Married at 18, widowed at 19 . . .
Annetta James

I cannot remember exactly the moment I heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II. I was still in high school.

After graduation, the young man who was my “steady” joined the Navy, and I went to work for the telephone company. There was an air base in my home town, Millville, New Jersey, where the telephone company placed me to direct pilots and other Air Force personnel to telephones, make change, etc.

One young man, a pilot named Elmer Mahlstedt, got my attention quickly. I was extremely shy at seventeen—most young girls of my era were. He asked the operator who handled the call, what my name was and if I was a nice girl. She answered affirmatively to the second question but told him he would have to get my name by himself. He left the building and returned shortly with an apple and Life magazine. Where I had considered him “not too good looking” before, he now became quite handsome.

Things progressed naturally as most romances do and at eighteen; we were married. In three weeks he was ordered overseas. We wrote many letters—once I even wrote on white shelf paper.

A few months later my foster mother became seriously ill with cancer, and I was forced to quit my job and stay home to care for her. I worried a great deal about my situation as my husband was from California and I could not desert my mother.

Fate decided the outcome.

My mother died on July 6, 1945.

The war was over in Europe, where my husband had chosen to stay in service and to pilot planes from other countries back to England. I had no family left after my mother’s death. The Red Cross notified my husband’s commander that I needed him. The orders came through on August 10th when he crashed on take off. He was pulled from the burning plane by German workers and taken to a hospital in England, where he passed away on October 17, 1945.

Married at 18, widowed at 19; the war changed my life forever. I went to California to live with his relatives – and I later remarried and have one son, but that is another story.

Annetta James was born in Millville, New Jersey, attended school there, and was graduated from high school in 1943. After graduation, she went to work at New Jersey Bell Telephone. In 1945, she moved to California after her foster mother’s death and her husband’s death in World War II just three months later. Having no remaining family, she lived with her husband’s family and attended Woodbury Business College. She later remarried and had a son. After a near-death experience herself, she again worked for the telephone company. She and her husband retired to Reno, where she continued to live after he passed away.

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