Constable: They were married 68 years. They died 2 days apart. Now they are buried together.
Haunting twin trumpet refrains of taps echo across Fort Sheridan National Cemetery before the members of the Honor Guard from Libertyville crisply fold a pair of U.S. flags in memory of Irene and Wilbert "Bill" Saffell, who both served in the Army during World War II, were married for 68 years and died two days apart at opposite ends of their Park City mobile home, where Old Glory always flew from their flagpole.
"My dad said, 'Hey, could you put in a good word for me?'" daughter Chris Saffell says in explaining how her 98-year-old mom died peacefully on May 8 and her dad, 93, followed on May 10. "Mom was in hospice at one end, and Dad was in hospice at the other end. As much as it's still painful, they died so close together we could bury them together at Fort Sheridan with full military honors."
Their military service is what brought them together.
Born in August 1921 in North Chicago to Joseph and Helen Pasiewicz, Irene graduated from Waukegan High School and wanted to become a teacher. She went to Northern Illinois University briefly, but the family didn't have money for college. So she made an unusual career choice for women of that era.
"Mom and a girlfriend, her first name was also Irene, decided to join the military," Chris Saffell says.
Her mother served during the war as a sergeant and spent 28 years in civil service at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in North Chicago before retiring.
"She was the one who scheduled all the men for their physicals," Chris Saffell says. "When she saw dad, she noticed his blue eyes."
Bill was born in September 1926 in Oak Ridge, Missouri. His dad, a farmer named Amie Martin Saffell, died when Bill was 3 years old, and the boy grew up with his mom, Alpha, on a small farm near Bonne Terre, Missouri, until they moved to Manchester, Michigan, where he graduated high school. As a teen, he worked in the fields of a farm owned by Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Co., who often stopped to chat with his workers.
Enlisting in the Army, Bill shipped out to the Philippines in 1945.
"Even though the war was officially over, it wasn't over," Chris Saffell says, noting her dad saw some combat. "He never really talked about that. He'd say how nasty and hot it was with the humidity and the rain."
Bill and Irene met after he returned from overseas and she was working in civil service at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. They married on Jan. 5, 1952, at Holy Rosary Church in North Chicago and had four children -- Martin Saffell of Lansing, Michigan; Chris, a retired Gurnee police officer; Lauretta Saffell of Gurnee; and Robert Saffell of Zion; and grandchildren Alex, Andrew and Megan Saffell of Zion.
Bill served stateside during the Korean War, and Chris was born while the family was stationed in Alaska, which wasn't yet a state. During the start of the Vietnam War, the family was stationed from 1963 to 1966 at a U.S. base in Nellingen, just south of Stuttgart, Germany. Bill retired from the Army in 1968. He later worked for Abbott Laboratories and at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
Bill was in Condell this spring, until he was allowed to return home April 30. "Once she knew Dad was home, she gave up," Chris Saffell says. Like her parents, Chris Saffell enlisted in the Army after graduating from North Chicago High School.
"She helped me get through basic training," the daughter says of her mom, who went through basic training without weapons for her Army service. "She gave me an idea what it was like, up early, always doing something. She taught me to properly fold clothes for the foot locker."
A devout Catholic, Irene also loved crocheting. Bill enjoyed NASCAR racing and loved growing vegetables and keeping a pristine garden around their home.
Their house is filled with plaques, flags and other reminders of their service to our nation. They would have been pleased with the Honor Guard and the arrival of the Illinois Patriot Guard on motorcycles at their graveyard service, arranged by Gurnee Salata Funeral Home, their daughter says.
"He outranked her (sergeant first class to sergeant) on paper, but they worked together on everything," Chris Saffell says of her parents. "Bottom line is they were just in love with each other."