Share a special moment from Karen's life.

Reunited and it feels so good!

Shared by Jane Slavin on March 11, 2015

Yes, after heaven only knows how many years, we reunited in Wheaton! I was visiting my kids in Winfield and we managed to arrange a get-together for breakfast. In addition to Karen and me, son Bob, his daughter Julia, and daughter Cathy joined us. In many ways, it was as if all those intervening years had never happened. We laughed, we cried, we shared tons of pictures, and we probably wore out our welcome in that restaurant. A few months later, I was back in Wheaton for a bridal shower for son Jeff's fiancee, and Karen was, of course, a welcome guest at that party. She and Bill drove out to Dixon for Jeff's wedding in April 2010...sadly, that was our last time to be together, so I'm so glad we spent tons of time together at the wedding reception! We were making plans for retirement get-togethers in the future...she and Bill could visit us in Washington, DC. Wouldn't that have been fun? I feel cheated of that. Miss you, sweetie!  

My Time With Karen

Shared by William Van Plew on July 30, 2014

After hearing Susan Sarandon explain the reason people get married in the movie Shall We Dance, I realized that my purpose in life was to witness Karen's life. I am so grateful she chose me to do so. I celebrate our love everyday and continue to witness her life.

Forty-five years together went by so quickly and we both said we wouldn't change a thing ... except she left too soon. Now I live on wonderful memories and count my blessings.


Shared by Sarah Johnson on April 1, 2012

Karen shared with me every home she had.  It began on Cottonwood Drive in Wheaton.  My mom needed childcare and had gotten Karen’s name from a mutual friend.  Despite the fact that she did not know my mom, and was not really looking to take care of someone else’s child, she decided to open her home to me.  At the age of 2, I began to spend time in Karen’s home on a regular basis.  It is from this home that I began to develop my earliest, deepest friendship and some of my dearest relationships.  Karen’s home became one of my favorite places to be as a child.  It was a place of welcome and acceptance.   A place of chaos and fun.   A place where as a single child, I could imagine and taste the companionship of siblings.  As the friendship between my mom and Karen grew, Karen included us in each and every holiday celebration.  With these celebrations, I took to heart many time honored family traditions, both intentional and casual.  To this day, I feel a strong compulsion to document my children’s lives on video camera.  We decorate Christmas cookies and open pajamas on Christmas Eve.  I reuse the same Easter baskets for my kids each year.  We host 4th of July parties and I covet seeing the fireworks.  I still sing out loud to every Madonna song that I hear.  I macramé.  And I love going to Michigan every summer……

“The Wren” is Karen’s summer home in Harbert, Michigan.  It was built by her father.  It was too old, too small, and too crowded.  It was absolutely fantastic!  It was the only vacation my mom and I ever got to take, and there was nowhere else I would rather go.  After sleeping the night on a folding cot on the enclosed porch, the days began with donuts and pastries from the Swedish bakery just up the street.  Some days there’d be blueberry picking to do, or we’d be dragged along with our moms to go shopping at each and every one of the antique stores along Red Arrow Highway.  After a long morning of shopping, we might grab lunch at the gas station or stop at the old fashioned ice cream parlor that was part of the pharmacy in Sawyer.  Sometimes a group of us kids were allowed to ride the rusted, ill-fitted bikes up to the fruit market or Honeycuts grocery store on our own.  On our way back, we would take shortcuts through the woods and stop by the ponds to try and find frogs.  In the evenings, it was very well understood that showers needed to be short!  There was usually a big discussion among the adults about how to handle dinner.  A regular treat was eating at Redamax in New Buffalo followed by ice cream at Oinks.  But many dinners were made as one big family at the cottage.  These dinners were often very late.  A bonfire was usually started in the lot beyond the cottage.  This is where I learned how to make a damn good smore.  As I got older, I can recall many late nights playing cards and games that mark the American childhood  – Ghost in the Graveyard, Truth or Dare…..And on more than one occasion, after the adults had had too much to drink, we found ourselves skinny dipping after hours down at the Harbert beach! 

