March 3, 1943
Joe had proposed—and Rosemary had accepted—by letter. Joe, of course, was “long gone” with no idea when he would be back to the States. More weeks, and months, went by. The Redwood with its powerful winch and feisty oversized engine had installed, repaired, opened, and closed dozens of nets in dozens of harbors throughout the Caribbean. So far they had been lucky, eluding German wolf packs—small groups of German U-boats that hunted together, preying on Allied merchant freighters and Navy vessels alike. It had been fourteen months since Pearl Harbor—since they left U.S. waters. Finally, the Redwood was ordered back to Charleston for overhaul. They pulled into port on the last day of February, 1943.
Joe was one of the first to go on leave. It was easy to get himself to the railroad station, just a couple of miles from the Naval Base. He purchased his ticket and sent a telegram to Rosemary. “ARRIVING PENN STATION MONDAY MORNING NINE FORTY-THREE AM. STOP. JOE. ”
When Joe emerged from the stairs that led up from the tracks, there was Rosemary standing right by the gateway where she knew he would exit. As they walked across the magnificent concourse with its arched skylights and giant clock, Rosemary told him excitedly that she had just seen Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, who had swept past as she was waiting. But Joe didn’t care about Madame Chiang.
“Are we going to get married?” was the first thing he said to her.
“Yes,” she replied. “Everything is all set. We’re going straight to my doctor’s office to get our blood tests.”
“Rosemary being Rosemary,” he would always say afterwards, “everything was planned.” The doctor drew blood, packaged the vials carefully and gave them the address of the lab where the package should be dropped off.
After a stop at the lab, Joe and Rosemary headed straight to the rectory at Immaculate Conception Church. Rosemary had already had several conversations with Father Higgins, the pastor. He had written to the pastor of St. Francis Xavier in South Weymouth who had sent all the required paperwork certifying that Joe had been baptized and confirmed, came from a good Catholic family and, of course, had never been married. All this had taken place through the mail, just like his proposal and Rosemary’s acceptance. “How many guys get married by letter?” he loved to ask, again and again, over the years, always it seemed, in wonder, at his own good fortune.
Father HIggins was well aware of the fact that “if and when” Joe Flynn arrived in Astoria, he must be prepared to perform a wedding ceremony with very little notice. Joe and Rosemary came to see him mid-day on Monday. “How about 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon?” the priest suggested.
“Well, I was happy as a lark!” Joe recalled. “I was going to get the best girl in the world!”
On the way back to Rosemary’s house, they stopped at a photography studio and made arrangements for pictures. They needed to get a marriage license, but they also needed a waiver. Ordinarily there was a requirement to wait several days between the time the license was issued and the day the wedding took place.
“Okay, we’re going to Flushing,” Eddie Bartels announced. Eddie, who worked for the City of New York’s Property Tax Department knew his way around. Eddie took his sister and soon-to-be-brother-in-law to a Court House in Flushing. He brought them to an office where, according to Joe, “He was buzz, buzzing to different people. And papers were being prepared. I was just amazed.” One of Eddie’s buddies led them into a courtroom where there was some kind of hearing taking place. The judge looked up, saw their little group, and called a recess. Eddie’s friend walked up to the bench, spoke quietly to the judge, and within moments brought back the required waiver, properly signed and sealed.
Mary Leahy, Eddie’s sister-in-law—who had presented Rosemary with her engagement ring in the middle of a busy downtown diner at lunch time several months ago—by now was living with Eddie and her sister Anna, just downstairs from Rosemary and Pop. “She was a real organizer,” Joe said. Mary and Rosemary went into the city, to Best & Company to choose a dress from the new spring line, which had just come in.
Back in Astoria that night, the phone was very busy. Rosemary, Mary, and Anna took turns making calls.
“There’s going to be a wedding at 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon. Can you come? Yes or no?”
Joe called home. “Your father and I will be down,” Ma said. “We’ll get the midnight train Tuesday night.”
Joe called his brother George. He wanted George to be his best man. But George couldn’t come. He had a strep throat. So Rosemary’s brother Eddie would be Joe’s best man. And Anna would be matron of honor.
Tuesday was spent making arrangements for a reception.
Bright and early Wednesday morning, Rosemary woke Joe, who was sleeping on a cot in the front room. “You go to Grand Central to meet your mother and father,” she instructed him, “And bring them here.”
When Joe arrived back at the house with Ma and Pa, she made them breakfast. This detail always astonished Joe and filled him with pride, “Now here’s the bride,” he would say. “She’s going to get married at 4 o’clock that afternoon, and she’s making my mother and father breakfast.”
Then she said to her soon-to-be-in-laws, “You two better go in and have a nap in my bed.”
“That’s how thoughtful she always was,” Joe would say. “Because my parents were not kids anymore and they had been traveling all night. And all I had to do was sit around and look smart. I didn’t have to worry about a tuxedo or anything else. The war was on. I was in uniform. As a matter of fact, my uniform was tailor made. I was a sharp sailor. I had tailor-made whites and tailor made blues.”
The small wedding party—Rosemary and Joe, Eddie and Anna piled into a limousine for the trip to Immaculate Conception just a couple of blocks away. The redoubtable Mary Leahy had already headed to the church in the family sedan, ferrying Eddie and Anna’s two young children, Patsy and Bunky, along with Ma, Pa, and Pop.
It was a miserable winter afternoon; wet snow was falling, then turning to ice upon hitting the pavement. The church, they wedding party quickly discovered, felt even colder than the outside air, as unheated brick and stone buildings often do. And though Mary had asked the priest to turn the heat on, it was still cold when the bride and groom arrived; in fact, it still hadn’t warmed up by the time the ceremony was over.
Yet no one minded. The joy of the occasion seemed to leave everyone feeling warm even in the midst of the winter weather. The reception was exactly the way Rosemary wanted it—a simple but very nice dinner, a pretty cake, a few small flowers in vase on each table.
Afterwards, the plan had been for Mary Leahy to drive Joe and Rosemary over to their hotel in the city. But Rosemary said, “No way am I going to ride in a car across the Triborough Bridge in an ice storm. We’re going to take the subway!”
Joe loved to relate the confusion that subway ride had caused, at least briefly:
“Later on we heard that one of Rosemary’s neighbors who lived a couple of doors down arrived home that night (he was a fireman who worked in the city) and said to his wife,
I thought you told me the Bartels girl was getting married today.
Yes, the wife said. She was married today, and I was over to the Church.
Well, he stated firmly, as though what she had just said was impossible, I just saw her on the subway with a sailor.