Couple remembers meeting, getting married at Valley Forge General Hospital post

Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area
Here is a look at Valley Forge General Hospital's post in the past.
Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area Here is a look at Valley Forge General Hospital's post in the past.

Valley Forge General Hospital, which was located on the grounds of what is now Valley Forge Christian College, was a place that treated veterans and provided jobs to thousands of people up until the 1970s.

In addition to getting treated for injuries, some veterans even met their wives at the hospital.

Bob and Jean Wislowski, Charlestown Township residents, have a unique and heartwarming story about how they met and were married at the post.

Bob was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and was shot in the leg during service in August 1968.


After a short time in Japan where he received operations, he was brought to Walton Army Hospital at Fort Dix, N.J.

“I was convalescing there for a good six months,” Bob Wislowski said. “After the operations, my leg was still very infected. I had to walk with crutches. I was always perpetually in a cast because I was always getting operated on to try to take care infection. They could never quite get it eliminated.

“They were ready to discharge me to civilian life (the VA system) and I categorically told them I wanted them to fix me up so that I could walk well instead of on crutches and there would be no pain and infection,” he said. “To me, the only solution was to ask to have my leg amputated. That took them aback, but I finally convinced them.”

In September 1969, Wislowski was sent to the amputee ward of the army hospital. He said the doctors there confirmed that amputation was the best solution.

At that time, Jean was working as a civilian nurse in the ward. Bob met her his first night at the hospital.

“Jean was on night duty and she was the nurse on my particular ward. She struck me as the woman I wanted to marry immediately. Slowly, but surely, I tried to strike up a relationship with her in the short time I knew I had before the operation. She kept on ignoring me and said she didn’t date patients. I know it seems crazy, but within two or three days I was so sure we were going to be married. I told the doctor that I wanted to change my mind about the operation.”

He knew he would be taken off of the ward and would be released.

Jean said, “I didn’t notice Bob (at first). He was just another patient to me.”

She said many of the patients were married already so she didn’t take any comments made to her seriously.

Determined to date Jean, he approached her again, wanting to take her to the officers club at the post where veterans went out for dinner.

Bob said Jean stood him up during the first date they had planned. This setback didn’t stop him from trying to woo her. He was still at the hospital and after a week or two weeks, he finally convinced her to go on a date with him.

Jean said she reconsidered going out with him after they had time to talk and realized that a relationship may be in the cards for them.

Bob said he realized he may have been rash with his decision to not get his leg amputated. He talked to Jean about what she thought about marrying someone that had his leg amputated and she was supportive about it. Bob convinced the doctor that he really did want to have his leg amputated and he was back on the ward.

“Shortly after that I proposed to Jean on the ward,” he said. “That was the only place we really got to see each other.”

They had only been dating for a few weeks at that point. Jean said yes.

“I wasn’t serious with anyone,” Jean said, explaining she had not had a serious boyfriend that would prevent her from being with Bob.

She said she remembers how persistent he was with asking her on dates. She said her family loved him and wasn’t worried about her getting married so fast because they knew she wanted to start a family.

His amputation was set for February so they acted quickly with the planning so they could get married and go on a honeymoon before the surgery. They applied for and received their marriage license from the county.

They talked to Chaplain Father McKenna who gave them the OK to get married on post. They asked a priest Jean’s family knew to perform the ceremony for Dec. 27. Jean’s sister had a wedding dress that fit Jean and offered the dress to her to wear.

The Wislowskis had some added stress with the wedding planning when a blizzard hit the area on Dec. 26 with 24 inches of snow. Their families had to travel from out of town to attend the wedding. They were the only two people at their rehearsal the night before.

Fortunately, their families made it to the ceremony. The reception was also held on post. Bob remembers Jean walking out of the post chapel after the ceremony and it was hard to see her because of the snow drifts that had formed.

They traveled to St. Bart’s for their honeymoon. Bob was on crutches, but didn’t let that put a damper on their time there.

“It was sweet to me,” he said. “I could feel no pain. I was glad we were married.”

In February, Bob underwent the surgery to have his leg removed. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Lannaeu were the surgeons that performed the amputation. He said recovery was short and he was fitted with a prosthetic leg.

Bob was at the hospital as a patient until 1971 because doctors wanted to make sure there were no aversions and that he could walk on it. He still performed jobs on post and he and Jean would meet up for lunch at the mess hall.

The Wislowskis settled in the Charlestown Township area near the site of the former hospital. They have three children, Mary Grace, Annie and David.

Bob took data processing classes thanks to a group called, Committee of 57, and worked in the data center at the army hospital.

He remembers that when he was in the hospital, it was a scary time for him, but the hospital provided great care, he said.

Bob also remembers helping to feed a soldier that had lost both legs, an arm and was burned on 30 percent of his body.

“I remember him, a month later, walking down the hall on two prosthetics and two crutches and he had that sense of accomplishment and he was able to overcome his impediments,” he said. “When anything got me down, I always remembered him, thinking ‘You aint got anything. You got a little pain.’ This guy was close to death. He had to eat baby food when he was first on the ward.”

Bob said the patient inspired others in the hospital.

He said the community was very supportive of the soldiers and staff. The VFW or another fraternal organization would bring ham and cheese on rye to the hospital for patients on Mondays and after a while he craved the sandwich.

Bob and Jean recently participated in a dedication ceremony for a roadside historical marker noting the former site of the hospital.