactly the same time, to the headquarters of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Overseas Service lines located in Nurnberg/Nuremberg, Germany—and eventually to Washington, D.C. The final ending is in Arlington, Virginia.

For the past year I have been working on a genealogy/history book for a family with its roots in Virginia. I am now on page 586 of a book that is approaching record length for any genealogy work I have ever done before. A week ago during my research, I ran across the record of a young lady by the name of Doris (her last name will not be used here). As mentioned, Doris was born in Kentucky. The family soon moved to Charleston, West Virginia, where Doris went to school, graduating from Charleston High School in 1940. In 1944 Doris, as shown in the city directory, was working as a secretary in the office of Valley Motor Company in Charleston. Here, Doris drops from sight. I could find no further records for her in the regular genealogy sites. So, I assumed she had married and now had a different name, or she had died. Still, there should be a record. Thus, I did what is always a wise choice; I went to my old friend Google. Entering Doris’ maiden name and her date of birth, my answer came immediately from the most surprising and unusual genealogical source I have ever encountered. Following is the source which appeared on my computer screen.

“General Accounting Office. DECISIONS OF THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, Volume 27 – July 1, 1947 to June 30, 1948. Lindsay G. Warren, Comptroller General of the United States. Frank I. Yates, Assistant Comptroller General of the United States. United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1948. (B-657750)”

At first, I thought, what on earth can this be—it must be a mistake. It was not—what I received from office of the Comptroller of our country’s finances was a record of Doris’ marriage to Charles. Now, if any of you have done even a little bit of genealogy, you know this is not the normal place to find primary evidence for a marriage; and you probably have guessed by now, this had to be a very unusual marriage ceremony. Yes, it was very unusual—in fact the title of the Comptroller’s case was “Validity of Marriage by Telephone.”

Charles, a Captain in the U.S. Air Corps, following WWII was stationed in Nuremberg at the time of the Nuremberg war trials in 1946. He had received written permission from his commanding officer for his marriage to Doris. The problem was that Charles was in Germany and Doris was in Indiana. The license for the two to marry had been obtained in Fountain County, Indiana, because it was understood that a telephone marriage would be legal according to the laws of that state.

Thus, at 4:35 p.m. on 4 May 1946, Central European Summer Time, over the wires of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Overseas Service lines, with Doris sitting in the office of the sheriff of Fountain County, Indiana, a minister of the Covington Methodist Church performed the ceremony joining Doris and Charles in marriage. At the side of Charles in Germany was a chaplain from the Air Service Group, as well as two official witnesses from the Air Corps. The official record of the marriage was filed in the office of the sheriff of Fountain County, Indiana.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain how the Comptroller General of the U.S. finances became involved. After the official ceremony, Doris went back to her home in Charleston, West Virginia, and Charles, doing his duty as a husband, filed for rental allowance for Doris as the wife of an officer in the U.S. Air Corps. The local finance officer had a problem about the legality of a telephone marriage and forwarded the matter to the Comptroller General of the United States for a ruling. Sad to say, the decision was that the comptroller’s office did not recognize that a telephone marriage qualified as an officer’s right to increased allowance for a “lawful wife.” Thus the financial allowance normally given a wife was denied to Doris.

Charles remained in the service, and he and Doris were living in Washington, D.C. when in 1955, at the age of 32, Doris died. Evidently, the official supervising the burials of service men and their spouses in our national cemeteries had no trouble approving the legality of the marriage. Doris is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, her gravestone stating that she was the wife of Charles, a Col. in the USAF.

Following 30 years of service, Charles retired in 1971. Charles had what was called a distinguished military career—first with the 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron during WWII and then receiving a regular commission in 1946, he continued in photo reconnaissance. He served a combat tour in Korea and also served in Vietnam. During his years in the service he was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Charles received numerous service awards, including the Space Pioneers Medal.

Charles died in late 2003 at the age of 79, and in January of 2004, he was laid to rest beside his wife Doris at Arlington National Cemetery.

As you can see, this story about Doris and Charles is not only a fantastic genealogical treasure—it is without doubt, a love affair to be remembered.

-By Betty Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.


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