True Romance: Love At Long Last

A story that proves true love knows no time limit.

Peter and Jacque: Love at Long LastCourtesy Jacqueline Headen
He carried her picture through three tours in Vietnam, plus Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

PETER: I was at a skating rink one night when I was 16, in 1958, and I saw this young lady. I waited for you to take a break and get a Coke before I made my move. I grabbed you by the hand and said, “My name’s Thomas Peter Headen.” And you said, “My name’s Jacqueline LeFever.” I looked in those big green eyes, and it was a done deal. So we dated. Then, in 1959, your father got transferred to Japan. I decided, Well, I’ll go get her. I joined the Marine Corps, and I said, “I want to go to Japan.” The Marine Corps said, “You’ll go to Japan when we tell you you can go to Japan.” So I went to a base in California.

JACQUE: I dated a Marine while I was in Japan, and I ended up getting married — I guess just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. We came back to the States in 1962, but I didn’t know what happened to you.

PETER: Well, I finally got orders to Okinawa. And I said, Oh, boy. I’ll go see Jacque when I get to Japan! I was home on leave — you always get leave before you go overseas — and stopped by to say hi to your mother. And she said right away, “Jacque got married. But here, you can have this picture of her.” I made some excuse that I had an appointment or something — the walls were kind of crawling in on me — and I left. I went overseas for 14 months, and then I came back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, not knowing you were right outside the gate of that base. I got discharged, and I went home to Maryland. One night the phone rang — it was you.

JACQUE: I came to visit my mom. And I was calling your mother to see where you were, and you answered the phone — I was shocked, needless to say.

PETER: You said, “I want to show you something.” We went to your mother’s house, and here was this little baby. Your daughter was about three months old, and she had those same big green eyes. You went back to North Carolina, and I re-enlisted. That was 1964, and I said, “Send me overseas.” I didn’t want to be in North Carolina where you’re sitting outside the gate. So I left on August 12 for Vietnam. I came back to the States after 26 months and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. One day I was sitting in the barracks, and I decided, I’m going to write her a letter and tell her how I feel, because we were going back to Vietnam.

JACQUE: You wrote, “I just have to get this off my chest — I love you. I’ve always loved you. I have to say it and get it over with, and I’m done.” In the meantime I’d had another child — a little boy. So there I was in an apartment with two little babies and just miserable, actually. I got married for all the wrong reasons. But I came from a divorced family, and I didn’t want my kids to have a broken home.

PETER: When I came back from Vietnam, I spent 24 hours at home, and then I went to my mother at about 4 a.m. and said, “I’ve got to go to North Carolina.” And she kind of looked at me: “I think you better leave that one alone — she’s married. But I guess you got to do what you got to do.” I said, “Yeah, I got to do what I got to do.”

JACQUE: I sent you away.

PETER: That was September 25, 1968.

JACQUE: Thirty years after that, I left my husband. It wasn’t easy. My kids were grown, they had their college education, they had their families, but I was lonesome and miserable.

PETER: I was sitting there one night, and the phone rang — matter of fact, it was September 25, 1998.

JACQUE: That night, I had made up my mind: I am out of here. I’m so unhappy. And I sat there and I said, Nobody ever loved me but Peter. And that’s when I thought, I’m going to go find him. I asked the operator, “Do you have a T. P. Headen in Waldorf?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “Well, I’m really desperate to find this person. I know he’s in Charles County, Maryland, somewhere.” And she said, “I have a T. P. Headen in White Plains.” So I said, “Oh, my God, that’s it! That’s him!” I started crying, and I said, “I have been trying to find this person for 30 years. He’s the love of my life.” And she said, “You want me to dial the number for you?” I said, “Yeah, you can dial the number.” She said, “Can I stay on the line?” I said, “I don’t care what you do!”

PETER: And you said, “You know who this is?” I said, “Yeah, I know exactly who this is.” You said, “I bet you’re mad at me.” I said, “No. Matter of fact, I’m still in love with you.”

JACQUE: I felt like I was 15 all over again. We decided we would meet in Memphis, and I picked you up at the airport. You jumped in the car and gave me a big old kiss.

PETER: We got married in May, the 15th. I took you down to Key West and out on a three-masted schooner, and we married at sunset. There’s no address on our marriage certificate, just a longitude and a latitude. It’s worked out well. It’s just sad, the time we lost — you can’t get that back. We could have been together when we were 18, 19, you know? But I got you back. And you’re just as beautiful as you were when you were 15.

JACQUE: That’s because you make me feel beautiful.


The Headens now live in Peter’s family home. The picture Jacque’s mother gave Peter in 1962, which he carried to war, is on their nightstand.


Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest