Everyone dreams of having the kind of love that is depicted in the film The Notebook, where a couple prevails against all odds, only to die in each other’s arms. One California couple managed to live that story themselves, leading their daughter to this bittersweet realization.
Together Til The End
Floyd and Violet Hartwig had been married for 67 years when Floyd passed away, hand in hand with Violet. The pair hadn’t been separated since Floyd was discharged from the Navy. In her sadness, however, their daughter had a revelation.
Elementary Meet Cute
Floyd first met Violet when they were both in elementary school in their hometown of Fresno, California. The two would often see each other on the playground, though they didn’t interact much as children. Floyd was a year older than Violet, and boys tended to prefer games that were too rough for young girls of that time. So off Violet sat with her young companions, while Floyd roughhoused with the other, older boys. They would both be adults when they met again.
Serving His Country
When World War II broke out Floyd knew he had to do his duty. One year into America’s involvement in the war, Floyd enlisted in the Navy, intent on serving his country as a career sailor. The vast majority of the recruits to the U.S. Navy at that time were shipped to the Pacific to fight against the Japanese, and Floyd was among them. Though he did not know it when he enlisted, Floyd would fight in every major Pacific battle of World War II.
An American Hero
When Floyd joined the Navy, the United States was in the final weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign. Following his basic training, he was immediately deployed to the Pacific, where the US had finally prevailed over the Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands. Many considered it the turning point of the war in the Pacific, and Floyd was excited to continue the effort. Floyd’s first major engagement would be the Battle for the Marshall Islands. With only his parents back home, he committed himself fully.
He Wanted To Continue
So thrilling was the war to young Floyd, who’d enlisted when he was only 18 years old, that he planned to continue building his career with the Navy once the war was won. Floyd knew in his bones that the US would win, but it was not without a heavy price. He survives a number of near misses, but ultimately was honored for his incredible heroism. During the course of the next 3 years, he crossed the equator 26 times. Floyd didn’t think anything would change his mind.
Close To The End
It was a miracle that Floyd made it out of the war. He had fought valiantly through the battle of Okinawa, watching as one by one, many of his friends were shot down by the Japanese. Still, Floyd fought on, and on August 6, 1945, Floyd was on board his ship, anchored at the Bikini Atoll when news broke that the first atomic bomb had been detonated over Hiroshima. The nearness of the victory convinced Floyd even further that his future lay with the US Navy.
When It All Changed
Floyd had been enjoying his ongoing naval career, even during the relative calm of the post war years, but he often missed his family, so when he was offered shore leave, he took it immediately. Floyd returned home to Fresno to visit his parents in 1946. Several of his old high school buddies were still in town, and they begged Floyd to come out to a local dance with them, never knowing that his life was about to change forever.
Night At The Rainbow
The music was jumping at the Rainbow Ballroom when Floyd and his friends arrived. The men were dressed in their best, though Floyd wore his uniform, thinking the ladies might be more endeared by a soldier. The split off to grab a table for the group of them, while the rest went to get a couple of drinks. As Floyd sidled up to the bar, a familiar face caught his eye. He couldn’t quite place her at first, but he knew immediately it was fate.
Forever In A Moment
Floyd knew he couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by, so he quickly struck up a conversation with the beautiful girl standing in front of him. Her name was Violet, and as she introduced herself, a long lost memory seemed to resurface in his mind. The two had attended elementary school together in their youth. Violet had grown into a radiant young woman, and Floyd was hooked. Little did he realize at that moment that she felt the same.
Made To Wait
Violet was equally smitten with Floyd, but to their dismay, Floyd had to ship out again after only a couple of weeks. In a story almost directly imitated by The Notebook, the pair began a written correspondence to bridge the miles while Floyd was away. By the time of his eventual discharge, the couple had sent over 100 letters to one another, each time anxiously waiting weeks to receive their lover’s reply to the last correspondence that had been sent.
Better Than Ally And Noah
Floyd and Violet’s great-grandson, Jake Curtis, reflected on the similarity of his great-grandparents to the main characters in the Nicholas Sparks novel, The Notebook. As strong as the fictional love between Ally and Noah was, Jake believed his great-grandparents exhibited a love for one another that was even more beautiful than fiction. “I think about them every day,” he said he told the Fresno Bee. “[Their love is] a lot better [than The Notebook], a lot more detailed. And I think it’s more interesting.”
A Timeless Record
By May 1947, Floyd was stationed at the Johnston Atoll, where he wrote, “Hi honey, just a few lines from this lonely blue sailor of yours. Miss you darling and so in love with you. … Honey, I’ll sure be glad when I get out of this. It sure isn’t for me, though at one time I thought the Navy was pretty swell. That was before I fell in love with the sweetest girl in the world.” His heart was aching to be back with Violet once more.
