Their long road to a happy life

June 03, 2005|by JANET HEIM

SMITHSBURG - You'd never know from looking at the modest rancher near town the long path through history that owners Alvin and Karol Jones took to get here.

Karolina "Karol" Lagler was a teenager growing up in Sopron, Hungary, during World War II when the war intensified around her. The bombing grew so bad that her high school was forced to graduate her class two months early.

Just days before Russian troops rolled through, her family along with 35,000 other residents fled to Austria. Karol's family stayed with relatives of her father in Vienna, who shared their meager food rations.


In August 1945, two months after the war ended, the Lagler family returned to Sopron.

But the homecoming was a big mistake, said Karol.

"We went back to nothing," she said. The front part of their house had been bombed, so they had to live with a grandmother in a single room that was more like a shack.

Karol, who was then 18, said her uncle persuaded her parents to let him take her - the oldest of their four children - back to Austria where she could get a job.

It meant crossing the border illegally because she didn't have a passport, so the pair had to make a carefully planned nighttime crossing. To do it, they had to hide in a tool shack at a vineyard in Hungary until the border guards changed, she said.

In Austria, Karol stayed with a sister of her father, along with her two daughters, in Vienna. Karol and one of her cousins got jobs as waitresses at The Blue Danube Red Cross Club in Linz, a popular hangout for American soldiers.

When it was discovered that neither woman could speak English, they were told to learn quickly or lose their jobs.

That was when Karol met a young American soldier named Alvin Jones, who'd grown up in a Pennsylvania coal mining town. Alvin, who could speak German, became Karol's best English teacher.

"The first time I saw her - she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen in my life," recalled Alvin, who is now 85. "I did know if I didn't marry her, I'd never get married."

Alvin, a criminal investigator based near Linz for the U.S. Army, summoned up the courage to ask Karol for a date.

Karol, who is now 78, remembers she said yes, even though she was embarrassed by her refugee clothes. She had only a uniform for work and one other outfit.

Six months later, Karol agreed to marry Alvin. He then had to apply to marry her since she was from an enemy country, Alvin said.

A promise kept

Far more difficult, had it not been for the black market connections he'd made in Austria, was the task of meeting a promise Karol had made to her parents.

She had assured her parents, who had since moved to Germany, that when she married, she would have a church wedding and walk down the aisle in full bridal garb - regardless of world politics.

Her groom did all in his power to make that happen.

Because paper money had no value, almost everything had to be purchased with cigarettes, then worth 50 cents a pack. Alvin, who did not smoke, received 11/2 cartons every week on his ration card.

Through the black market, he was able to get most of the bridal items Karol needed.

Thus, the silk fabric for her wedding dress came from Switzerland and the dress was made by a Hungarian woman in a refugee camp.

The netting for her veil came from a cousin whose fianc got separated from her during a mass exodus and was never heard from again. A co-worker at the Red Cross Club showed her how to make a "crown" out of shoelaces to attach to the veil.

The Army post exchange had a limited selection, so its Montgomery Ward catalog became a most valuable book for those who had money to order from it, Alvin said.

Just days before their wedding, Karol was delighted when she received a package from the United States. It contained two slips, two pairs of nylon stockings, shoes, a suit, a jacket and two dresses - all ordered through the catalog by her groom-to-be.

On their wedding day, June 21, 1947, they were married twice - in a civil ceremony not recognized by the U.S. military, and then in a Lutheran church by an Army chaplain, a service not recognized by the Austrian government.

Three years later, the Army reassigned Alvin to stateside duty. After a 10-day voyage, they landed in the U.S. on July 4, 1950.

Alvin was stationed at the Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Md. The couple stayed there until 1960, when he began teaching at Pennsylvania Military College in Chester, Pa. Sons Alvin and David were born in 1961 and 1962, respectively.

In 1964, he was reassigned to Fort Meade, but knew he was headed for Korea.

'The best place'

That's when they bought the house where they still live on Holiday Drive outside Smithsburg, choosing a peaceful setting where they could live for a long time. A month after moving in, Alvin was sent to Korea.

Karol, who stayed home with the couple's two sons, found her new community to be very supportive of the young family.

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