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Love in uniform

When Joyce Wentzky married an Army veteran, she did not think the military would become a big part of her life.

She met Frank while he was home in Anderson on a pass during the Korean War, but he was discharged six months before they got married. And that was that, she thought.

Now, almost 60 years later, the two have come to rely on a community of veterans that stretches from West Virginia to Alabama.

“We didn’t think of it becoming a part of our lives, but when it did become a part of our lives, it became a necessary part of our lives because of friendship,” Joyce said.

That sense of community helps many military families, retired or active duty, get through separations and adjustments, said Sarah Sangster, who is married to Tech. Sgt. Michael Sangster, an Air Force recruiter in Anderson. It is one of the reasons she says if she had to do it all again, she would take the deployments and relocations without a second thought.

“We didn’t have a clue what we were getting into,” Sangster said.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she added

Families on active duty face the prospect of long separations — Michael Sangster spent seven months each in the Horn of Africa and Iraq — and adjustments to life together upon the service member’s return.

The Sangsters know they will be relocating every four years, Sarah said. They arrived in Anderson in September, after moving a toddler and two dogs across the country.

Sarah, 32, and Michael, 34, met in high school in Dooly County, Ga., Michael said.

They went separate ways in college, and Michael joined the Air Force in 2005. The two reconnected and, two weeks after they married seven years ago, they shipped out to Germany.

The three years they spent at Ramstein Air Base, where Michael was part of an aircraft maintenance squadron, were some of the Sangsters’ most enjoyable, Sarah said. Neither one of them had lived outside Georgia before they arrived in Germany.

Now they were able to travel to nearby countries, and their families were able to visit and travel with them. They were part of a large American military community based in Germany.

“We saw how small our little world was,” Sarah said.

Though Michael requested to stay in Germany, he and Sarah were sent to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona instead. Michael was deployed twice for seven months at a time, he said.

Michael left the first time less than six months after they arrived in Arizona, and Sarah did not know what to expect, she said. She didn’t know many people and took a retail job because she could not find work in her field.

She was responsible for keeping the bills paid and the yard looking presentable. When their backyard pool broke, she figured out how to get it fixed and showed Michael when he returned.

“In my opinion, the spouse at home has it harder than the one deployed,” Michael said.

They video chatted when they could and emailed when there was Internet, Sarah said. They spoke about every three days by phone, as long as Michael was not away on a mission. But even when they spoke by phone, there was not much Michael could tell her over an open line, he said.

Then Michael returned. Now they had to figure out who would take care of the bills, and Sarah had to adjust to shopping and cooking for another person. Michael was used to buffets of military food, she said.

Michael was also used to the sound of mortars exploding and bullets rattling off concrete, and could not sleep in the quiet, he said. He was used to operating on a “high priority” status and had to learn to slow down, he said.

“When you come back, being the man of the house ... you’re not so much anymore,” he said.

Six months after Michael returned, he learned he would be sent overseas again.

While Michael was gone, Sarah turned to the other Air Force wives and Michael’s supervisors for help. His commander was known for visiting spouses’ homes to fix broken pipes or utilities, Sarah said.

She trained to be a mentor for other spouses and got involved on base. The community sponsored dinners and bowling nights, she said.

But Sarah and Michael agreed it was not the same as when they were in Germany. In Germany, their fellow airmen and their wives were all they had, Michael said. In Arizona, their fellow airmen and their wives have established friends and family to visit.

They were excited to come to Anderson so their daughter, Hadley, could be close to her grandparents in Georgia, Sarah said.

For the first time, Sarah said, they do not have other military families living nearby or on the same base. It is an adjustment, she said, and difficult to find basic services such as day care for her daughter. But, she said, it gives them the opportunity to see new things, and it is important for Michael to give back to an organization that has helped him.

“I wanted him to stay in,” Sarah said. “I don’t think I ever questioned it.”

Frank and Joyce Wentzky, who have lived most of their lives in Anderson, did not need a community to help them adjust to a new place. But they came unexpectedly across an extended veterans community they often travel hundred of miles to reach.

They met in 1954 when Frank, on a three-day pass, attended a square-dancing event at the Anderson Recreation Center. While Frank was gone, they exchanged letters, and Frank visited from various bases around the country. He received orders to go to Korea, but much to Joyce’s relief, an armistice was signed before he shipped out.

He was discharged in July 1955, and by Christmas of that year they planned to marry.

“She’s got a sweet spirit,” Frank said. “I just tell it like it is.”

A few years after they married, they built a house blocks from the home where Frank grew up. They still live there today. Frank worked and attended night school to complete his high school degree. Joyce cared for their three children, the oldest of whom was ill.

Almost 20 years after they married, the 47th infantry gathered for the first time since the war.

Over the years, Joyce said, the October reunion in Tennessee has become more than just a social gathering.

“It has become a part of our lifestyle to participate with others who are such close friends,” Joyce said.

One October, in the mid-1990s, their oldest son died. Three days later, they attended the reunion, Joyce said. A friend gave her a hand-knit afghan she keeps in her room today.

Now, Frank is president of the reunion, which has adopted the motto, “Till the last man.”

Until the last man, Frank and Joyce try to help others who attend the reunion. Joyce, secretary of the reunion group, sends letters and sympathy cards to members in need. And Frank presents a handmade bird house to the spouse of a soldier who has passed away, he said. He has made 10 so far.

“What makes us so close is the way you’re willing, when you go in the service, to lay your life down for your country,” Frank said.

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