Love Ever After/A Story of Devotion

by Nathan Oravec


When Frederick James Neal shipped out for Ireland in 1942, he had a song in his heart. Many know it today as “The White Cliffs of Dover,” that eternal, ethereal testament to perseverance and faith, forever to be sung in times of uncertainty and struggle. Her given name, though, was Ruth.

On Sunday, May 16, The Bill Dayton Orchestra will hold a tribute concert for Fred Neal, longtime friend of the Dayton family and lyricist long uncredited with words that have brought hope in harmony to countless individuals. “The idea just came to me,” says Sandy Dayton, co-leader of the Big Band who had known the Neals since childhood, studying ballet with their son, Mark. “Sometimes, you just know when you’re supposed to do something.”

Sometimes, the feeling is so intense that it’s all-consuming. And often, as with great songs, it all begins with a girl.

Ruth Neal lives in Gettysburg today, her home of forty-eight years with her husband of fifty-one, Fred, who passed away in July of 1995.

They met, she says, in Ohio on New Years Eve, 1941. Ruth and a friend of Fred’s whom she’d been dating were attending a midnight movie. There, the two were introduced. Whether the friend spent the following New Year’s alone is uncertain, but henceforth, Fred and Ruth were together - emotionally, if not physically.

Having enlisted in the army in 1940, Ruth explains, Fred was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky shortly after they met. They would see each other whenever possible, any time he was granted leave, and when Fred received word that he was to be sent overseas, the couple had fallen quite in love. In May of 1942, Frederick Neal left the country.

Initially setting down in Ireland as part of a consulate preparing to embark upon North Africa, it was not long before Fred was en route to the Dark Continent by way of the English Channel. There, the unassuming poet first encountered the remarkable white cliffs that would forever enrich his soul, and placing pen to paper, those of infinite others. Inspired by the staggering beauty of nature, and longing for the beauty back home awaiting his return, Fred composed a collection of lovely verses for Ruth.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps in the English Channel, Ruth’s poem would unknowingly become the worlds’ when it was published in the Army newsletter, The Stars and Stripes. Soon after writing about the White Cliffs, Fred’s regiment went into battle.

“He wrote the poem for me,” recalls Ruth. “It was beautiful because he was expressing himself. He was saying soon the war would be over and he would be home.”

Nearly two years after leaving, Fred Neal returned to Ruth on a hospital ship. Injured in battle, he could no longer survive in the North African climate and was sent home. Boarded at an army hospital in Butler, Pennsylvania, the two were reunited. On New Years Eve, 1944, Fred and Ruth were engaged.

Following his recovery, Fred returned to Ohio, before being reassigned to Camp Fannin in Tyler, Texas. In July of 1944, at a small chapel there, the couple was wed. Ruth was twenty-three and a half years of age. Fred was twenty-seven.

Prior to enlisting, Fred had worked at an Ohio-based container corporation known as Inland, which he returned to after leaving the military. Ruth had previously worked at Wright Patterson Field in Dayton until the couple was married. In 1955, Fred was asked by Inland to transfer to Biglerville, Pennsylvania where the company had just opened a plant. After selling their house in Ohio, Ruth and the couple’s sons, Mark and Aaron, joined Fred the following year.

Fred would work fifty years for Inland before retiring. While never receiving credit for writing the lyrics to a song that had become renowned during those decades, he never complained - never vied for compliment or validation - never attempted to elicit sympathy or pity. “He was a very humble person,” says Ruth of her husband. “He was a great poet. I have quite a few poems he had written after we were married.”

“He loved to write,” she continues. “He never wanted anything from them.”

Fred was once quoted as saying “he and God knew who wrote those words, and that’s all that matters.”

“He was a very spiritual person - a Biblical scholar in his own right. He reflected God in all that he did.”

In July of 1995, at 78 years of age, Frederick James Neal passed away. He and Ruth had been married for fifty-one years.

On Sunday, May 16, the Bill Dayton Orchestra will pay tribute to their friend Fred Neal. Ruth and the couple’s sons, Aaron and Mark, will be present for the celebration of his life. “We’re very excited about the concert,” says Ruth. “Fred would be honored... and would feel very humble.”

Ruth once had the original copy of the poem her husband had sent her from a ship on the English Channel those many years ago. After frequent moves from Ohio to Texas and back again, it became lost. “Things get displaced,” she says.

It might go without saying that despite the loss of the original writing, Ruth will forever have The White Cliffs of Dover.

“After he retired, we did get to travel some and see the United States. Just the enjoyment of being together - it meant very much to me.”

“The White Cliffs impressed him so much,” she continues. “And they are beautiful... I would love to see them someday, too.”

The Bill Dayton Orchestra tribute concert for Frederick James Neal will be held on Sunday, May 16, 2004 at The Pleasant Valley Fire Hall in Westminster, Maryland from 2-5 p.m. Admission is $12 and reservations are recommended. Call Sandy or Steve at 410-751-5588. The event is smoke free and singles and families are welcome. For much more information on The Bill Dayton Orchestra, visit www.billdayton.com. Visit www.bigbands.us.

THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Someday, just you wait and see
There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Someday, when the world is free.

The shepherd will tend his sheep
And the meadow will bloom again,
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.
There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Someday, when the world is free.

There will be joy and laughter and love ever after,
Someday, just you wait and see
There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Someday, when the world is free.