From time to time I read about people and I stop and think, "I wish I had known that person." A recent obituary in the Seattle P.I. struck me that way. It showed a picture of a older couple. The obituary started out "Bill and Gladys Willams passed away within a day of each other" which immediately caught my interest. It went on to say the couple had been born only a month a part and met in Eastern Oregon when they were nine years old. They married in 1946 and remained married sixty one years. It said they were very devoted to each other and committed parents. What really impressed me was that when his wife became ill with dementia in 1990 her husband stayed with her and cared for her. He would visit the nursing home from 6 am in the morning staying with her until 10 pm at night. He fed her, washed her, cared for her and even did laundry for her. When his Alzheimer’s disease worsened he lived in the nursing home and they shared a room together there. He never left her side and when he died on Sunday, she died the next day – a day apart. Joined in life, they were joined in death too. Reading the story brought me close to tears. What a wonderful love story of devotion between two people.
A few days later I read an article in the Vancouver, Canada Globe Newspaper about Milan Havlin age 78 who had just died leaving a wife and children. It said Mr. Havlin had been born in Cebin, Czechoslovakia where he had grown up on the family farm. While he gave serious consideration to the priesthood he decided instead to study horticulture and farm. During the Nazi occupation he was 12 years old. He began to secretly bring food to downed Allied pilots and helped them get to safety. Then the Soviets "liberated" the country from the Nazi’s but immediately imposed a Communist control. He later told people that he then became a "travel agency" who assisted people in escaping across the border to Austria. There was a small group of boys who once had belonged to the country’s equivalent of the Boy Scouts together who formed a group assisting escape out of the country.
But, In 1947 after helping a woman and her child cross the border, he was caught and beaten so severely he was hospitalized for almost a year. While in the hospital he met and was nursed by Vera Kadlekova. He fell in love with her. She and her sister, also a nurse in the hospital, decided to help him escape. They made a copy of a key to the room he was locked in. Late that night he used the key to escape and met up with the two sisters as well as two of their friends. They traveled South but, before they could cross the border they were all caught. Vera was sentenced to life imprisonment. Havlin was sentenced to death by hanging. Before he was executed, however, due to efforts by his family, his sentence was reduced to life in prison.
He was sent to a labor camp to mine uranium ore. The camp was a gulag where men were forced to work unprotected from radiation and to the point many died from exhaustion or radiation sickness. With his farming background he was able to raise vegetables and avoided radiation sickness. During this time Vera and Milan, while in prison, communicated through their families with coded letters.
By the 1960’s there was so much unrest that the Communist regime began to ease restrictions and granted amnesty to political prisoners. Vera was released from prison and year later Milan was too. They immediately married, but people were afraid to associate with them for fear of reprisal by the administration in power. It was difficult for them to survive.
By 1968 a more liberal leader was in power who decided to lift travel restrictions. The couple left the country with their small children. They were fortunate they did as the experiment of liberalization lasted only a month because the Soviets removed the leader from power and reimposed restrictions. But the couple had already left and found their way to Canada in 1969. However, neither was fluent in either French or English so it was difficult for them. On one occasion Milan mistook the Army Recruiting office for a post office and almost enlisted before the mistake was discovered. He found work in the nursery field and became well known for his work. He also created a shelter for women in distress for which he received recognition. At the time of his death he was well known in his field still married to Vera.
Now aren’t those people you would like to have know? I know I would.