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Monday, February 9, 2015

WWII Telegram: "Not Coming Home. Have fallen in Love!"

by Diane Donovan, guest writer
Irene Clifford Oja, 95, has led a very interesting life. She was born a twin, but unfortunately her twin brother passed away shortly after birth. Irene has always felt that she wanted to live her life for both herself and her twin, and that is why she decided to get her pilot’s license -- she thought that perhaps that is what her twin would have done had he lived. Irene accomplished this feat during WWII.

Irene also felt compelled to do her fair share for the country, and joined the Red Cross as part of overseas Red Cross relief efforts during WWII.

Irene worked for the Red Cross from 1946-1949. She was stationed in Ludwigsburg, Germany – where her love story begins.


The lovely Irene Clifford Oja
In 1946, Irene Clifford was a 27-year-old, tall, slender, auburn-haired beauty. She had just gone into the Military Governor’s office seeking bicycle tires for the G.I.s. At that very moment, in walks Lt. Gene Oja, a tall, handsome soldier who had just been assigned to the new Military Governor. He assists Irene in her endeavor and then asks her to accompany him to look at his office for the first time. On that meeting, he tells Irene that he is a pilot – and she matches the statement by pulling out HER pilot’s license and showing it to the startled lieutenant! He takes another look at Irene and immediately asks her to show him around the military base.

Irene had just wired a telegram home to her sister saying, “will be home in three weeks.” Three weeks later, she sends another telegram home, but this one says: “NOT coming home. Have fallen in love!”

Gene Oja
They were both equally smitten, and thus began a romance that lasted 65 glorious years.They were married in Ludwigsburg six months later. One year after their marriage, their first daughter was born in Germany; it was then that they decided to move back to the United States. Gene earned his master’s in International Relations and went on to work for the FBI; Irene had their second daughter and raised their children.

According to their daughters, their lives were filled with love and respect – a love that will last an eternity. Although Gene passed away, Irene still lives in Colorado. On Feb. 23, members of the American Red Cross of Colorado & Wyoming will present her with a special national recognition for her service as part of the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces “Our Legacy Continues” project.
The Our Legacy Continues Project honors and recognizes the legacy of Red Cross staff who have served side-by-side with members of the U.S. military in all major wars and conflicts since the American Civil War.

Irene's story is being shared as part of our Valentine's Day #RedCrossMyHeart campaign of Red Cross love stories. If you want to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). Visit redcross.org/redcrossmyheart to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.

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