For me, the best part of the daytime was going to the beach.  It was close enough to walk, but we preferred to ride our bikes or take the car.  I would always anticipate that first glimpse of the water as I started down the sandy path to the water.  The beach was a different size every year depending on the tide.  We spent hours under the sun and in the water every day.  This is where I learned to swim, fought the waves, and stood on a sandbar for the first time.  We’d search for shells and pretty rocks, walk the shore, and build sand castles.  And in the mist of these thrilling, fun, long, exhausting days, there would be moments of stillness.  We would lie on our beach towels “tanning” ourselves.  I would doze off with the sun warming my face, the wind and surf in my ear, and the shifting of sand beneath my body.  With the love of family and friends, and the beauty of nature and creation surrounding me, those moments brought forth a feeling of closeness to God.    

These days, I have my own home that I share with my husband and 2 kids.  My mom and I still take trips to Michigan where we enjoy staying at the home of Karen’s daughter in nearby Three Oaks.  But there was one home that Karen and I continued to share – Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.  It was Karen’s invitation the brought me to the church home that I still have today.  In my earliest memories, I can see myself sitting with my mom, Karen, and her kids in the back left pews of the church.  Today, I still sit with my mom, but now my husband and kids also share the pews with me.  Despite my son’s success at having us sit in different pews each week, Karen’s back left hand side of the sanctuary is where I will always feel most at home.  When I was married at Faith Lutheran, Karen was one of our readers, and her daughter was my Maid of Honor.  When my first child was baptized, we appointed Karen as the official congregational ‘witness,’ while another of her daughters became Michael’s godmother.  I watched my mother married at Faith Lutheran.  Two weeks after Karen’s passing, I accepted the nomination to serve on the Congregational Council.  She was the first person I longed to share this news with.  Most important of all, she brought me to the home where I have grown in my spirituality and closeness to God. 

The ‘homes’ that Karen shared with me and the people who have filled them, have shaped my life in so many wonderful ways.  I try to carry forth her legacy by opening my homes to others in love the way she did for me.   I try to welcome my children’s friends to our home as much as I can.  I try to invite family and friends to attend worship with me.  I try to stay close to the love ones that Karen brought to my life.  Karen Van Plew will live on in my heart and continue to shape my life forever. 

Pure Michigan

Shared by Juliana Sweet on March 26, 2012

8 a.m., Harbert Michigan.  The sun shinning through the tree tops creating sun and shadow on the ground.  Sitting on a bar chair, coffee in hand, enjoying the smell of the morning air.  Mom in her nightgown, me in my p.j.'s, awaiting the arrival of the hummingbirds at the feeder.  We would talk about anything and everything.  Being able to spend day after day together; morning, noon, and night.  SUCH a blessing to have that continuous together time.  Experiencing what each part of the day would bring - together.  There would be "breakfast", lasting for hours, drinking coffee with conversation.  Maybe a trip to the Blueberry Patch, a trip to the Sawyer Garden Market or possibly a little antique shopping.  Then there would be lunch and more conversation, lazily eating our turkey sandwiches and getting around to go to the beach.  We would enjoy the afternoon sunning and swimming at the beach.  Mom feeding the seagulls pretzels after repeated requests to stop because the whole flock would come and surround us.  :)  Oh, Mom.  You and those darn seagulls.  After a relaxing afternoon spent on the warm sand and in the inviting waters we head up to the Wren (cottage) to begin the evening festivities.  First would be appetizers and g&t's (gin and tonics) while Dad would tend to the grill and us "woman folk" would bond over preparing salad and sides.  How Mom would love bonding in the kitchen.  :)   After a satisfying dinner would come games and conversations - usually late into the night.  Laughter, laughter so hard tears would come.  The lights on the umbrellas over the bar and on the fence surrounding the patio providing the perfect ambiance.  (Bar or table?)  Joking about life, reminiscing about past events, or playing Phase 10 or Apples to Apples.  Connecting with one another on a level that only happens when in Pure Michigan.  After laughing and joking late into the night it’s time to tuck ourselves in and dream sweetly about the days to come when we all would gather for another day to share life, love and laughter.</span></p>


Shared by William Van Plew on February 10, 2012

As told by Penny Smith Laing

The Shih Tzu dynasty started one summer. Karen called me at home from her cottage in Michigan. “Oh my gosh, I was at the mall in Michigan City with the kids, we went into a pet shop. I knew it was a mistake to go in there, but I totally fell in love with this Shih Tzu puppy” she gushed. Karen listed the virtues of the breed as she saw them; they were a great size, not too big, not too small, of sturdy build, no shedding, low on allergy potential, totally sweet nature – what more could you ask? 

