John and Sarah Easley were one of many couples who met and fell in love at Camp Gordon Johnston during World War II. When they married after the war, they began their life together in Carrabelle.
John Easley was born in Clay City, Indiana where his dad owned Easley’s Drug Store. John decided to follow in his footsteps so he earned a degree in pharmacology at Purdue University.
For a time, he worked in the family business, but then came the war and everything changed.
Easley enlisted in the Army in Feb. 1942 and graduated from medical administration corps officer candidate school in January 1943. He was assigned to Camp Carrabelle. The same month, the name of the base was changed to Camp Gordon Johnston.
Easley worked as a pharmacist at the post hospital, his first assignment to survey how narcotics were handled on the wards. He discovered the hospital kept no records and the drugs were not locked up. After he discovered a-ranking officer was helping himself to the pharmaceuticals, Easley saw to it that procedures were changed and drugs were secured and inventoried.
Carrabelle Mayor Curley Messer was among the first soldiers stationed in Carrabelle and remembers Easley as a nice guy.
A sociable type who liked to date, Easley caught the eye of more than one young lady on the base. He was dating someone else when he met his future wife, Sarah Reed, but the war stepped in to bring them together.
“I dated a local girl first, but later a Tennessee nurse. She was shipped out in August and told Sarah to ‘leave that John Easley alone.’
“My first contact with Sarah was as officer of the day when I walked the long hallways at night. She was the head night nurse for a month. One Saturday afternoon several of us from the hospital went fishing on the pier,” he wrote in an email. “I didn't like putting the worms on the hook and Sarah did that for me. We went back to the nurses’ quarters and visited. I kind of liked being around her. I asked her to go to the officers’ club Saturday night dance.”
That was the beginning of more than 50 years together for the young couple.
Sarah Dale Reed, from the tiny Alabama town of Coatopa, graduated first in her high school class and spent a year at Judson College before transferring to Emory University to earn a nursing degree.
A bright and studious girl, she dated very little before she met John. They became engaged almost immediately.
“We soon learned that we had a lot in common,” he wrote. “We both came from small towns and had a Christian family background. Things moved along fast. We got engaged in August at the Hut (Restaurant) before I left for overseas duty with a general hospital in France. We wrote letters every day during that time we were apart.”
Both religious, they attended chapel together. The night John popped the question, the pair was double dating and John slipped the ring on Sarah’s finger under the table. Sarah later told Penny Warren, the couples’ daughter, the diamond was small but the ring was so heavy she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to lift her hand and she was very surprised to receive it.
Sarah told Penny she never had a second thought about marrying John after they became engaged. “I wanted to marry him the second he got back and move to Indiana and start my life,” she told her.
Sarah served out the remainder of her tour of duty in Carrabelle, for two-and-a-half years as head nurse of the psychiatric ward and the last four months as chief nurse of the station hospital.
John, for his part, fell for Sarah because she was “herself,” a natural tomboy who wanted to impress with her brains rather than her looks.
Sarah said she loved John for his gentleness, sweet ways, friendliness and good looks.
The wedding was delayed when John shipped out for the war. He spent 18 months in Europe before returning home.
John and Sarah were married in Coatopa and moved to John’s hometown of Clay City where he settled into running the family store.
John’s friends and family were charmed by his new bride, especially her Southern accent.
Penny said her mother never lost her drawl and there was always okra in their summer garden.
In keeping with the times, though well-educated, Sarah never worked outside the home again but raised three healthy children.
John and Sarah were not the only couple to find love at Camp Gordon Johnston.
Mary Westberg and Lillian Smith of Carrabelle were both schoolgirls when the GIs arrived at the camp in 1941 but they remember the troops well.
Westberg said any girl who walked down the street alone was followed by six or seven soldiers asking for dates. Margie Solomon said local families sometimes invited the GIs for Sunday dinner.
In addition to local girls, many soldiers brought a wife or sweetheart to camp. There were also secretaries and nurses like Sarah. Women military employees were lodged in Lanark Village at the old Lanark Inn.
Marriages increased dramatically in Franklin County during the war years. Courthouse records show that, in 1941, the year the camp opened in September, 100 marriage licenses were issued.
In 1942, with the GIs on site, 183 marriage licenses are recorded. In 1943, the number rose to 258. It dropped back down to 200 in 1944 and peaked at 338 in 1945, the year local boys began to arrive back home from the war.
In 1946, with the camp decommissioned, the number of marriage licenses dropped back down to 120.