It was exactly one year before D-Day when American soldier Steve Vlaskamp spotted red-headed Dorothy in Los Angeles.
The stunning LA local caught the eye of Steve's friend as well that night on 6 June, 1943, and it was left to the chance of a coin toss on who would get to ask Dorothy for a dance.
Steve won — and just over a month later they were engaged.
"Like most wartime romances it was a whirlwind romance and in about six weeks they were engaged," said Jennifer Van Laar, Steve and Dorothy's Vlaskamp's granddaughter, to Euronews.
'Get on a train to Manhattan, let's get married'
Steve, the son of Dutch parents, carried on with his military training on the other side of the US, and it was the unpredictability of war that ultimately led to the two tying the knot.
"He eventually had to go to Fort Dix in New Jersey because they were all shipping out to go to Europe. Of course, he couldn't tell her this," said Van Laar, who manages the conservative website Red State.
"He wanted to get married before he shipped out so that she could have any benefits if he should die... so he telegrammed her and said: 'Get on a train and meet me in Manhattan and let's get married before I go.' So she did and a few days after they got married he shipped out."
That was 27 March, 1944 — just more than two months before D-Day — when both of them were about the age of 21. Steve soon went to Europe and would write hundreds of letters to Dorothy, nicknamed Dot, including the start of D-Day.
Dorothy, whose father was French and mother Irish, would stay in the US, where she helped build military bombers for the war, a role known as a Rosie the Riveter.
'Perfect night for dreaming'
Steve and Dorothy's descendants didn't know the true extent of the horrors of what Grandpa Steve experienced during World War II.
"My grandpa saw so much in Europe when he was there that he didn't really want to talk about it. He was there at some of the times when they liberated concentration camps — so it was just something he didn't want to talk about," said Van Laar.
It wasn't until nearly 60 years after the end of World War II — after Dorothy died — that the family uncovered 300 letters Steve wrote to his wife, including one he wrote on 7 June, 1944.
"My dearest, darling wife,
How is my dream girl tonight? Fine, I hope. I can picture you now, darling, with your rust colored hair predominating the smudge of dirt on the tip of your nose, and you are submissive to your thoughts with a far-away look in your eye. You are asking yourself questions, particularly at this time, which thousands of mothers and wives are asking themselves. Put those thoughts out of your mind, darling, because I am in good health and feel like a million. I am not taking anything for granted because I know it is only human nature to do so. You are with me constantly, darling, because we are inseparable in mind and spirit, even if in reality we are seven thousand miles apart.
This is a perfect night for dreaming. There’s a big silver dollar of a moon and a cool breeze floating on the air. What a night, darling. It reminds me of August 15th when I proposed to the girl of my dreams. No, there isn’t any Palm Trees or parked car in front of Mrs. Gartman’s, but just the same it reminds me of a night I’ll never forget. Though awkward it may be, I am trying to say that I love you. I love you more than seems humanly possible, but why do you have to haunt me all the time?
“How are the B-25’s coming along, darling? Every time I see one I get a funny feeling and say to myself, ‘Maybe Dot has helped put that baby into the air.’ It’s a wonderful feeling, darling. Frank was here yesterday for about an hour and we had a regular old ladies gab-fest. He told me to tell you hello for him, but from now on it is, ‘Speak for yourself, John.’
Ha. Ha. You ought to see him. He hadn’t shaved for a week and I don’t see how he could see through his glasses they were so dirty.
“Well, darling, the day we have waited so long for has come, and on the very day, one year from the day I met you. I hope it won’t be long. Tell Mom I will write her soon. In fact, tomorrow night. I must leave you for tonight, dearest, but I will write tomorrow. That is a promise. Goodnight, sweetheart, and sweet dreams. Dream of me? I’ll be home for supper, honey.
P.S. Honey, I could use some writing paper. Also, send some cigarettes if you get any."
Grandpa Steve 'had game'
After the war, Steve focused on getting an education and starting a family with Dot. But it was the discovery of the letters that led to Van Laar and her family seeing a different, warmer side to Grandpa Steve.
"Grandpa was just an old, kind of moody kind of guy by the time I came around. He had his loving moments and everything — but to read these letters and read the romance, he had some game with the things he would write to her. And seeing that incredible romantic streak was just really incredible for us," she said.
VE Day: 'The day we have been waiting for'
Steve continued to write to his newlywed wife Dorothy throughout the war, including the day the Germans surrendered in 1945, known as Victory in Europe Day.
In a typewritten letter written from "Somewhere in Germany" dated 8 May, 1945, Steve writes to his "dearest darling Dorothy", referencing the sunny weather on VE Day.
He wrote about how it was "the day that we have been waiting for for so long", and closed the letter with: "I love you Dot and I am waiting for the day that I can take you in my arms again. Won't that be the day!"
His final letter from the war was on 11 September, 1945, said Van Laar. And a year later they would welcome their first child.
Steve and Dot divorced in the late 1970s, but their love remained evident even after death.
"They were still each others' love of their lives," said Van Laar, adding that the duo wanted to be buried together.
Steve died in 1999 and Dorothy passed away in 2004. The Army soldier and California girl who met at that United Service Organizations (USO) dance more than 60 years earlier were reunited once again — and forever more — at the veterans' section of a cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.
On Dorothy's tombstone reads the inscription: USO Bride.