I have always admired them from a distance. A couple with a quiet demeanor; there was nothing in their movements or action that looked calculated to call attention to themselves.
But they always caught my attention even as I got the music ready for the 7 a.m. Sunday mass at St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca.
I particularly noticed them when they started sitting in the front pew reserved for the handicapped.
I watched as the devoted wife walked with him, matching her husband’s slower step as he inched his walker to the pew. She always made sure he was comfortably seated before she sat down next to him.
They were inconspicuously conspicuous, at least to me, that I even noticed when they didn’t show up for mass for a while. The next time I saw them again; he was in a wheelchair with one leg below the knee amputated. Regardless, they were there very early in the morning to worship the Lord. It made me feel a bit guilty about forcing myself sometimes to get up at 5:30 a.m. on a weekend to sing at the 7 a.m. Mass with my husband. But looking at them made me feel ashamed of myself for even entertaining those thoughts. The couple’s devotion to their faith and to each other inspired me, and strengthened my own faith. Whenever I started to feel like I was forcing myself to rise early on Sunday, I thought of the elderly couple who, I felt had more reason to stay in bed and skip the earliest mass.
In the past several months, family emergencies forced my husband and I to put our music ministry on hiatus and haven’t seen the couple for a while. Then, a few days ago, I received a telephone call from music minister Emelie Diaz. She told me the family of Paul Becker who just passed away requested me to sing at the memorial mass for him. The name rang a bell, but for a moment I could not match the name to a familiar face.
At the memorial service, I received another unexpected shock. The service was not just for Mr. Becker but for his wife, Ruth, as well. His wife of 63 years had died in February. The news came as a shock because she always looked like her husband’s rock, a protective mother hen to her ailing husband. It was explained to me that the family had not been able to hold a church service for her because soon after her death her husband was in and out of the hospital. After he died on June 6, the memorial mass became a service for the two of them. Family and friends said that after Paul lost his beloved wife, he just couldn’t go on without her.
Other things I discovered at the church service. Both Paul and Ruth were World War II veterans – he in the U.S. Army, she in the Marine Corps. He was in the Army Infantry from 1942 to 1945 and saw action in Italy as a Private First Class. He was awarded two Purple Hearts for heroism. Ruth was a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945 and helped in the war effort while stationed in the U.S. She was never deployed overseas.
The young man from Olpa, Oklahoma, (born Dec. 19, 1917) and the young woman from Los Angeles (born May 13, 1923) eventually crossed paths after the war and were married in Idaho on Jan. 7, 1950. He was described as “a quiet, selfless man who proudly served his country.” She was “a warm, fun-loving woman with a beautiful smile.”
Paul was a potato farmer during the first years of their marriage. Later, they left Idaho for Los Angeles. For a while before the family moved to Manteca, they lived in Colorado Springs so that Carolyn, one of the six Becker children – four girls and two boys – could pursue her volleyball training for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Carolyn came home with a silver medal when the American women’s volleyball team won second to China which captured the gold medal.
The grandparents of 16 and great-grandparents of 12 lived their faith not only through their almost daily devotion to the Mass but through their many quiet involvements in their parish. They were especially active in the Legion of Mary. Paul was one of the few men who belonged to this largely women’s prayer group, said Father Dante Dammay in his homily during the memorial service.
Once in a great while, you meet people who leave quite an impact in your life. For me, two of these people were Paul Vincent and Ruth Rosemary Becker.
On Friday, July 5, at 10:30 a.m., the two post-World War II sweethearts and partners in life and death will be buried side by side with full military honors at San Joaquin National Cemetery for veterans in Santa Nella. Quite significantly, the devoted couple will be officially laid to rest the day after the Fourth of July, the birthday of the beloved country that they faithfully served in wartime to make it truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.