Here comes the bride, the bride, the bride

And there go the husbands — off with the Milton-Freewater National Guard Armory to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.

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Brides Anel Perez (left), Norma Perez (center, no relation), and Stephanie Ponce pose for a group photo with their new husbands, all Army National Guardsmen, after their triple wedding ceremony at the Milton-Freewater office of Municipal Court Judge Sam Tucker. 'It was probably the most special wedding I have done,” Tucker said. 'If all of our young people in the country were like these six people, this country is going to be just fine.”

MILTON-FREEWATER - When people say things come in threes, they aren't typically referring to coming together and going apart.

In the case of three Walla Walla Valley pairs of newlyweds, however, joy and sadness were tripled late last month, less than 48 hours apart.

In the law office of Municipal Court Judge Sam Tucker - while standing in a reception area that looked more like a cozy living room than an office - Norma Perez, Stephanie Ponce and Anel Perez married their sweethearts on the evening of Sept. 22.

There was little elbow room as immediate and extended family members jostled for the best view to see the six individuals become three couples: Norma and Marco, Stephanie and Samuel, Anel and Henry.

More than one guest was startled to be there, period. The men, all childhood buddies, had decided together to ask their girlfriends to marry them just days before. Together the six had picked up their marriage licenses on a Monday, dresses and shoes the next day, and on Wednesday the men made sure wedding rings were taken care of.

By that Thursday Oregon's mandatory 72-hour waiting period was over.

Finding Tucker, who has a law practice in town, to tie it all together was a stroke of good fortune, Anel said. "It was the guys' job to find someone to marry us."

"He's pretty busy man, Norma said of the attorney. "He said he would squeeze us in after 6. Then I told him there were two other couples."

"We just lined them up and got her done," Tucker recalled later. "It was with military precision."

An apt methodology for a weekend that would include the trio of brides bidding goodbye to husbands Marco Alvadiaz, Samuel Tapia and Henry Becerril when they deployed from the Milton-Freewater National Guard Armory for duty on the afternoon of Sept. 24.

And on that Sunday, the couples said sad farewells again in Salem when the men - all age 21 - departed in a second send-off with the Oregon Army National Guard for Texas to prepare for December deployment to Afghanistan; Marco and Samuel as military police officers and Henry as a mechanic.

Throughout the four days, happy and unhappy tears flowed, the young women said last week as they met to compare notes.

"There are no more tears," said Stephanie, 21, over hot chocolate frothed with whipped cream. "I've said way too many goodbyes. Now I say, ‘I'll see you soon.'"

On the post-wedding Monday, the world looked much the same as it had before Sept. 23. Stephanie and Anel, both 21, went to their jobs at Oregon Childhood Development Coalition in Milton-Freewater and Norma, 20, stayed at her family home in Walla Walla and continued to grow the baby she and Marco began six months ago.

All the brides will live with their families until their husbands return for good, they said. That's when they will undergo a Catholic ceremony and the women will take their husbands' last names.

On the surface, it would appear this was among the speediest and most unusual pre-deployment weddings since World War II. Under the top layer, though, are love stories years in the writing.

Stephanie and Samuel met as kindergartners at Grove Elementary School and began dating six years ago.

Norma met Marco in Freewater Elementary School. "He was my fourth-grade crush," she said, a blush pinking her cheeks. The two lost contact in middle school but Norma's family returned to the area and the two reconnected 15 months ago. "It's set in stone. We love each other - being separated will make it stronger."

Anel began dating Henry six years ago, just after meeting him. "We got asked out the same day," she said, smiling over at Stephanie.

No matter the long histories of romance, no one was prepared for the suddenness of the occasion. As members of the Salem-based Detachment 1 of the 1186th Military Police Company, Henry, Marco and Samuel had known for about 12 months they had a date with Afghanistan. The men had talked about marriage off and on for that whole year, their brides recalled.

Everyone talked, but no one acted. With the war finally standing outside their own doors, however, action seem paramount.

"Samuel wanted to do this since April, but we didn't know how to do it. We talked about it but decided maybe when he got back," Stephanie explained. "That changed."

Getting married took on an urgency, the women remembered. "Marco said he wanted to have someone to keep him sane while he was over there," Norma said.

The ladies told their parents the news - they would be married women before the week was over.

"When I told my mom, she kind of laughed. She was like ‘You're kidding, right?'" Stephanie said. "I said, ‘No, I'm serious.'"

All the parents are treating the impromptu civil ceremony as the real thing, but have made it clear the church ceremony to come is important and expected, the three said.

At Fort Bliss in Texas, the men have had some time to reflect on their shared wedding experience. While pulling everything together so quickly was a shot of adrenaline, the aftershock is something else, Marco said in a phone interview. "It's hard to get married and then leave ... kind of a bummer to only get to enjoy it for a day."

He expects to get leave to come home for the winter birth of Junior, his and Norma's son, he added. In the meantime, he and his wife talk every day. "Sometimes twice, but always before I go to sleep."

And does Samuel feel wed to Stephanie? "Sometimes yes and sometimes no," the soldier answered. "Its hard to get married and leave, knowing that our first year is going to be away. And they say the first year is important, as it dictates the rest of your marriage."

It helps that his family embraces Stephanie. His new wife has been friends with his twin sister, Jovita, and has for a long time, he added with a laugh. "She said, ‘You can't go out with one of my friends.' But obviously I did."

His family, too, knew marriage to Anel was coming after so many years of dating, Henry said. But if he could rewrite things, "I would have done it way before my deployment."

He's comforted that his wife is "really, really strong," Henry said. "I know how she is, I know my wife. That's what I love about her. My concern, though, is for her well-being, She keeps things bottled up ... I know even if she's says she's OK, she has to be lonely."

He draws comfort from his Hispanic heritage, Henry said. "So our family is really tight together."

If he could assure his wife of something, it would be that "I love her and think about her every day. It's hard for us to be apart, but it makes us stronger in the end," the groom noted.

"It's only 365 days. If we can overcome this, we can overcome anything."

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