Jean and Harold Dunn will be married for 70 years this coming December and while their love is stronger than it’s ever been, their story has been tested by the flame of hardship, many wars and unimaginable situations. Let’s start by telling each individual’s story…
Jean was born in Alabama on a peanut farm during the Depression as the youngest of 10 kids. Her dad was a trucker for extra income, but when the Depression hit hard, he could no longer make the payments. But, he had heard of a place in Missouri where they did share-cropping and wanted families to move there! So, Jean’s entire family packed up in a big truck and went to Missouri.
The family arrived in Missouri and moved into a 2-bedroom house for 12 people. They lived that way for about six months then finally added on two more bedrooms. After a few years on that farm, they moved up north to a different farm to share crop. This is where she spent most of her childhood and secondary years. Jean graduated high school and attended one semester of college. Her favorite classes were sewing, baking, cooking and swimming. She worked at the local radio station for nearly 4 years as a Traffic Manager, Bookkeeper and Secretary. Then, she went on to be a church secretary for 12 years and enjoyed singing in the church choir. She began writing gospel songs and currently has written dozen or more songs. Later, Jean went to school and graduated as an LPN at age 50, proving you can still learn and reach new goals at any age.
Harold Dunn was born near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He is the oldest of eight children; 5 boys and 3 girls. They moved all over Missouri because his dad was a pastor. He learned from a young age to be independent, strong and to fend for himself.
Harold joined The National Guard to make extra income to provide for his siblings and parent, and was drafted into the army at age 17. He remained serving in the army for 3 ½ years. He moved up to the rank of Sergeant.
One day, Harold went to the Little Rock Airport and saw a man working on a biplane. Being that Harold was interested from a young age with flying, he went to talk to the man. The man asked Harold, “Do you have ten bucks?” Harold said “Yes!” So he got a ride over Little Rock. When they began to descend and could see people in the town scattering and running everywhere, and they both knew something was up.
Upon landing, Harold was informed that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He was called to report to Base Camp immediately. He and his comrades were put on a train headed to California to prepare for battle. He was sent to Fresno to guard the Japanese farming community, boats and freight liners that came in and out of the pier. There was a need for pilots and Harold volunteered to fly. They sent him off to testing and he was accepted to the Air Force. After he passed his test he was sent to Hancock College of Aeronautics. Then he was sent to Salt Lake City, where he was trained to fly B-17 bombers (His B-17 crew is the picture he is holding). Eventually, Harold and his crew were sent to England, where they began their raids on German soil. They were among the first U.S. bomber flights over Germany without an escort. On their third mission, Harold’s plane was shot down by a single-manned German plane, which came head-on into their B-17 formation and hit Harold’s gas tank, catching it on fire. Harold grabbed his parachute and bailed out. Within four hours, a German soldier took him into custody as a prisoner of war. Harold was placed in the British compound at Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany and helped work on infamous escape tunnels that were already underway. He aided in spreading and hiding dirt from the tunnels throughout the camp but was reassigned to the American compound before more than 70 men were able to escape. All but three were re-captured; fifty were executed. He was a POW for 23 months before returning. This story was popularized in the 1963 film, ‘The Great Escape.’ Harold is living and breathing proof of this incredible escape story.
Upon returning, he attended Missouri University. He was able to go get a degree in Agriculture and managed a wide range of big farms in Missouri working for the USDA.
Harold and Jean’s relationship began in a different way. When Harold was in the POW camp, his mother was allowed to send packages to him. Jean worked at a store and Harold’s mother would ask her to save chocolate bars for her care packages she sent to him. Little did Jean know that she was feeding her future husband.
Jean knew of the Dunn family because her sister was a friend with Wilma Dunn, Harold’s sister. When Harold returned from Germany, Wilma tried setting up Harold with Jean’s older sister. One summer afternoon, they came by to pick up Jean’s older sister to go swimming. But guess what? Her sister wasn’t home. Jean decided to go in her place! Harold was impressed with the maturity of Jean at age 16, and decided he wanted to get to know her better through the summer months. That fall, Harold had to return to Base Camp in San Antonio, Texas, because his service time in the Air Force was not completed yet. During those months, he purchased 2 rings without Jean knowing. Harold presented Jean with the engagement ring but told her not to wear it yet. He didn’t want folks to know they were engaged. Jean was anxious to wear it and kept her promise for 2 months but after that couldn’t wait any longer and began to proudly show it! In December 1945, they were married. Jean was 17 years of age. Jean and Harold raised 3 children; 2 boys and 1 girl, who have gone on to have 4 grandchildren.
Harold and Jean moved to Oklahoma in 2005 and purchased a house in Sand Springs. In 2014, they sold it to move into an Assisted Living Facility in Tulsa. Later, the Dunns moved into University Village.
When asking about the overall theme of their life, Jean and Harold both spoke of their past in these simple words. “Nothing has bothered us too much in life. The Lord has been so good to us and it’s not worth it to worry about things you can’t control. It wasn’t easy during our life. But we’re here and we’re happy.”
Their words of advice to the younger generations? “Have a positive attitude. Don’t let things get you down. Get up and get going,” Jean stated for both of them.
We are blessed to have this amazing couple at our retirement community! Harold is one of many World War II Veterans. Thank you for your service and time, Harold.