“Oh, Bill (her husband) would kill me; he would never allow it,” she lamented.

We went on to discuss the pro’s and con’s of approaching Bill about the potential adoption of a new ‘baby’. Fast forward about a week, I got another call from Karen in Michigan. She was heart broken. She had gone back to the pet shop to check on ‘her’ puppy and the sweet little thing had been sold to some other lucky person. She was crushed. Down -- but not out.

The next week-end my daughter and I joined Karen and her family at the cottage. We were in the habit of taking little side trips to Michigan City to go to the movies, or to have a greater choice in restaurants for dinner, or to go to the mall. Amazingly, we all found ourselves at the mall. Why not visit the mall pet shop, that’s a fun place to go! What a surprise! As luck would have it, they had another cute little Shih Tzu puppy. This little fellow was a handsome black and white fur ball, and he was even ON SALE!! Karen never bought anything that was not on sale! It was a sign from God, she was meant to have him. 

But what would Bill say? Karen looked at Bill and said, “what do you think Bill, can we get him?” Silence ... you can hear a pin drop ... then Bill responds, muttering under his breath, “Do what you want.” Hmmmm, we did not hear the word ‘no’ in that sentence ... and in that moment, Leo the Shih Tzu became a Van Plew. (By the way, Bill adored him).

Leo settled into his new home, and all was well. He seemed quite taken with my little female Maltese named Honey Bunny, and chased her around and thru the house whenever they were together. Alas, men can be ‘dogs’.

Karen and I were on our bi-annual sojourn to the Chicago Gem Show. We had our fanny paks strapped on and visions of cheap jewelry dancing in our heads when we noticed that downstairs in the same building as the Gem Show was a dog show! It was time for a short detour. We made our way thru the jungle of animals, dog cages and dog owners and met a woman who was breeding Shih Tzu’s in a town not too far from where we lived. She had some female breeder dogs that she needed to ‘retire’. For some time Karen had been thinking that Leo needed a wife -- a companion. He needed to settle down and stop chasing Honey Bunny. Here was a perfect opportunity to get Leo a partner.

Road trip -- We went to the dog breeders house, with Karen’s son Jon and his friend Phil in the back seat. There, we found a nice little lady for Leo, a golden blonde named Shelley who was terrified of the car ride and threw up on the boys all the way home. Leo promptly got her pregnant.

The pregnancy progressed. Shelley’s sweet little body knew its job. Being a nurse and the mother of four children, Karen threw herself into researching all about canine pregnancies, labor and delivery. She put together a whelping box and had a plan for how to care for the puppies. Early one morning I got a frantic call from Karen’s youngest daughter Kristen - “Something is going on with Shelley; I think she is going to have her puppies! she exclaimed. “She is on my bed, panting and restless, what should I do?!” Karen was not home, she was working the night shift at the hospital. I told Kristen to put Shelley in the whelping box and that I would be there shortly. I jumped out of bed and headed over to their house.

When Karen arrived home, she put Mozart on the stereo. We held our collective breath as we watched the arrival of the first pup. Leo was stationed respectfully at the side of the whelping box to welcome the arrival of his offspring. Shelly very expertly pushed the first pup out, and then turned to break the sack and lick the tiny face and body. Soon the second pup made its appearance, but Shelley seemed to be unaware of this one. We waited tensely. She ignored it. Quickly Karen reached out, plucked open the sack and shoved the pup under Shelley’s face. Shelley seemed somewhat surprised to see it, but then dutifully licked this pup into life. One more puppy made its appearance and this one did not escape Shelley’s notice and she promptly attended to it. Three beautiful, precious puppies settled in close to their mother’s tummy for nourishment. We were ecstatic!!! And watchful!!! And gingerly celebratory!!! It was a beautiful birth! We tried to video tape the event, but the battery was dead on the camera, very big bummer!!!

