On her first wedding anniversary, Betty Kranz set sail from England to the United States to reunite with the husband she hadn't seen for a year.
She had married U.S. Navy Lt. Frank Kranz in London on March 31, 1944, after a six-week courtship that started at a dance in South Wales, where she grew up.
"His ship was torpedoed, and he put in to my hometown, Swansea," said Kranz, who has called Houston home for 60 years.
Knowing he would be at sea for a long time once his ship was repaired, the young lieutenant pressed her to become his wife.
"He said, 'You won't wait for me. I don't want to lose you,'" said Kranz, who also served in the British Navy.
Thus, Kranz became a war bride, one of thousands of young women from other lands who married American GIs during World War II, adding their stories to the national biography. No one kept an overall count, but according to the American War Bride Experience, a website (www.uswarbrides.com) maintained by Michele Thomas of St. Louis, as many as 300,000 brides came to the U.S. from more than 50 countries during that era.
Only 16 left
Some went back the minute they landed, but most stayed, triggering legislation to expedite citizenship -- the 1945 War Brides Act -- and spawning associations to make international travel cheaper.
Now, like the men they married, most are in their 80s and 90s and their numbers are dwindling.
Kranz, 89, whose husband died in 2002, stays in touch with other war brides from England through the Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association. The group formed in 1947 to help British parents stay in touch with daughters who had gone to America. Now it's open to those of British birth or heritage.
When Kranz joined the Houston branch in 1957, the roster included 300 World War II brides from England. Now there are 16.
After the war, Kranz and her husband lived in Erie, Pa., until he found work in 1952 as an engineer with Dow Chemical Co. in Freeport. They settled in Houston.
While their sons Bruce, Dwight, Richard and John Kranz were growing up, Betty Kranz was a homemaker. Later she worked as a bookkeeper for the Spring Branch school district.
Asked to name the hardest thing she encountered in adjusting to American life, Kranz said, "Well, actually nothing. I really loved America when I came here. I was lucky, I guess."
Romance in Brussels
Janine Randal, now a retired language professor living on Lake Conroe, married U.S. Army Sgt. Felix H. Rosser on Dec. 22, 1945, in Brussels, Belgium, a month after they met.
Because she spoke French, German and English, she got a job at the U.S. headquarters in her hometown after the war ended in May 1945.
"The boys would come to my desk and ask, 'What is there to do in Brussels?' and I would tell them," said Randal, 90. "Then my future husband came one day and he said, 'Why don't you just show me?'"
She took him to the city's famous central square, and he proposed on the first date. Married four weeks later, they stayed in Brussels until May 1947.
Upon their return to his native East Texas, Felix Rosser enrolled at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, and his wife got a job teaching French. She prevailed upon the college president to let her teach German, too.
"I said, 'I know we fought the war against them, but that's no reason not to learn their language,' " Randal said. "I wanted a full-time job, you know."
According to a Jan. 7, 1949, article in the Houston Post, Randal made a perfect score on her citizenship test, which the examiner said no one else had accomplished in his 16 years on the job.
A reunion in Boston
At that point, her last name was Rosser, but the couple divorced in 1970. Three years later, when she earned a doctorate in French and linguistics from the University of Texas in Austin, she took the name Randal, after a character in a French novel.
"We kids thought that was pretty independent and brave for the time," said daughter Yvette Rosser, whose sister, Danielle Rosser, owns West Alabama Animal Clinic in Houston. A third sister, Denise Rosser, died in Ivory Coast in 1974 while serving in the Peace Corps.
Randal, whose former husband died in 1982, was a professor of language and philosophy at Angelo State University in San Angelo from 1974 to 1994.
To help preserve the legacy of women like Randal and Kranz, the World War II War Brides Association has held annual reunions since 1995. This year's reunion is Aug. 16-20 in Boston.
The group has more than 500 members representing 23 countries, said its president, Diane Reddy, of Prescott, Ariz.
"It's a sisterhood," said Reddy, the daughter of a British war bride.
"Regardless of where they came from," she said, "they left family and culture and everything behind them to live in a land they knew little, if anything, about for the love of an American soldier."