Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
Pat and Al Van Milligen met while serving overseas in World War II. They'll be on Tuesday's Honor Flight out of Dubuque.
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
World War II and Korean War veterans from the Dubuque area are visiting Washington D.C. Monday and Tuesday. It's part of the back-to-back Honor Flights out of the Dubuque Regional Airport.
For one couple, Pat and Al Van Milligen, the trip is a journey back to their romantic past as well.
As a member of the Women's Army Corps -- otherwise known as "a WAC" -- Pat Van Milligen, now 92, was a hot commodity during World War II.
"Between 5,000 boys and 500 WACs, it was a social affair all the way," she said. "One mother wrote me a letter and said, 'Thanks for being so nice to my son. I'm a widow, and he's my only child.' That's sad, I thought. Oh, cripes sakes. Well, I knew most of them were farm boys, at first time away from home, lonesome."
Her job as a corporal was about more than just being social, however.
"On my discharge papers, my job description says, 'Secret and cannot be discussed,' so don't ask me. That's why we won the war! Right, Al?" Van Milligen called playfully over to her husband Monday afternoon at their assisted living apartment in Dubuque.
Al Van Milligen, a captain in the US Army during World War II, had his share of attention as well.
"Everybody was crazy about him," his wife said. "They said, 'Oh, Pat, Al like you.' I said, 'So what? I've got 500 boys out there liking me.'"
She received messages and passed them on to his department for decoding.
"I've asked him 100 times how come he had the guts to ask the most popular WAC to be his girlfriend, and he never responded to me yet to this day," Pat Van Milligen said.
It was a match made not in heaven but in the South Pacific.
"Tell you the truth, I was looking for a wife, and I wanted somebody who liked kids and liked other people and would be vivacious, which she was," Mr. Van Milligen said.
"For one thing, I like officers, and he was an officer," his wife said.
The two didn't socialize, however, since officers couldn't date enlisted members.
"That's the rules," Al Van Milligen said. "You don't get involved with enlisted people except in business."
They remained flirtatious acquaintances until after the war, when he courted her and asked for her hand in marriage.
"I have to tell you, when I asked her to marry me, she said, 'I don't want to get married!' So I got up and started walking away, and she said, 'Come back, come back. Let's talk about it,'" Van Milligen said.
The couple married and raised six children, the youngest of which is Dubuque city manager Mike Van Milligen.
The couple is going on Dubuque's Tuesday morning Honor Flight, accompanied by their second-oldest son and his wife.
"They get along very well, and they work as a team, and moreso as they've gotten older and gotten more physical problems and take care of each other," son Jim Van Milligen said.
September 21 marked Al Van Milligen's 90th birthday and the couple's 66th wedding anniversary.
"And you know how come we're married that long?" Pat Van Milligen said jokingly. "I haven't killed him and he hasn't killed me."
It's the secret to both a long and happy marriage and a long and happy life.
Veterans on Monday morning's Honor Flight out of the Dubuque Regional Airport will arrive home around 10 p.m. at the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque. All are invited to welcome them home.
Tuesday morning's veterans will arrive at the same place, same time-- just on Tuesday night.
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