Prior to the births, Karen's plan was to sell the puppies, but now that we had all witnessed the blessed event, that was out of the question! We had bonded. These puppies were a part of the family, they were ours, we loved them deeply and immediately. Karen had three daughters, so she thought perhaps one puppy could go to each daughter, as each puppy was female. Kristen was right on board with that concept and quickly claimed the first born, whom she christened ‘Daisy’.  Daisy was a lovely orange golden tone that reminded Kristen of her favorite flower. Karen chose the second born puppy for her second born child Julie. Julie was a big animal lover and we knew she would be thrilled with the pup who became ‘Lucy’. That left the third puppy. However Karen’s remaining daughter, Lisa, lived in California. She really could not figure out a plan that would be workable to get the puppy to Lisa in a timely fashion, so it was back to the ‘puppy for sale’ plan. I could not stand the thought. I already had Leo’s first girlfriend, Honey Bunny, at home. But in an instant, I was the new mommy of ‘Molly’.

The precious little dogs gave all our extended families great joy for many years.  Daisy got to stay home at Karen’s house with her mommy and daddy, Shelley and Leo. Lucy joined a pack of much bigger dogs at Julie’s house and held her own just fine. In fact, Lucy had a litter that produced her son Kramer, who still resides with Julie (2012). Molly came home with me. My daughter Sarah and I were thrilled with her. Molly was total sweetness, while Honey Bunny was sassy. Karen would spend idle moments on the floor with her dogs in front of the TV, brushing them, combing them, and petting them.
I had so many wonderful adventures with Karen. The dogs were one such magical journey. Karen embraced life, embraced people, embraced adventure. She enriched my life beyond measure. Thank you for loving us Karen. I will always love you.

We Were A Package Deal

Shared by William Van Plew on February 6, 2012

As told by Penny Smith Laing

Karen approached me that fateful day and said, "I really want to go to nursing school, but I won't do it alone, will you do it with me"?  I was quite taken aback as I too had entertained the notion at various times in my life, but I did not want to do it 'alone' either.  After a few seconds of hesitation, I said, "yeah, I'm not doing anything for the next few years, I'll go with you". Heck, what are friends for!!  Actually, it was yet another gift from Karen, a career, and a way to support my child as a single parent. She gave me more gifts than I can enumerate; her friendship, her family, vacations, holidays, birthdays, New Years celebrations, a parade corner, the beach, my last pet, a church home.  She gave me love, hope, courage, and compassion.  She gave me hugs, laughs, she gave me my life.

Nursing school was tough, on purpose, to 'thin out the herd'. They only wanted the best to graduate. Karen was the best. She did papers at the dining room table, with a living room full of kids watching TV, because her house was the house everyone wanted to be at. She got an A in everything, without breaking a sweat. She instigated the two of us starting a petition to change the way a particular assignment was given to us, she won.  She got us to and fro to Cook County Hospital for our Pediatric rotation. She was appalled that the children in the pediatric hospital had no toys to play with there, so we all brought toys to the kids one day. She really blossomed in Labor and Delivery, she loved the babies and the mom's.  She wanted to work in L&D, but in a female dominated profession, it was impossible to break into. At the end of the day, we both gravitated to psychiatry. I got a job in psych first, while Karen was 'lunching with the ladies on the block', recovering from the trauma of nursing school. When a job on my Unit opened up, I put her name in for an interview and hustled her off to the hospital. We were a package deal.

The Mockingbird Song

Shared by Kristen Poniatowski on February 4, 2012

One of my earliest, most vivid memories of me and my Mom, one I LOVE to tell, is when I was a little girl...maybe 5 or 6? I can't remember. What I do remember, is this...after my Mom would give me a bath, she'd wrap me up in a towel, place me on her lap and hold me tight while she sang to me. The song I loved for her to sing was "The Mockingbird Song." She would sing it quietly as she held me and rocked back and forth..."Hush little baby, don't say a word...Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don't sing...Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring..." Even now, I can hear her gentle voice singing that song to me. That memory embodies who my Mom was to me. A nurturer. Her hugs are the number ONE thing that I will miss for the rest of my days. When she held me or hugged me, nothing else mattered. I always felt so loved and safe in her arms. I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life.

