"They Held Hands and Just Fell Asleep" | World War II Veterans, Married for 7 Decades, Pass Away Just 14 Hours Apart

"They Held Hands and Just Fell Asleep" | World War II Veterans, Married for 7 Decades, Pass Away Just 14 Hours Apart

Some real-life love stories really make us believe the fairy tales we read as children.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 15, 2019. It has since been updated.

Our marriage vows normally end with the words "till death do us apart." But when you are truly in love with someone, even a lifetime seems to be less and not even death can tear them apart. Because the companionship between soulmates surpasses the mortal boundaries of the world.


Preble Staver and Isabell Whitney first met on a blind date in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they studied in the early-1940s and started liking each other from the very first day, reports PEOPLE. As WW II raged in Europe, the young lovers signed up to help the Allies in their efforts—Isabell as a nurse in the Navy stationed in Maryland and Preble as a Marine, who earned a Bronze Star during his tenure.



After the world war ended, the sweethearts said their vows to each other, on February 15, 1946, and thus began their 70-year long journey.

"They were great people. Mom really taught me that you can’t change another person but you can change your attitude towards them. Dad was a bit of a prickly pear!" Laurie Staver Clinton, now 64, one of the couple’s five children, tells PEOPLE. "Dad was the strict one. Mom tried to be strict, but we knew what we could get away with her. It was pretty much a father rules the roost sort of thing."



They went on to become parents of five lovely children and had a wonderful life with Isabell as a nurse and Preble’s as a lobbyist and banker. They stuck with each other through thick and thin. When a tragedy struck the family in 1975 in the form of the death of their son Peter. The couple were there for each other through this difficult phase of grief.

“At that point, we began to really see a softer side of my dad. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids, and that really took a toll on my folks, but it also brought them together,” Staver Clinton says. “Something like that can either tear a couple apart, but they made a pact to get through it together. They really were each other’s support team.”



After they recovered from the grief they moved to South Carolina and had the time of their life there. They enjoyed each others' company and lived a full life through those years.  “They just had a ball. It was just so much fun,” Staver Clinton, of Norfolk, Virginia, recalls. “They really enjoyed each other’s company. It was just fun to see them, and they made a nice little life for themselves.”


But life is a compilation of challenges of different forms. Isabell was diagnosed with dementia and that put their relationship at trial again. This led to the family decide that they should move the couple into a long-term care facility in Norfolk in 2013. Seeing his wife suffer through a crippling disease disturbed Preble. He was, therefore, moved to a separate unit away from Isabell. But seeing him struggle with her disease never affected Isabell's feelings for him. She, in fact, wanted him to be together and strong.



“They just found another way to express their love. Dad, even after he stopped walking and was in a wheelchair, he would wheel himself down to the Memory Care Unit and go visit mom,” Staver Clinton says. “When I would reunite them, they always, the first thing they’d do was put their hands out and hold each other’s hand and tell each other they loved each other.”

On Prebel's 96th birthday, he told Staver Clinton that he’d like to have one more nap with Isabell so she made arrangements to make that happen. The couple laid beside each other for almost three hours, something they haven’t done since being placed in separate rooms, reports PEOPLE.


"There was not a single word spoken between the two of them. They held hands and just fell asleep," she says. "I told dad, ‘This is mom’s birthday present for you.’ He was just so happy that he got to take his nap with her."

But despite having dementia, Isabell remembered his birthday and surprised her love of 70 years. When they started to open the birthday cards Isabell surprisingly started singing "Happy Birthday."


“I heard this little warbly voice, and I realize, oh my gosh, mom’s singing, and she sang the song twice,” Staver Clinton says. “She didn’t miss a word.”

On October 25, 2017, Staver got a word from the hospital that Isabell was approaching her last moments. Preble went to see her and his reaction brought tears to everybody's eyes. Staver said that Preble was not ready to let go of Isabell's hand, as if he is trying to stop her from slipping away from his hands.

“He held her hand, and it was just so tender. I asked him if he wanted to stay after the prayers, and he shook his head,” Staver Clinton says through tears. “I said, ‘Okay, but you know that means you’re going to have to let go of her hand?’ I was crying, and he was crying.”

“He very gingerly let go as I was pulling his wheelchair away from her bed, and then he took the cover and covered her hand back,” she says. “It just about broke my heart because that was a tender side of my dad I wasn’t used to seeing, and I wasn’t used to him being so gentle.”

Within 14 hours of Isabell’s death on October 25, Preble passed away too. The family held a joint funeral at a church cemetery in Virginia Beach for the couple, with Marine honor guard in attendance. 

"Mom and dad really lived out that, if you make a commitment, and even though life gets rough or life gets in the way, you work through life," she says, "and you live your life together," said Staver Clinton.