This article is the sixth in an occasional online series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
LOVETTSVILLE, Va.—Jack Burden was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point when his friend fixed him up with a younger sister for a ball. “We knew it was meant to be,” Jean Burden said. They married the day after he graduated and have been together 52 years.
Jack dreamed of becoming an Army aviator. Jean, who had grown up living in just one house in New York City, learned that following her husband’s dream would have consequences—they spent the next 20 years schlepping their growing family through 16 moves scattered among 11 states.
Jack flew jets at places like Edwards Air Force Base in California while Jean dealt with less exciting challenges: moving into military housing—sometimes just a house trailer or motel room—and registering kids in new schools mid-year. She unpacked so often she knew where every picture would hang: The object was to make any place feel like home, even if only for a few months or weeks.
Life for Jean and the children settled down during Jack’s tours of duty—two in Vietnam and one in Korea—but the new challenges were just as tough. Jean had to keep Jack’s memory alive. They wrote each other every day, but sometimes letters would bunch up. After weeks of hearing nothing, Jean grew nervous: “The Army always sent a green sedan to notify next of kin. My heart would skip a beat if I happened to spot one.”
Jack made it home safely and they finished raising their children in Northern Virginia. They live near their two youngest children and 12 of their 14 grandchildren. The Burdens moved to Lovettsville during their oldest daughter’s senior year in high school. She swore never to marry a military man, yet she did, and now lives in Texas with her husband and two children.
In 2010, the Burdens attended Jack’s 50th West Point reunion, where they saw many couples they had kept in touch with over the years. They were pleased to learn that two-thirds of surviving classmates were still married to their original spouses.
Jean is proud to be an Army wife: “We didn’t look on our lives as a sacrifice but as supporting our husbands who were serving.”