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Perham couple experiences 'wedding they never had'

Sixty-four years after a modest wedding during furlough in World War II, a Perham couple renewed their wedding vows last week.

The ceremony beneath the Perham Memorial Hospital and Home courtyard gazebo July 18 was described as the "wedding they never had."

Army Air Corps soldier Erwin Johnson, son of a Corliss Township farmer, arrived in Fargo by train on July 17, 1944. He and bride Mayme were married the next day, in a hasty ceremony at Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church, Moorhead. There were only two witnesses, and no onlookers.

"I didn't have much time," said Erv, as he had to return to Seattle in a matter of days to ship out to his post in Alaska.

Bride Mayme was a Langdon, North Dakota native, but because of the state's "waiting period" law of that time, they crossed the river to Minnesota, completed the necessary paperwork at the Clay County Courthouse, and were married the next day.

Their renewal of vows was a contrast--though certainly no less happy--than the occasion precisely 64 years ago.

There were more than 60 family members and friends at the ceremony, hosted under beautiful summer skies in the lush PMHH gardens. This compares to an audience of two in 1944.

Among those present for the 2008 renewal of vows were the Johnsons' four children, Jim Johnson, Kathy Johnson, Karen Engevik and Dorothy Thomas.

Erwin was in full Army uniform the first time around. He wore street clothes for the 2008 ceremony.

The fit and fleet young couple who marched down the church aisle in 1944 were rolled to the alter in wheelchairs.

Erwin was a federal agriculture agent when he and Mayme met in a downtown Fargo cafe--starting a relationship that has carried on for 64 years.

As a soldier, Johnson was on the ground in the Aleutian Islands, with an air unit that flew bombing missions--almost constantly--over Japan.

"When I went on leave before the wedding, it took five weeks to get from the base back home," said Erwin.

When he arrived at the rail station, Erwin and Mayme didn't connect at the depot. Both were thinking: "Does this mean the wedding is off?"

Instead, their signals had crossed regarding the train's arrival, and as it turned out, Mayme was at the wrong train station.

Administering the vows at the wedding was Rev. Del Meyer, who has been minister of the Johnsons' home church, St. John's Lutheran in Corliss, for two decades.

Even though Mayme is partly debilitated from a stroke, when the big question was posed, the answer was resounding and reassured:

" I do."