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Vickroy: 70 years after their D-Day-driven wedding, the Kulas still are madly in love

Frank Lorraine KulMarkham have been married for 70 years.  |  DonnVickroy/Sun-Times Media

Frank and Lorraine Kula, of Markham, have been married for 70 years. | Donna Vickroy/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 6, 2014 7:33AM



In the chaos of war, couples often are separated, plans interrupted and priorities made crystal clear.

Perhaps that’s why the love story that survives war’s hell is so profoundly touching, even decades later.

Back when the United States was entering World War II, Lorraine Hering and Frank Kula were two teens growing up on the same block on the Northwest Side of Chicago.

The story goes Frank had a reputation as a guy who could impress the local ladies with his unique ability to unlatch the lock on the gate to his yard without so much as slowing down on his bicycle.

The first time he met Lorraine, however, the trick failed. A sure sign of love? Five years his junior, Lorraine considered him just a friend.

Nevertheless, Frank persevered. His sister would send him to the deli and he’d always make a stop at Lorraine’s, forcing his sister to come collect him, scolding, “All right Kid Lightning, get home.”

When Lorraine’s father, a boilermaker, decided to move the family to Louisiana so he could better contribute to the war effort, the two friends vowed to write to each other. And they did.

“Through that we developed a very nice friendship,” Lorraine said.

For Frank, the relationship was more, much more. It’s hard to say whether Frank’s persistence wore her down or if it’s true what they say about distance making the heart grow fonder. Flash forward to the present and next week, Frank and Lorraine will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

On Saturday, family and friends will fete the Markham couple with a formal backyard party, replete with fine china and violins. They’ll be presented with a papal blessing, a White House letter and a proclamation from the city of Markham declaring June 10, 2014, as Frank and Lorraine Kula Day.

Though such longstanding testaments to true love are rare, both Frank and Lorraine insist loving each other has been the easy part.

The first big test of that passion came early on. Though the couple had plans to wed in Chicago after the war, things became urgent after Frank enlisted in the Army.

A tool and die maker, he could have gotten deferments from military service. In fact he was told time and again that his skills were more valuable behind the scenes than on the front lines.

“But my brothers and all my cousins were fighting. I wanted to pull my weight,” Frank said.

He was stationed at Clarksville, Tennessee, when he learned he’d soon be heading overseas. While on leave in June 1944, he made a surprise visit to Lorraine, who, having graduated high school early, was working a clerical job with the Navy Department in Washington, D.C.

He suggested they get married right then and there. Lorraine had two days to make up her mind. Meanwhile, Frank started making arrangements.

In the days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, there was a flurry of impulsive wedding ceremonies in the D.C. area. The closest available church was in Hyattsville, Maryland. But because there were no trains or buses to help get them there, they hitched a ride from a sympathetic police officer.

There, they recruited the church cleaning lady, a Mrs. O’Reilly, to be a witness.

“I can’t believe I did it,” Lorraine says, looking back. “It was a very strange and quick wedding, but I knew I didn’t want to spend my life without him. For some reason I knew he was the right one, but I don’t know why. I was only 17.”

Today, they refer to the event as “The wedding to which 400 people didn’t come,” including their own parents. But over the years they’ve made up for the lack of initial fanfare. They’ve even cruised on the Love Boat to Hawaii for their 50th anniversary.

Two days after they were wed, Frank headed back to camp and Lorraine to Denver to stay with her parents and wait out the war.

Frank left for Europe in October with the 14th Armored Division, which went by the nickname the Liberators because of the many towns, prisoners and displaced persons it freed. He saw combat across France and in the Rhineland in Germany.

For 18 months, the staff sergeant ran a truck-mounted machine shop that made and repaired Army ordinance. He lost a dozen friends on those battlefields, and 17 more suffered injuries. When his unit made their way to Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s famous mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany, he couldn’t help but snatch a souvenir.

While other soldiers scooped up shells and other kinds of debris, Frank pocketed a doorknob.

“It’s made of steel because at that time all of the brass and bronze went to the war effort,” Frank said.

Later, each of the couple’s four kids would bring the doorknob to school for show and tell.

“We’d tell them Hitler touched this doorknob,” their daughter Cheryl said. “But no one believed us.”

After Frank returned from Europe in March 1945, he and Lorraine were lucky to find an apartment for rent on the north side of the city. Property was both expensive and hard to find in those postwar days so when shopping for a house, the couple looked south, to a then-rural section of Midlothian. When they moved a few years later to Markham, 167th Street was a gravel road.

“We used to have three cars passing a day, now it’s 30 a minute,” Frank said.

Frank quickly rose to the engineering department of Ford Aircraft and, later, became engine design manager at Allis Chalmers, from which he retired.

Lorraine stayed home and raised the couple’s four children — Cheryl, who lives in Country Club Hills, as well as Laurane, who lives in Mokena, Bruce, who lives in Florida, and the late Lance — and volunteered in the community. She helped open Markham’s first public library in the Canterbury Shopping Center.

For 20 years, Frank and Lorraine volunteered as ministers of care at St. Gerard Majella Church in Markham.

Their home was filled with music, as just about everyone played some kind of instrument and they all sang. Frank used to call the pieces he taught his kids “Songs from the Old West.”

“The kids used to harmonize while doing the dishes,” Lorraine said.

Frank and Lorraine, now great grandparents, also painted, and Frank used his woodworking skills to make a hutch full of dollhouse furniture because Lorraine loved miniatures. He also built the family grandfather clock.

“Dad could fix, build, contrive anything,” Cheryl said. “We never had a repairman in our house.”

Lorraine, 87, said, in addition to having lots of patience, the key to a long marriage is a willingness to help each other.

“He can’t see too well,” Lorraine said. “And I can’t hear too well.”

“But,” Frank, 92, added, “I can still do the mile in under five minutes — if I make all the lights.”



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