TAMPA — Lula Dovi married John B. Martin in 1944.
The next day, he shipped off to further his training as a pilot to fight the Axis powers during World War II.
He died two months later in a training exercise.
Dovi, 97, admits she rarely thinks about Martin anymore. Don’t take that the wrong way, she said.
Their relationship spanned only a few months and he died more than seven decades ago. She would remarry, raise three children and be widowed again in 1974.
“It was just so long ago,” Dovi, a Tampa native and resident, said. “So much has happened.”
Still, with the nation honoring the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII on Sept. 2, Dovi couldn’t help but to look back on that tumultuous time.
“It was all so emotional,” she said. “I cried and I cried.”
They met in Tallahassee in 1944. Dovi was studying journalism at what was then known as the Florida State College for Women. Martin was training to become a pursuit pilot at Tallahassee’s since-shuttered Dale Mabry Army Airfield.
Martin, known as J.B., asked her to dance at a college social attended by other pilots.
She said yes. “It just went from there,” Dovi said. “We really liked each other.”
Engaged two months later, she took him to Tampa to meet her family on Easter weekend.
It did not go well.
“My father hated him,” Dovi said with a laugh.
Her father was R.T. Joughin, a former Hillsborough County sheriff and a hard-nosed law man tasked with taking on the Mafia during a corrupt era in Tampa Bay.
“He was very conservative,” Dovi said. “And J.B. was very outspoken and liberal in his views. My father did not like that. He did not want me to marry him.”
And then there was the slight matter of Dovi’s other fiance of two years. A family friend, her father adored him.
“Scandalous,” Dovi said with a laugh.
The other man was everything Martin was not, Dovi said — tall, handsome and charismatic.
“But J.B. was politically handsome.” Dovi said. “I had always said to myself that I would marry someone I could talk politics with. I could talk to J.B. for hours.”
Martin was ordered to ship out to Puerto Rico for further training a few weeks after they returned from the disastrous trip to meet her family. They eloped at a chapel in Miami and he flew to Puerto Rico the next morning.
Dovi wrote her other fiance a Dear John letter and spent the night with Martin in a hotel. They’d known each other for only three months.
Doris Weatherford, author of American Women and World War II and Dovi’s friend, said it was “fairly common” for couples to marry before the man shipped out, even if they’d only known one another for a short period.
“It was more men pressuring women to marry than vice versa,” Weatherford said. “They wanted someone to cling to their memory, write them letters.”
Dovi does not know if she would have married that quickly had Martin not been sent away.
“Well, that’s a moot point now,” she said. “I never thought about it.”
Dovi drove to Amarillo, Texas, to meet his family two months after Martin left.
“They were great people,” she said. “We got along fine.”
She stayed with them for a few days before heading to Arizona to spend time with a friend.
The Martin family’s minister agreed to drive her as far as El Paso, where he was attending a conference.
They booked cheap rooms above the bus station, Dovi recalled, and sometime after dinner the minister knocked on her door.
Martin’s family had called.
Her husband was dead.
“He was training in a P-47,” Dovi said. “It stalled in the air and crashed.”
As the minister comforted her, he also made a pass at her.
“I pushed him out of the room,” Dovi said. “Can you believe it?”
Dovi returned to Tallahassee, graduated and moved to San Diego to work as a journalist.
It was there on the night before Easter in 1945 — one year since Martin was introduced to her parents — that Dovi met Stefano Dovi at a dance.
He proposed that night.
But he was a in the Navy, assigned to protecting the West Coast from Nazi attacks.
“I told him I wouldn’t marry anyone until after the war,” Dovi said.
The war ended Sept. 2, 1945.
They married on June 5, 1946, and had three children before he died of heart attack in 1974.
In a twist from her first marriage, Dovi said, “His family didn’t want him to marry me because I was a war widow. But he did.”
How might her life might have turned out if Martin had lived?
“It’s been so long,” she said. “I don’t think about that time. But he was a good man.”