The love story of A.G. and Hazel Bonner stretches back 80 years or more, and they cannot remember a time when they did not know each other. They played together as children, dated in high school, suffered through war and survived to raise a family.
While some romances bloom only to quickly fade, their Valentine’s story is as young as when it began.
A.G. is 95 years old, and on Tuesday his wife, Hazel, will be 94. They were married on Christmas Day, 1937, and last year celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. He still carries shrapnel he received in combat during World War II, and she still sheds a tear when she remembers how close she came to losing him. Together, they live in the Bethesda community outside Roopville, where both were born.
A.G. grew up on land once owned by Zadock Bonner, whose gold mine had flourished before the Civil War. Hazel Walker lived on the neighboring farm.
“His mother would come down and visit my mother and bring the children,” says Hazel.
As the adults talked, the kids would play in the woods and fields. Being neighbors, A.G. and Hazel were always part of one another’s lives, and they attended the same one-room school near the Bethesda church, which they also attended together. They joined the church and were baptized, both on the same day.
It seemed inevitable, then, that they would start going together during their high school years, and just as inevitable when they decided to marry. A.G. did not leave things to chance, however — he formally asked Hazel’s father for her hand. Then on Christmas Day, they walked to the preacher’s house and got married.
They set up house on the Bonner farm, earning a hardscrabble life during the Depression years. But in the early 1940s, A.G. heard that the DuPont Corp. had built a munitions plant over in Alabama, not far from Sylacauga. This type of factory work was new to the South and offered a steady wage when most people’s earnings varied with the weather and insects. A.G. and Hazel moved over there just after the war began, and it was there that their daughter, Bonnie, was born.
Two months later, however, they were back in Roopville. A.G. had been drafted and Hazel still has difficulty in talking about seeing him ship off to war. She did not know then that rougher days were ahead.
It was 1943, and A.G. was soon swept up into the vast military operation known as the Italian Campaign. While Allied forces were fighting in Europe, commanders planned to divert Hitler’s attention by attacking his Axis partner, Mussolini. It was all part of a larger strategic plan to prepare for the Normandy invasion the following spring.
A.G. was assigned to an artillery unit near Naples. Firing shells into the lines of Germans who had come in to support Italy naturally made his unit a target; A.G. was constantly under fire by enemy gun crews trying to eliminate the threat posed by his outfit. Enemy forces once threatened to overrun his position, and A.G.’s crew was issued dynamite to blow up their guns to prevent them from capture.
“That didn’t make me feel good at all,” he says.
He can look back with humor now, but the danger he faced in battle cannot be underestimated. He was wounded twice. The first time, he was out of action for only a little while, even though he received shrapnel wounds that made his duties difficult. But the second time ended the war for him – ironic, since the war itself ended only a few days afterward.
A.G. had been writing Hazel whenever he could, but communicating back home was nothing like it is for modern soldiers. Hazel and Bonnie were living on her father’s farm and had no telephone. She got word of A.G.’s wounds by telegram. When he got back to the States, someone had to call Hazel to a neighbor’s house so she could hear her husband’s voice.
A.G. was sent to a military hospital in Augusta to recuperate. He said that he was sitting outside one day when he saw Hazel walking up to him with a child he did not recognize – it was Bonnie, of course, now a toddler, whom he had not seen for a year.
A.G. remained in Augusta for a year, and Hazel and Bonnie took an apartment to be with him.
The war was the big drama in their lives. There have been more, but the couple have survived and thrived. A.G. had the opportunity to go to school in Chicago to study electronics, and then returned to Georgia to work at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, where he retired in the 1980s. In the meantime, he bought the farm on which Hazel grew up and that’s where they live today, in the house he built for them. His Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster is on display in the living room.
They might bicker from time to time, as all couples do, but their daughter Bonnie says those little spats are quickly healed when her father kisses her mother on the head, or pats her hand. Knowing one another for nearly a century apparently puts disagreements into perspective.
And every day, Bonnie says, A.G. is sure to go outside and pick fresh flowers to put on the table, a daily gift for his wife of 75 years — his lifelong friend.