Richard "Dick" Tracy knows about being in love. He was married for 64 years until his wife, Norma, passed away in 2010.
But before there was Norma Tracy, they was another woman, "a pretty little girl" from New Zealand whose first name also was Norma. Dick was in love with Norma Milford back in 1942 near the outset of World War II.
"When you're in love," said Dick, 92, "you don't lose it. Not over 70 years, not over 100 years if you live that long. Some love is meant to be."
That's certainly one explanation for the romance of Dick Tracy and Norma Milford. How else can a Marine from Franklin fall in love with a woman from New Zealand, and now -- some 70 years later -- be engaged to her again?
"Some love just lasts," he said.
And stretches more than the 8,449 flight miles from Franklin to Snells Beach, New Zealand.
According to the original plan, Dick and Milford should have been celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. Now they're starting over. He recently flew to New Zealand, and on June 24 -- the day before Milford's 89th birthday -- he proposed, right there in front of her family and friends.
They don't plan on marrying, though. She wants to remain in New Zealand, and he doesn't want his failing health to be a burden on her. He's back in Franklin and she's planning on visiting him in October to celebrate his 93rd birthday.
To truly appreciate their romance, the clock must be turned back more than half a century. Dick, a 1937 Franklin High School graduate, enlisted in the Marines in 1940 and was with the 1st Marine Division, the first U.S. servicemen to arrive in New Zealand at Wellington in June 1942.
The division was based in camps at Paekakariki and stayed only a few weeks before the battle of Guadalcanal. When his division was deployed, Dick and other Marines remained in New Zealand to guard the military equipment and load and unload ships.
Eventually, he met Milford on a blind date on Aug. 7, 1942. He wrote in his diary: "I hope I can meet Norma again."
They dated for five months and he proposed to her on Jan. 22, 1943. Later that year, Dick, 23 at the time, said he and his comrades found two badly decomposed bodies of Australian and Japanese soldiers who had been lying fully dressed in New Guinea's undergrowth for about a year. They were found 30 yards apart, their rifles at their sides. Tracy speculates the two soldiers killed each other and never were found.
It planted a seed in his mind. That could very well be him, and he didn't want Milford to worry about him during the war. So he made the toughest decision of his life: He called off the engagement.
"I didn't want her to be waiting, waiting, waiting until the war was over," he said. "I could be lost, captured or dead and she'd never know what happened."
In the next months, she sent him several "unhappy letters" filled with disappointment, but he never responded.
As he said: "I wanted it done with."
Years later, he learned that she corresponded with his mother, and she didn't marry until after Dick started his family.
She eventually married Maurice Milford, a New Zealand Army man she and Dick had double dated with several times. They married and had three children. He died in 1997.
Dick Tracy returned to Franklin after the war and worked for Egry Register Co. in Dayton for 23 years, at the Franklin Chronicle newspaper for 12 years and for five years at the Miamisburg News retiring in 1984 when he was 65.
He married Norma on May 1, 1946, and they had five children, Mike Tracy, Nick Tracy, Mary Ann Evans, Betsy Tracy and Tom Tracy, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She died on March 28, 2010.
The Tracys toured New Zealand in 1989 and visited with Maurice and Norma Milford, and in 1971, one of Norma's daughters, Robyn Anne Milford, taking medical training at the Cleveland Clinic, visited the Tracy family for a few hours.
Then one day, earlier this year, Tracy was showing his war mementos to a friend who was intrigued by the story behind his first engagement. His friend, through a Catholic church in Milford's hometown, located her.
He never hesitated to contact her. He called it "a wonderful conversation" and admitted he loved her, but he was unsure of her feelings toward him.
"It all took off," he said. "It was just like the last time we saw each other."
He paused for a few seconds, then added: "It's time for us to enjoy what we have together."
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