She missed him until the day she died: RI woman never forgot first love, who died in WWII

Dorothy Tierney traveled from Rhode Island to New York City during World War II to marry her high school sweetheart, only to discover the sailor had been killed.

Jack Perry
Providence Journal

Joan Masse immediately recognized the face in the decades-old photograph; it was her mother's first love, a World War II sailor from Rhode Island who was killed days before they could marry.

Masse's mother, then named Dorothy Tierney, had planned to elope with high school sweetheart Raymond Draper because her mother didn't approve of their marriage.

But Raymond was serving aboard the , which was escorting a convoy from New York City to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when it was accidentally rammed by a merchant ship off Cape May, New Jersey, on Jan. 6, 1944. The collision killed 115, and just 30 were rescued from the icy water.

Dorothy Tierney and Raymond Draper pose at "The Sentinel" statue at Roger Williams Park.

His photograph was published in The Providence Journal last week in a Memorial Day story reporting how a cousin, James Draper of Providence, honors the memory of Raymond and three other cousins who died while serving in World War II. Masse saw the photograph, read the story and tracked down Draper to tell him about the love in his cousin's life.

"I was blown away. It was surreal," James Draper said. "You'd write that into a movie script to pick at heartstrings."

Masse didn't know much about Raymond Draper until after her father, also named Raymond, had died.

"She could never talk about it," Masse said. "My father didn't want to hear about it."

The stories unfolded during long walks mother and daughter shared after Masse's mother moved in with her and her husband, Roger, in North Providence.

Raymond Alvah Draper

With Dorothy's mother disapproving of the marriage, Dorothy and Raymond decided to elope in New York City, Dorothy told Masse.

"When she got to New York, my mother found out he got killed off the coast of New Jersey," Masse said.

Raymond's body was returned to Rhode Island two weeks later, and he was buried in Greenville.

Dorothy believed a German submarine, not a merchant ship, was responsible for the sinking and that the government covered it up so U.S. residents wouldn't be alarmed about German U-boats near the coast, Masse said.

Dorothy married and had three children

Dorothy would later marry Raymond Dube. They had three children, Masse and two sons, Raymond Jr. and Richard.

Raymond Dube was also a World War II veteran and had been previously engaged but received a "Dear John" letter while serving in Germany, Masse said. He told his daughter he threw the engagement ring in the Atlantic Ocean.

Raymond Dube took part in the D-Day invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and also the liberation of a prison camp, according to Masse. He, too, was a victim of World War II, although he survived. Masse says he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder before anyone knew much about it.

"He was very broken when he came home," she said.

James Draper wasn't yet born at the time his cousins died. He knew them only from photographs. It saddens him to think they died so young. Hearing Masse's story about his cousin and his fiancée, Draper said, was "magical."

"I feel as though I was prospecting and found a gold nugget the size of a fist," he said.

Years after the war, Dorothy asked her daughter to take her to visit Raymond Draper's grave.

"I know where he's buried," she said. "I want to go visit Ray."

Dorothy died in March 2023, at the age of 101.

Masse said, "I think she missed him until the day she died."