The heart knows
Mike and Kathie Willis pose at the beach following their
wedding last week at the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach.
BRADENTON BEACH – Kathie and Mike Willis got married at the BeachHouse restaurant on Friday, July 13, despite the unlucky connotation the day has. It was a long time in coming.
It all began in Vietnam, where Mike served in recon with the United States Marine Corps. Back from a bad mission and not blessed with a lot of family, he looked at a box filled with letters for the GIs from people back home, many of them women. He took out a couple, looked them over and returned them unread.
“A few days later, I got back from another bad mission where one of my guys got shot in the head,” he said. “I took out Kathie’s letter and wrote her and we became pen pals. I wrote her later and said if I get out of this alive, I was coming for her.”
After he returned to the United States, he tried to visit her in Victoria, Texas, but when he got there, he found she had moved with her family.
“I talked with people in Victoria, and the post office said they had moved to Yoakum, Texas,” he said. “I hitched a ride that way in a pickup and the driver dropped me off about 20 miles from there. I walked the rest of the way.”
When he got there, nobody knew where they lived, but an older man finally came up with her phone number.
“She picked up the phone and I said, ‘I’m here,’” he said. “I stayed with her family for a month and we got to know each other.
“I asked her to marry me but she was still in high school and she said she wanted to graduate the next year,” he added. “Later, when I went back to duty in Quantico, she 'Dear Johned' me.”
By then, he had been promoted to gunnery sergeant and he served in the Corps until 1974. Then he enlisted in the Army and served in a Ranger Battalion. He retired from the Army in 1998 and went to work for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
“After we broke up, I met someone and started dating,” Kathie said. “We got married in September 1972, and he married someone else with the same name as me in July of the same year.”
Mike was married 38 years. Kathie married a second time after divorcing her first husband.
“Through two marriages, I never had what I had with him,” she said. “I always wondered what happened to him.
“It was eating on me to tell him why I wrote that Dear John letter and that I missed him,” she said. “I figured he had found someone else.”
Kathie looked him up on facebook and messaged him. He wrote back to her, “It is I.”
“My heart did a flip,” Kathie said. “He told me he still loved me.”
They found out they both lived in Calhoun County, in separate states. Mike lived in Bluntsville, Fla., and she lived in Port O’Connor, Texas.
In 2010, he wrote to tell her he was coming to San Antonio for a reunion and he wanted her to meet his wife. Strangely, when he proposed to his wife, he was holding a picture of Kathy.
“I told her I loved Kathie very much and if I could be with her I would,” Mike said.
Mike and Kathie got together before she met his wife, and they talked for seven hours. At dinner, with his wife there, he introduced Kathie as his soul mate. The next day, as they were driving home, he told his wife he wanted a divorce.
“On Aug. 21, we got back together when I returned to Texas for another reunion, and we’ve been inseparable ever since,” he said.
Although separated for many years, the couple’s lives had similarities. Their oldest children lived within 10 miles of each other in California without knowing it, and two members of their families shared the same address, but in different cities.
Kathie found Anna Maria Island while looking for a good wedding venue, but Mike spent a few years as an Army recruiter in Bradenton, so he knew about the Island.
Last week, they were wed. It was 42 years to the day when he got shot while writing her a letter in Vietnam. Mike recalled seeing her for the first time at the airport in Texas.
“I saw her get out of a big old car, and I said to myself, ‘Whoever she’s waiting for is one lucky man. She’s beautiful.’”
And he was that lucky man.
Asked if he believes if there is somebody for everyone, he is quick to answer.
“Yes,” he said. “The heart knows.”