Lillian Shizuko Berry was born and raised in Honolulu, but her Japanese ancestry and World War II separated her from the American soldier she loved.
She never doubted his promise to find her, even after her family took her back to Japan and war broke out.
That serviceman, John Berry, was nearly killed in fighting in Europe and Africa and was awarded three Purple Hearts for his wounds.
He went to Japan as part of the occupying Allied forces and after searching for months, he found his long-lost love. They ultimately spent much of their lives together on a Sebastopol apple ranch.
"This is the stuff of movies and epic books — a romance before the war; a soldier goes off and fights and almost dies," said their son, Lowell Berry. "(She) goes to a war-torn country, not knowing if her loved one will ever find her again."
After landing in North Africa with General George Patton's Army, Berry fought his way to Italy and Normandy. Along the way he sustained, but recovered from, a gunshot to his upper chest.
Even though they were out of touch throughout the war, Lillian had faith.
"She said she used to watch. She knew he was coming," their son said. "She just had to be patient."
Lillian Berry died Nov. 13 in San Antonio from lung ailments and pneumonia. She was 87.
Even after her husband died in 1990, she kept his name on the mailbox and spoke about him as if he were still alive.
"She wore her wedding ring and talked about him in the present tense," their son said.
Lillian paid a steep price for her marriage. Her Japanese family would not forgive her for marrying an American soldier. As a result, her parents and some of her siblings never spoke to her again.
"She said she never regretted what she did," her son said.
Lillian met her future husband — a sergeant 10 years her senior — when she worked as a logistics clerk for the U.S. Army, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
She was around 17 when her parents decided to take the family back to Japan, before war broke out.
"She had to go. She didn't have any choice. She was young and had to go back with her family. Her dad ruled with an iron first," her son said.
As the eldest sibling, according to strict Japanese traditions, she was expected to marry the second son of a Japanese family.
Her family returned to Fukuoka, Japan and established a successful department store.
"She was supposed to have inherited and run the family business," her son said. "But the family pretty much disowned her when she married my father."
After the couple reunited, they married in Hawaii, then returned to Japan where he continued his military career and she worked as an interpreter.
In the late 1950s, they moved to Sonoma County and bought a 10-acre ranch outside Sebastopol, off Sexton Road.
She worked for more than 50 years as an accountant, retiring from Dupar and Angel Associates in Santa Rosa in 2010.
She lived alone in Sebastopol until last year, when a fall and fractured hip prompted a subsequent move to Texas to be closer to her son, who lives in Boerne.