Writing Sweet Nothings
Another letter saw Floyd writing, “Love you my dearest and want you so. Vi, I heard our song this evening and it sure did make me homesick for you. Honey, did you ever get a record of it? I certainly hope so as I want to listen to it and have you in my arms at the same time.” The days apart from her seemed to stretch in an unending blur, punctuated only by the receipt of each new letter from Vi. Luckily for the couple, they wouldn’t be apart for long.
He Couldn’t Stop
On one particularly grueling day, Floyd found himself finishing his fifth letter to Violet, or “Vi” as he called her. He longed to be back in California, and was ready to give up on the Navy immediately. Still, he would uphold his commitment, though the Navy allowed him leave once more in order to finally marry his sweetheart in August of 1947. Floyd and Violet danced to “Till the End of Time” together, just as he had longed to in his last letter.
Home At Last
Several months after their marriage, Violet wrote yet another letter to her new husband, “Need your arms around me darling, hope it will be soon honey. All my love darling and take care of yourself. Love you, love you, and shall always love only you, honey, as long as I live. Your loving wife, forever.” Early in 1948, the couples’s dream came true when Floyd was honorably discharged from the Navy. They were ready to start their happily ever after.
Building Their Life
Following Floyd’s discharge, the pair settled into a quiet rural life on a farm in Easton, California. Floyd delivered eggs for a time, before they settled into the daily routine of the farm, chopping wood together, feeding the turkeys, and picking cotton. The pair raised three children, Donna, Carol, and Kenneth, who would go on to give them four grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Aside from each other, taking care of the family and participating in their children’s lives were all they ever needed.
Age Creeps Up
Despite their best laid plans, the couple knew they might not live forever, and as they began to age, many health problems began to crop up. In his 60s, Floyd survived both colon cancer and bladder cancer, while Violet suffered a number of strokes. As Violet’s dementia began to worsen, Floyd was ever more determined to take care of her, whether or not his own health was good. No matter how bad it got, he only had Violet on his mind.
It was becoming difficult for Floyd to walk unaided, and he often became short of breath after only a few steps. Their daughter Donna was around often, trying to make things easier for the ailing couple. Though it was clear Floyd’s health was also failing, Donna shared, “He would tell the doctor, ‘I’m OK, I want Vi fixed.’… [H]is concern was helping her. He was not going to give up on that.” The doctor, unfortunately, had no good news to give.
They Pressed On
No matter how hard things got, both Floyd and Vi insisted on taking care of themselves, up until only a month before their deaths. Floyd steadfastly continued to trim the lawn and carry firewood to the house, even if it was painful for him. They were so committed to being with one another, no matter how bad their health was, but the kids knew Violet’s end was near when she stopped eating and lost a significant amount of weight.
The News Hits Hard
As their children were weighing whether or not to place Violet in hospice care, Floyd received devastating news from his doctor. His kidneys were failing, and it was likely that he would only have about two weeks to live. Suddenly the Hartwig family had to decide whether or not to place both of their ailing parents into hospice care. Donna, though, came up with a better solution that would allow her parents to be as comfortable as possible in their final days.
Together Till The End
Donna wanted to keep her parents together at all costs, so rather than move them from their home in their final days, likely speeding up their decline, Floyd and Vi’s children hired a home care nurse to look after them and purchased hospital beds for them to sleep on. Donna said, “We could see it was getting really close. We pushed their hospital beds together and moved them over so they could hold hands.” Even their breath was synchronized in their last hours.
What Kept Them Going
Floyd passed away with Violets hand holding his, before she followed him mere hours later. Donna tearfully looked back on her parents love for one another, saying “I think that’s what kept them going, that they each had the other one. They didn’t want to go without each other.” Their children were glad they chose to keep the couple together in the end, so strong was their connection one another. Floyd was 90 years old, and Violet was 89.
The Depth Of Their Connection
Even in her grief, Donna reflected, “You had a sense they had a connection and I think that connection just came more and more, especially in the last months of their lives.” Throughout her life, Violet had always been dedicated to family, spending time with them in their ample yard, sewing for them, and staying involved with the local PTA as she raised her children. Since Floyd’s return in 1948, they hadn’t been separated, and they weren’t going to let death change that.
All They Wanted
In several emotional interviews that Donna gave, she looked back at her parents’ life. “At the funeral home when there were two caskets, and my brother and I were standing together, we said it was meant to be.” She then added, “That was the only way it could end. They were very devoted.” Donna went on to recall just how much her parents always gave them, and that they instilled a strong sense of family in their children. Family was all they wanted.
A Legacy Of Letters
It’s through her parents legacy of letters that Donna finally had a revelation about her parents. It was touching to see how dedicated they were to one another, despite the thousands of miles between them in those early days of their courtship. I remember them kissing each other goodbye every morning,” she shared with reporters at ABC News. “What we felt was keeping them alive was the will to live, and that they didn’t want to let go of each other.”