Hangin' with the Girls

Shared by Juliana Sweet on January 26, 2012

Way back, when I was in my early teens, my Mom and her friends used to get together for coffee, and I would hang out with them.  Mom, Cathy, Bonnie, Pat, and sometimes Barb, Char, Cindy and Jan would all sit around and visit.  I found their company and laughter comforting and entertaining.  I found myself relating more to them than to people my own age and they were happy to include me.  My Mom made me feel special, a part of things.  She was that kind of person.  Always inclusive.  She wanted to have people together whenever possible, whether it was sharing a t.v. show, going to dinner or gathering at the cottage.  She always wanted to share opinions and stories, along with her warm and inviting hugs.  My Mom was my soft place to land, my sounding board, and my best friend.  She taught me about how to love unconditionally, forgive without expectations, and hold true to my faith.  She was a Mother I admired, a friend that I try to emulate and a person that I strive to be.  Truly an amazing and wonderful soul.

Eulogy For Karen

Shared by William Van Plew on January 23, 2012

Funeral Service - December 1, 2011, Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

In trying to write this eulogy for Karen, I was overwhelmed with the need to describe our 48-year love affair in a way that would adequately express my feelings. I can’t. How can I possibly sum up her life in a few minutes? But I will try …even though it will only be a token of her time here on earth.

Let me start with Karen and me. What made our relationship endure for so long is far too intimate to describe. The only way I can put it to those of you who knew us well, is that --- where there was Karen… there was Bill. Where there was Bill … there was Karen. Individual and distinct … yet forever integrated and entwined. We become synonymous, complimentary, and analogous. Sometimes we were sugar and spice … sometimes we were oil and water. Sometimes smooth … sometimes turbulent. But at the end of the day, we always came together and clung to one another. We found safety and comfort in each other.

Our love affair began in 1963 across a pool table in the Illinois Wesleyan University student union. She was there with a fraternity brother, but that would quickly change. I was immediately, forever smitten by her. Something about that South Side Chicago girl was irresistible. It also didn’t hurt that she was “breathtakingly ” gorgeous. Fortunately, although only God knows why, something about me also “clicked” with her and off we hurled ourselves into a 48-year love affair. Two years later on Christmas Day, I asked her to marry me. She said yes! We married the following July on the most beautiful day there ever was.

Together we shared …
… passionate romance.
… compromises (first her … then me).
… her first turkey dinner (which was fabulous).
… military life.

We shared her insecurities of being a first-time mother giving birth and then caring for Lisa, alone, while I was away at war in Vietnam

We shared the birth of our other children – Juliana, Kristen and Jonathan … then we shared raising all four for the next three decades (we’ve got hour after hour of family videos if anyone would like to see them).

We shared my struggles to establish a career and her mid-life switch from being a full-time mom to a first rate nurse … only made possible because her best friend, Penny, had her back through nursing school and then got her her first and only nursing  job for 26 years on the psychiatric unit of Central DuPage Hospital.

We shared a hard decade of family deaths on both sides that included parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, aunts and uncles that profoundly affected both of us as we became the family matriarch and patriarch.

We also shared happy times including…
… family trips to Germany, Florida, Disney World and California …
… our children’s college graduations and their weddings …
… endless summers at Karen’s beloved Harbert Cottage …
… and the joy of being Mor Mor and Pa Pa to five marvelous grandchildren.

When it came to Karen, she was a fierce mother to the end - just ask her kids. She loved her family foremost and would unwaveringly advocate her strong family values. Important to Karen was… family first … then friends … her faith …her CDH patients …her eyebrows (those who really knew Karen will know what I mean) … inspirational readings that she shared … and her emotions. She had the biggest, caring heart you will ever know.

Karen cherished all of the close friends that she made over the years. Many were through bonds formed with other young mothers just starting families like us …and later young mothers in the neighborhood as we established our home of 38 years on Cottonwood Drive. Later, it was her “buddies” who worked with her on the psych unit.

She enjoyed keeping in touch, daily, with everyone and seeing their photos on Facebook. She marveled about having the Internet and cell phones … and anything that enabled her to better maintain and participate in relationships.

