In seven decades, World War II combat veteran Richard Damron and his wife of 70 years, Jerrie, had some great anniversaries. But Thursday’s surprise at the York senior center may have topped them all.
They got a cake as big as a sheet of plywood. They got a lunch with enough food for a platoon. They got their first-ever limousine ride in a black stretch limo as long as a downtown York city block.
And the best part was it was a surprise, from a community of retirees at the senior center who embraced the couple when they moved to York about five years ago.
“When we come through that door, it is a special feeling,” Richard Damron, 90, told the room packed with clapping friends. He tried not to cry, but this tough Marine who served on Iwo Jima couldn’t hold back the tears.
“You are our family, now,” said Jerrie Damron, 89, wearing a corsage. “Thank you so much.”
York Police Lt. Dale Edwards, who leads the community services division, spent weeks organizing the surprise along with staffers at the center as a tribute to the couple. Bi-Lo provided the cake, Wright Funeral Home offered up the shiny limo, and Outback Steakhouse provided the lunch.
All that was left was the other senior center clients to be there and not let the surprise out.
“Tough to keep a secret around this bunch, but we pulled it off,” Edwards said with a chuckle.
So while Richard and Jerrie thought they would be eating the regular senior center lunch Thursday, everybody started to circle around them and the cake was brought in. The couple – who grew up in Oklahoma and lived in California and other places – looked out at the room of people who once were strangers and glowed with the joy that is friendship and love.
Center director Elaine Kershaw cried when she told the crowd that all relationships are great, all marriages special – but this one was super special. Nobody disputed that. Everybody clapped and a few cried.
Richard was already a combat veteran when he came home from World War II and married his sweetheart Jerrie. But because he wasn’t even 21 those 70 years ago, he had to get his momma’s written permission to walk down the aisle.
“I could be in a war,” Richard said, “but I couldn’t get married without approval.”
The couple has been inseparable ever since Richard came home from that war. That is what the senior center celebrated Thursday – love that withstands wars and heartaches and inspires others.
“Theirs is a true love story,” said Linda Hoover, who helped organize everything. “We all love you.”
The limo ride to Rock Hill was a thrill, but before they left, Richard had some unfinished business. He laid a whopper of a kiss right on his best girl.
“Just one?” Richard asked the crowd.
So he went for two.
A lip-smacker that Jerrie happily received on her 70th anniversary – and in that kiss she gave as good as she got.