Couple returns to St. Nicholas Chapel

William Levesque remembers the exact day 60 years ago when he met his wife-to-be.

He was a yeoman to Pax River's commanding officer, Capt. Aaron Storrs, and Susan Nedella stopped by his office. It was April 11, 1944. She was a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, the women's auxiliary branch of the Navy) and said she was to report to Levesque for duty.

"She's been doing 'duty' ever since and beautifully," he recently wrote in an e-mail in preparation for the couple's visit here. "If I had to prepare a 'fitness report' on her it would read 'truly outstanding.'"

Proof of their happy union was displayed Sept. 15 as the two World War II Navy veterans returned to NAS Patuxent River to renew their wedding vows in St. Nicholas Chapel, the place where they were married six decades ago. Four of the Levesques' six children attended.

"All during our married life, Patuxent has had a special and warm place in our hearts," he wrote. "As a gift to ourselves we returned [to Pax River] in 1994 (our 50th anniversary) when we attended the mid-day mass and visited the office of the commanding officer where we renewed memories of earlier days."

Monsignor Joseph Lamonde officiated over the Catholic mass when they renewed their wedding vows in the chapel where they were married on Sept. 15, 1944, by then - base chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Joseph N. Moody.

"I guess you could call it the beginning of everything," Susan said when asked why they chose to return to Patuxent River after 60 years.

"This has always been a special place for us," he said. "We wanted to come back and see what it was like and to visit the little chapel where we were married."
He recalls that his life at the Naval Air Station changed for the better when she arrived.

"Up until the time you came it was pretty dull," he said while seated next to his wife in an interview earlier this week. There was the routine of checking in officers, testing aircraft and armament and lots of construction. "It was nothing but a cow pasture, it seemed."

He recalls a few plane crashes as well as the maiden flights of several aircraft.

"We witnessed the first flight of the first jet aircraft that they tested at the base," he said. "And if my memory serves me correctly, they told us that the aircraft could only stay in the air about 20 minutes."

Five months after they met, Storrs "gave the bride away" in a small ceremony at the chapel.

"Susan's duties were that of the commanding officer's chauffeur, his wife's right hand, and [she] later served as yeoman in the CO's office," he said.
Levesque served as yeoman to the executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Thurston B. Clark, before serving Commanding Officer Capt. William Rassieur and his successor, Storrs.

After the 1944 wedding ceremony, the Storrs invited the small wedding party to their home in Quarters A for a breakfast and then the party escorted them to the main gate.

Rather than wait several hours for the late afternoon bus, the Levesques rode with two officers who offered to take them to Washington. The officers took them directly to the famous Willard Hotel, where the Levesques honeymooned.

After returning to Pax River the following Sunday, the new bride went to her barrack and he went to his. They lived separately for a week until they became one of the first couples to occupy one of the newly completed and furnished apartments for married enlisted service members.

William and Susan Levesque returned to Pax River Sept. 15 to renew their wedding vows.

In December 1944 Levesque was transferred to the South Pacific, in what his wife now recalls as one of her saddest memories.

He didn't know it, but Levesque was about to take part in what was to become the invasion of Okinawa, the largest amphibious invasion in history as well as the bloodiest campaign in the entire war against Japan. More than 1,300 Navy ships, including 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and more than 1,000 support and amphibious assault ships, surrounded the island, preparing to disembark more than 182,000 Soldiers and Marines. On March 18, 1945, two weeks before the Okinawa D-Day, the first waves of Japanese Kamikaze aircraft began to attack the assembling fleet. The land part of the campaign took three months, and when it was finished the Japanese had lost more than 120,000 killed. Allied losses included 30 ships sunk by Kamikazes and 164 ships damaged; 72,000 Allied troops were casualties, including more than 15,900 killed, more than twice the number of killed and wounded at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined.

Levesque made it through the Okinawa campaign, and stayed on the island during its occupation, finally returning to Pax River in late January 1946, 14 months after leaving his bride at Pax River.

After his stateside return, both Levesques were discharged from the Navy, and moved to his home state of Maine, where they began a family, which eventually included four sons and twin daughters.

Being from South Dakota where she was used to wide-open spaces, Susan was not used to the rugged terrain of Maine and eventually his job took the couple to Alabama where they still reside.

Despite growing up in a Navy family, three of their four sons joined the Air Force. One of them, Michael Levesque, helped with initial arrangements for his parents to return to Pax River. He said their military experience had a positive impact on him.

"I knew how to make a 'white collar bed with hospital corners' before I even joined the military," he said.

Asked what he thought of his parents renewing their wedding vows at Pax, he said, "I think it's great. I think it's an example of their patriotism, their ties to the Navy and the military in general."

While the elder Levesque has not kept in touch with fellow Navy buddies, his wife continues to correspond with a few WAVES who were here.

When asked the secret of sustaining their long marriage, they both say it is give-and-take.

"There are times when you go to bed each looking at a different wall and there are times when there is no wall at all. You have to understand the other person, their feelings, what you say, what you do and how it affects them. You have to choose your words and you've got to be honest. If you're honest with each other and faithful to each other and you have the same beliefs, the same hopes, same aspirations, you can't go wrong. You've got to believe in each other."

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