She enjoyed the comfort of her home … and especially loved her 58” HD TV with a cable box that allowed her to record programs and skip commercials (of all her virtues, patience was not one of them).

She enjoyed watching family videos with anyone who would join her.

She enjoyed her casino time spinning those slot machine wheels until her $40 allotment was gone.

But, most of all, she enjoyed family time at her cottage in Harbert Michigan.

Karen loved God and was confident in his love for her. She believed there was a wonderful heaven waiting for her and did not fear death. She found great comfort in her Lutheran faith. At the end, she was really struggling with her health, but was ever optimistic that she would eventually feel well enough to engage in the rest of our life plans. She had just retired from the hospital in October following successful stomach surgery.

I can’t believe Karen is gone! I know you must be thinking the same. For those of you who got to know Karen up close, you will probably agree that Karen is not a memory, but rather an experience. To know Karen, like it or not, is an unforgettable, “better be ready for this" spunky experience. She had a gift for sizing up people right away (honed through years of studying astrology). Tell her your birth date and time of birth, and she had you pegged. Then it was a no holds barred relationship. She loved people and would engage them with a sense of humor. She didn’t take herself too serious, but had a real sense of compassion for those who needed it.

Karen was taken from her children, grandchildren, family, friends and me suddenly, unexpectedly and much too soon! Now, she is not here anymore, and I don’t know if I can bear it. Somehow I will have to -- by clinging to my children, family and friends. I miss her desperately, more than I thought possible, and I will cherish our time together. Time will tell if there is a Bill without a Karen.

I know most of you have your own experiences with Karen. I hope they were strong enough to keep her presence alive within you. That will give comfort to our children and me as we celebrate her life and hold her in our hearts in the years ahead.

Karen, we forever love you.

So Proud, Kristen's Graduation

Shared by meg eifrig on January 15, 2012

 You can tell from this photo, that both of your parents are so proud of you. They are beaming!

I am so glad that your dad created this website to share memories and stories. There are so many wonderful memories here. I never knew your mom was such a fantastic artist.

Much Love, Meg

Mom and Lisa

Shared by Lisa Van Plew-Cid on January 10, 2012
My father recently gave me this photo. I hadn't seen it before and couldn't help but chuckle. I was my mother's first child, and as with many first time mothers, we have this vision of our "angel" baby cuddling up in our arms all the time. Being that my dad was in Vietnam, my mom's focus was on me. My focus was moving around and discovering all this world had to offer! As my mother told me quite often throughout my life, I would often "push" away when she picked me up because I wanted to be down and moving around. She even tried to keep me in my porta crib to inhibit me from walking; she wanted my dad to be home for this milestone. This effort caused me to do nothing but "cruise" around and around the crib, and I ended up walking at 8 months old. The look on my mom's face in this photo is priceless as she is trying to hold on to me and I, with a determined grin on my face, am trying to stay on the move. This dynamic has remained part of our relationship. I like to think that with our many similiarities and some apparant differences, we both grew and developed as people. I feel like part of me did grow up with my mom. As she watched me grow up, I've seen her evolve, and I have seen what part of her personality has remained. She is one of my greatest influences, and I miss her input dearly. Even though I've always pushed to "do my own thing", part of my comfort in doing so was I knew I always had a "safe place to land." I knew that through everything, my mom would always be there. As I am now a mother to two active, outgoing, vivacious children (hmmmmmm.... a coincidence? ;) I often think about my mother telling me about how I was. I hope to embrace, appreciate and nurture these traits in my children, remembering how ultimately accepting my mom had to be with me. There is no one and never will be anyone like my mom. Part of me is gone, and I anxiously wait for the day to be together again. No matter how "independent" my mom thought I was, the cord has never broken. I need her. I miss her. I love her more than anyone.

