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and his wife, LANI RAKOW
Marriage under any circumstances is an experience of highs, lows and in betweens. When the added pressures associated with military life is added to the equation, marriage can become very challenging.
Bill and Lani Rakow can certainly speak to the joys and hardships of a military marriage. Interestingly both Bill and Lani came from military families; their fathers both career naval officers who were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Bill was three years old and Lani was nine weeks old on that fateful Sunday morning when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the island. Following the attack dependents were shipped off the island to the continental United States. By coincidence both Bill’s family and Lani’s family returned to the United States aboard the same converted passenger liner, the Lurline, on Easter Sunday, 1942. However, their families did not know each other. It was not until more than a dozen years later that Bill and Lani met.
Bill enlisted in the Marines in 1956. He was then appointed to the Naval Academy and graduated from there in 1961. While a midshipman, he met Lani for the first time. She was a high school senior in Norfolk. They were married in 1963 after Lani graduated from Mary Washington College.
“I said I would never marry a military man,” Lani remembers. “I didn’t want to move around. I wanted to stay in one area.” But move around she and Bill did. Some of the duty stations they liked and some they did not. In 1965 their son Steve was born. Their daughter Christy was born in 1969.
Bill served two tours in Vietnam: 1965-1966 and 1969-1970. During the first tour, Lani and Steve stayed with Lani’s parents who at the time were stationed in London, England. During the second tour, Lani stayed in California where she rented a house and was close to other Marine wives and friends.
Despite Bill’s absence while he was in Vietnam, life in California was good for Lani. Although family support provided by the Marines at that time was minimal, she was happy because she was surrounded by friends. She remembers that once a week she and her girlfriends would get together to play bridge, although they talked more than they played cards. “It was so nice to be around adults.”
Military life was easier for Lani when her children were younger. “It was the later deployments that were difficult on me,” Lani recalls. Being the spouse of a Marine who was often away from home forced Lani to be independent. She simply could not wait for Bill to come home to make decisions. If something needed to be done, she did it. When Bill came home from assignments it could, at times, be challenging for Lani, as she readily admits, she was used to being in charge.
During the days before cell phones and email, the primary form of communication between spouses who were separated because of circumstances was letter writing. It could be very difficult for a spouse left at home not to receive mail from her husband and vice versa. Lani and Bill were no different. Lani recalls a situation when Bill was aboard ship and none of the families had received mail for more than a month. It was later discovered that despite the fact that mail could not be delivered aboard ship, Miss America could be. “This didn’t go over well when we found out,” Lani recalls laughingly. Bill remembers that it was a very nice experience to have lunch with Miss America.
Bill eventually fulfilled a career objective of commanding a battalion. But the job required that the family move to Hawaii for a second tour there. It was a challenging time for Lani because Bill was deployed for so much of the time. Lani says she had what is often referred to as “island fever.” Oahu is only about 120 miles around, and, with no where else to go, many military wives complained of this malady. Lani handled it by just getting through it she said.
Following this tour, Bill was promoted to colonel in 1982. It was at this time that Lani wanted Bill to retire. Although he thought about it, Bill was not ready to leave the Corps. Instead he and Lani spent four years in Kansas while Bill was on recruiting duty.
In 1986 the Rakows went to Camp Lejeune where Bill took over a special task force. It was a voluntary assignment and a decision with which Lani still has difficulty. The assignment meant that Bill would miss his son’s wedding because he would be deployed for six months in the Persian Gulf. It was a difficult time for Lani and Bill. Just about the time of the wedding, a Marine helicopter crashed killing two pilots in Bill’s task force. Seeing the news on CNN, Lani left just after her son’s wedding to return to Camp Lejeune. She knew she would be needed there in her role as wife of the commanding officer.
Bill returned home in July 1988 and was given the assignment of chief of staff of the Landing Force Training Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Lani enjoyed being back in the Norfolk, an area she loved. Bill retired in 1990.
Looking back on his service, Bill explains that the Marines Corps is like a fraternity. He compares the Marines to the Jesuit order, in their commitment to each other. The men are very close and Bill recognizes that there is the impression that Marines care more for each other than for their families but dismisses the notion as untrue.
When asked whether, knowing what she knows now, she would again make the decision to marry a military man, Lani said yes. “I am very proud of Bill and what he did.” She also believes the Marine Corps is a wonderful institution that certainly has its challenges, especially for dependents.
When asked about the positive aspects of her Marine Corps experience, Lani recounts that she has made wonderful friends who over the years have become very close. She also enjoyed the traveling.
The military tradition is omnipresent in the Rakow family. In addition to Bill, seven members of his family have graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis including his uncle Phillip Gallery ’28, his father, William M. Rakow ’33, father-in-law Curtis St. John ’38, cousins John Torroella ’55 and Phillip Gallery ‘68, brother-in-law George Frank ’57 and his son Steven Rakow ’87. Additionally, their daughter Christy is married to a Marine.
The Rakows currently live in Ocean Pines. Bill was instrumental in the construction of the Worcester County Veterans Memorial at Ocean Pines. ~ CHIP BERTINO