SPRING HILL — "This is going to be a blast," June Tucker exclaimed as she and her husband, Ray, prepared late last week for a family cruise to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary, which is today.
"We're going to have a ball," echoed Ray, gesturing toward the cruise destination — the Caribbean.
"Just for four days," he added.
One of their sons, a graphic designer, made special T-shirts for the occasion.
June said she could only imagine what they might say: " 'Cruise $7,000, Gambling $10,000, Watching This Family Make Fools of Themselves — Priceless,' or something like that."
"Family," June declared, is what has kept her and her husband, who live in Timber Pines, together as they reach their platinum milestone. Embracing life with can-do attitudes, adventurous spirits and plenty of humor hasn't hurt.
They have navigated some hardships, of course, but never have seemed to dwell on them, she said.
June recalls that she was once asked whether she had ever considered divorce.
"Divorce, no. Murder?" She nodded, with a smile.
The native West Virginia couple — June, now 87, and Ray, 88 — bore and reared three children. Son Mike lives in Hernando Beach; daughter Bonnie Troy, in Fort Myers; son Ron, in Dunedin. Joining all of them on the cruise, which departs today, are two grandchildren, from Tallahassee and Orlando.
Ray was a senior at East Bank High School, which exists no longer, in the coal region that encompasses their hometowns — London and Hughston, W.Va. — when the U.S. Department of Defense, in 1942, issued an edict that any young man who had completed the first semester of his senior year, and was an honor roll student, could volunteer for military service.
Ray and his twin brother, Roy, both qualified and signed up. Surprising both young men, the Navy allowed them to finish their senior year before calling them to active duty.
Ray and June had been dating each other since their junior year and hoped to marry eventually. But World War II beckoned.
"I (figured I) was going to get killed, so we got married," Ray said.
That was 1943.
June followed her husband to boot camp at Great Lakes in Illinois and landed a clerical job with Consolidated Insurance Co. She continued trekking along to Ray's postings — San Diego; Yorktown and Norfolk, Va.; Key West.
They stayed in Key West, where their children were born and reached school age.
Previously, Ray had earned one of 380 slots, from some 30,000 applicants, in a 16-week officer candidate school in Newport, R.I.
June helped her husband with his assignments through torpedo school and aero-torpedo school, where he ranked No. 1 in his classes, and through sonar school.
And his wife stood staunchly, and quietly, by his side during a stint in Yorktown, Va., where he served on a secret, highly sensitive experimental project with the Navy.
Ray was ordered not to tell even his wife what he was doing. Personnel working on the project lived in their own village. June said families were admonished not to seek friends outside the village.
Now Ray can tell of the capture, during World War II, of a German submarine off the coast of Virginia. Ray and his Navy teammates oared out to board the sinking sub, plug its opened cocks, and dismantle and bring back for study its highly prized, classified invention — sonar. Ray was challenged to replicate it.
While stationed in Key West, Ray served 10 years aboard the USS Sarsfield, an experimental destroyer. While he spent much of that period at sea, including two nine-month voyages, the separation didn't tax their marriage, the couple said.
"That's what was so good about it," June said in jest. "If you couldn't stand him, you'll think, he'll be away pretty soon."
Everywhere the couple lived, June grabbed a job — once with a builder of concrete ships in California.
"Can you believe? A concrete ship?" she marvels.
She rose from clerical worker to accountant, all the while rearing the children through multiple moves.
She recalls the early years in a Key West "shack" of an apartment that did not have running water or electricity. She begged a next-door landlord to rent them an apartment with amenities. The landlord gave in, but with the admonition that if she heard the Tuckers' tot, Mike, cry, she'd kick the family out.
The then-young mother remembers hours of late-night patty-cake and singing to quiet the youngster. When they finally moved to another apartment, June gave the little one his own room and let him "scream his head off."
Ray had no issues with it. Summarizing his life with June during his 24-year naval career, he said: "I qualify her as the best Navy wife a man could have, her determination plus her backing me in my career all the time."
Referring to his rise from boot camp enlistee to ship's captain, he said: "I never would have made it without her. Believe me, she's one of a kind."
While June often was left to run the family single-handedly, she noted that Ray let her do so without criticism, without complaints, and that he tackled household chores when he returned home.
"He built a radio. … He's always done — well, not always, but in the last 20 years — the ironing. He has a lot of golf shirts. Little by little, I slipped the other ironing in."
And June notes Ray's finesse at staging a good party.
He mentioned a time while serving in Virginia when the admiral called him in.
"I was sweating green apples. What did I do now?"
With a stern face, the admiral lectured Ray: "You have another party and you do it without me, I'll kick your a--."
As for the humor with which the Tuckers have lived their life together, Ray recalls looking out the window of their son Mike's cabin on the Withlacoochee River and seeing June, then 70, flying down a treetop zip-line.
Then there's the time they were challenged by their offspring to wade into a secluded river, catch an alligator and kiss it.
They did. And they have photos to prove it.
In retirement, Ray took up golfing, so June did, too. And the couple can frequently be found on the golf course.
The Tuckers retired to Venice, where they lived for 32 years, then moved to Timber Pines at the behest of friends a few years ago.
Their advice for a long marriage is simple.
"Share the load of living," said Ray.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]