Karen Courted

Shared by William Van Plew on January 7, 2012

This is a photo of Karen when she was 18 sometime in early 1964 after she accepted my TKE fraternity lavaliere (see necklace). To be "lavaliered" is like going steady. It's a college fraternity thing. A year later on her birthday we were "pinned" - she accepted my Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity pin that I received as an active member. This signified that we were engaged to be engaged. When she accepted my pin - the entire fraternity house showed up at her dormitory at Illinois Wesleyan University one night after hours and serenaded her in the courtyard by singing "The Sweetheart of TKE" while we held hands and kissed in front of all my fraternity brothers and her dorm-mates. It was all very romantic. (She later had the pin made into a charm for her bracelet). On Christmas Day, 1965, I proposed to her in front of her parents and sister. She said yes. We were married on the most beautiful day there ever was, July 30, 1966, and remained so for 45 years.

Meeting Lisa Marie

Shared by William Van Plew on January 7, 2012

This photo is of me at O'Hare Airport, Chicago with Karen seeing Lisa, our first born, for the first time. It was December 26, 1969. I had just come back from Vietnam and being discharged from the U.S. Army - all within the past 48 hours. Boy was I glad to be home, away from Vietnam, with Karen again and with Lisa, our beautiful new baby daughter. For a while those few days, however, I wasn't sure I would make it.

I was scheduled to leave Vietnam on January 26, 1970 and be discharged from active duty at the same time. But, I was able to leave earlier because of an "early out" program the military offered soldiers close to discharge. As it turned out, I received orders to fly out of Vietnam on December 24, 1969. I remember vividly, sitting in the hanger at Bien Hoa airbase on Christmas Eve waiting for them to call my name so I could board the "Freedom Bird" back home. It was the last flight leaving the airbase until after Christmas and there were only so many seats available. Boarding priority was given by rank. I was a Specialist 5 (equivalent to Sergeant E5). I remember that everytime they got close to my name, I would be "bumped" by a higher ranking soldier.

I just kept sitting there, watching the tracers from a C130 "Spooky" gunship firing on a position off in the distance, praying there would be a seat left for me. Finally, my name was called. From the time I took my seat in that airplane, I don't think I took a breath until they retracted the wheels after takeoff.

On the way back, we stopped in Okinawa, Japan and then on to Oakland, California. Since we crossed the international dateline during our flight, I flew back into Christmas Eve. So Christmas Day actually lasted two days. I spent all of them either on the airplane or processing out-of-the-army in a warehouse in Oakland. Finally, I was released and able to catch a flight to Chicago to be with my new family. As irony would have it, when I arrived at O'Hare Airport the day after Christmas, nobody was there to meet me. Was I only dreaming? But after a short wait, there came Karen with Lisa on her shoulder. She had mixed up my arrival time and got a late start to the airport.

All is well that ends well. The war was behind us.

Lovers in Hawaii

Shared by William Van Plew on January 7, 2012

I remember this photo well. It was in July of 1969 in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was on R&R (Rest & Recuperation) from the half way point of my tour of duty in Vietnam. Karen came over to join me. To say I was happy to see her would be a huge understatement. We both went back and forth as to whether or not she should bring Lisa. She was just born in March, and I hadn't seen her yet. We finally decided that Karen should come alone. We needed some alone time together. Karen arrived in Honolulu a day before me and befriended a Marine who worked at the reception station (isn't that just like Karen!). Because we had made no arrangements for her stay that night, he invited her to his home to stay the night with him and his wife. The next day, he stayed with her at the reception station waiting for me to arrive.

I had made arrangements for us to stay at the couple's quarters at Fort DeRussey, right there on Waikiki Beach. Well, from the moment we first checked in, I could tell Karen was not pleased. The quarters were like barracks with curtains. From what I had been living in in Vietnam, it was pretty cushy. Karen wouldn't have it.

So, as it turned out, Karen's new Marine friend came to the rescue. He called in a few favors and got us set up for the week in a kitchenette suite at the Aloha Moana Motel a few blocks off of the beach-all for free! It was just what we wanted - self-contained and PRIVATE. It was like a second honeymoon. Karen was back to her amazing pre-Lisa shape and I was looking more buff than I have since. I will never forget that week and the love we made and the fun we had. This photo was taken at the motel pool.

The hardest part was leaving and going back to Vietnam for six more months. The day before I left, our Marine friend and his wife had us over for a day at a private beach and a marvelous grilled steak dinner. After I left, Karen stayed with them one more night before they took her to the airport. The only time that was harder for us to leave each other was the day I left Chicago for Vietnam. I never left her again.

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