Harold and Lillian Long

Harold and Lillian Long of Victor will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on Feb. 10.

Perry Backus, For the Missoulian

VICTOR – It’s been more than 70 years since the day Lillian Long first laid eyes on her Marine.

She can still close her eyes and remember it like it was yesterday.

It was 1946 and World War II had finally come to an end. There was a sense of relief and joy that had swept over the land.

And so Lillian (she was a Douglas back then) had taken time from her job at Beaton’s Beauty Parlor in Nelson, British Columbia, to travel across the border to visit her aunt in Idaho.

On that night they decided they wanted to kick up their heels a bit at an old-time country dance just down the road.

There was no way for her to know how her life was about to change.

Harold Long had just finished the most grueling challenge of his life as a U.S. Marine serving in the South Pacific. He saw action at Iwo Jima and other islands along the way.

But none of that mattered that night when he first saw Lillian glide across the dance floor.

Surrounded by photographs of their family in the Victor home that they lovingly built, Harold and Lillian steal a glance at each other as she tells the story of that first chance meeting.

“He was kind of showing off,” Lillian said, with a smile. “He was bashful back then.”

Harold’s laugh fills the room with a joy that speaks of decades of love and companionship.

In short order, Harry made it a point of introducing Lillian to his parents and some of his nine siblings.

And he didn’t let Lillian go when it came time for her to head back to work. They ran up some bills in long-distance phone calls before he decided he couldn’t wait to see her again.

And so he made the trip to Nelson.

“I thought it was all happening too quick,” she said. “I wanted it to slow down.”

But there was nothing slow about this budding romance.

Shortly after he arrived in Nelson, word came that Lillian’s mother had broken her arm. The Douglases approved of the young man who accompanied her to the family home to help around the house.

Not long afterward, Harold and Lillian decided to stop at Superior to see the justice of the peace.

Friday, Feb. 10, they will celebrate the 70th anniversary of that day.

Their daughter, Kathy Ahern of Spokane and her husband will be there to celebrate with them. The celebration will continue for weeks and months as other children and family members stop later on this spring and summer to wish them well.

“Sometimes I have a hard time believing they have been together that long,” Ahern said. “It’s just not something you see very often. You can’t even find a card in a store for a 70th anniversary.”

Ahern said her parents are survivors, whose faith in God has seen them through thick and thin.

“They’re both Depression kids,” she said. “Dad came from a family of 11 kids. I know it was tough for them.”

Ahern said her father was part of a company of 100 Marines who fought in the South Pacific. Only seven made it back home.

“He never really talked about it much until the last few years,” she said. “Because he had explosive experience from working the mines, it was his job to destroy pill boxes. He had to crawl up to them and throw dynamite in them.”

Ahern said her father’s faith in God began in a foxhole.

“He told me he encountered God in a foxhole before he was ever a believer,” she said. “He had been told to man a machine gun used by seven men who had been killed earlier. He was really afraid. That night, the foxhole filled with light and God told him not be afraid.”

Ahern said her parent’s faith has continued to this day.

“I’m a Christian because of them,” she said. “I’ve seen them walk that out in their lives. …They have taught me the value of commitment. There was never a question of whether they were going to stay together or not. That was just part of their values – that commitment to each other.

“My dad just adores my mom,” Ahern said. “He’s always telling me that mom is the most wonderful person in the world. Honestly, knowing my dad, she is kind of a saint. She is his caretaker. All of us really appreciate what’s she’s done.”

Huey Long of Deer Lodge is the couple’s oldest son.

“They’ve taught me that you have to be willing to work at it to create a successful marriage,” Long said. “You have to be willing to compromise.”

“And there has to be some love there, too, to make it all work,” said Long’s wife, Nyla. “For 70 years, they’ve managed to work through it all. That’s a long time. I think it’s just always been their belief that marriage is forever.”

“Even after all these years, he still calls her his little boss or that little Canadian woman,” Huey Long said, with a laugh. “They are an amazing love story.”

Looking over at her husband, Lillian doesn’t hesitate for a second when asked what’s the secret to a long and happy marriage.

“Forgiveness,” she said, with a knowing smile. “It’s not all a bed of roses. I’ve heard people say they have never had a fight. Well, I just don’t think that’s true. You just need to be able to forgive and move on.”

She looks over Harold. He smiles back at her and fills the room again with laughter.

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