- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

YORK, Pa. (AP) - Their love blossomed from war, and so John Fisher tells the kind of story almost no one can anymore.

It’s been 70 years since the day he walked in the back door of his parents’ home in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He was in his early 20s and taking it easy while waiting for reassignment in the Air Force. World War II would be ending soon.

He walked in, surprised to see the neighbor girl with auburn hair sitting at the dining room table.

She was looking for help. Her brother had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge, and her family wasn’t sure how to piece together the pin, ribbons and medal of his Purple Heart. They thought John might know.

He did, but who would ever predict the best part of his life coming from the worst circumstance?

He asked Ruth Wagner out on a date a few days later. She needed her mother’s approval because he was six years older, after all. He doesn’t remember which movie they saw.

“Who’s paying attention to the movie? I was paying attention to her,” he said the other day, his eyes suddenly sparkling as he talked from his apartment in the Providence Place Retirement Community just south of Dover.

John and Ruth were married two years later, as soon as she graduated from high school.

They were married for 67 years.

He smiled and shrugged when asked more about that.

He said he was just lucky. He was in so many ways.

The B-24 bomber was at 18,000 feet somewhere over the South Pacific. After hours of flying, it was time for John to take over the plane because that’s what a bombardier did when the target finally neared.

Far below, he could see puffs of smoke from some kind of explosions. Soon enough, Japanese anti-aircraft shells began lighting up the sky all around them.

“It was like, ‘Hey, they’re trying to kill me!’ It became real, and quick,” said Fisher, now 91.

“You always got in the back of your mind the possibility you’re not going to make it. On the other hand, you can’t sit up there and shiver and be scared. You got to do your job, do the best you can.”

That was one of the earliest of his 48 bombing missions. Somehow, they all did end safely.

And so it would always resonate how blessed he was compared to Harold Wagner, Ruth’s brother. Especially so on Memorial Day.

John and Ruth never talked much about the war, and he understood.

She had a tough enough time growing up, losing one sibling as a toddler, another as a teenager and yet another after that. And the couple was busy raising three children of their own.

Football, of all things, became a passion and even a well-timed distraction.

John had attended his first Pitt football game in the 1930s while tagging along with his older sister for her Saturday college history class. He was mesmerized sitting in the end zone bleachers in the old stadium. The Panthers were a power then, beating up on Penn State in the beginnings of their epic rivalry.

John eventually studied industrial engineering at Pitt and introduced the love of the game to Ruth. Even after moving to Mount Wolf for his York Container Corp. job in 1954, they still drove back to Pittsburgh at least once each fall to cheer at a game.

Their oldest son attended Pitt and became a fan. Then, a grandson.

John still likes to talk football and will take good-natured jabs at his Panthers or Penn State with the kind of laugh that shakes his chair.

Football is still a background beat, a diversion needed more than ever now. He’s without Ruth on Memorial Day for the first time in 70 years.

Losing the sight in his left eye, he says, doesn’t compare to losing her earlier this month. He still talks of how she lovingly protected and raised their children, as if a most recent accomplishment.

“At night, sometimes, I think of the little things she used to do. I just can’t believe that she’s gone.”

He also still can’t believe how war, in stealing from another family, gave him the most precious gift.

He tries to let that fill him up more than ever now.

Certainly so, on this day.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1HE3Ofu

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Information from: York Daily Record, https://www.ydr.com

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