VC Star Veterans Column: Chili Beans Brought Together These Army Veterans

By Donna Lockwood, GCVF “Mobile Veteran Outreach” Support Specialist and Daughter of a Korean War Combat Veteran

Army veterans James and April Espinoza both enlisted to serve their country, among various reasons. Neither believed going in that finding romance in the battlefield was going to be one of those reasons.

Thinking about people who serve in the military, one would imagine highly disciplined, tough-as-nails soldiers, ready to walk into harm’s way.

Finding romance and a lifelong soul mate doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just what happened for two Army veterans who reside in Simi Valley.

Both April and James Espinoza enlisted for various reasons, but mainly to serve their country. The Army provided a steady income and gave them a sense of purpose. It was also a new adventure.

Additionally, there was a strong legacy of service to address. They both came from a long line of veteran family members; all four grandfathers served with honor in World War II.

Noticing the ‘New Girl’ Right Away

April arrived at Fort Campbell in 1994. Her first assignment was with the 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. She was a cook in the 5th Battalion mess hall.

James was an aircraft structural repairman assigned to the 5th Battalion, 101st. He should have been out in the field but had to stay back because of an injury.

As providence would have it, James noticed the “new girl” right away. And, you guessed it. She noticed him, too.

This particular military story isn’t about marching into battle. The important part is that April thought James was cute. What does an Army cook do when needing an excuse to meet a cute soldier? Serve him a bowl of chili beans, and ask his opinion.

The chemistry between the two was obvious. A friend needled James about it, saying, “Somebody likes you.” Emboldened, James asked him to give her his phone number.

Her response was very old-school; “I don’t call men! Here’s my number… He can call me.” Fortunately, James didn’t waste any time. He called that night. Immediately, they became good friends.

Fort Campbell sits on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. The barracks are separated by a row of tennis courts. James’ barracks were on the Kentucky side, and April’s on the Tennessee side.

Getting Serious Quickly

Instead of looking at the courts as a barrier between them, they saw a great opportunity. They were a perfect place to come together, go roller-blading, cultivate a budding romance and talk about their future.

On the same day they had their first tentative discussions about staying together, April received orders to ship out to Korea. Suddenly things became serious. April asked James to marry her. He responded by asking April to marry him instead.

Five months after they met, James and April tied the knot in a civil ceremony.

Being newly married, the couple didn’t want to be separated for a year. Therefore, James requested orders to also go to Korea. They had two options: Let fate decide if they would be stationed together or request a joint domicile tour.

They decided two years in Korea together was better than one year apart. Their request was granted. They were able to live off-base, have a vehicle and explore the Korean culture together.

Twenty-five years and four children later, James and April are as committed to each other as ever. They worked hard together and faced many situations in their marriage that could have easily dissolved it. Remembering their commitment to each other and their family carried them through the obstacles.

James still proudly serves our country, only now in law enforcement. Their youngest son is carrying on the family’s military legacy, serving in the United States Air Force.

We may not often think of the military as a place to find a spouse. After all, it never seems to be the plot in an epic movie or romance novel.

However, it’s not that uncommon, and let’s face it – being able to choose a life partner from a group of people shown to have good moral character and commitment to a positive lifestyle sure beats the heck out of online dating services.

When asked what brought them together they both have the same answer: “It was the chili beans.”

Source: VC Star article from January 3, 2021