January 30, 2017
I continued to delve into the treasures of the trunk. Besides the myriad of letters, I unearthed a note sent to Mom from Dad. I could have picked it out as his from a hundred notes. “Happy Birthday, darling, to the best wife I have.” Dry wit from a man who would remain happily married for over fifty years.
There were postcards and war rations and a few things I won’t post for fear of having the items misunderstood: a propaganda pamphlet in appalling English, with Goebbles; Nazi stationery neither of my parents could bring themselves to write on.
I recognized one postcard from Dad’s longtime buddy, Bob Balfour, who served with Admiral Halsey. The card was sent from the U.S.S. Missouri, postmarked Sept. 6, 1945, just after Japan surrendered. Aboard (besides Balfour), were high ranking admirals and generals from China, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and, of course, Japan. General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, stood before an array of microphones and declared before the world the hope of mankind that a better world would arise out of the blood and carnage of the past–“… a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”
January 24, 2017
On my knees in front of the open trunk, I stared at the stacks and stacks of letters, most written while both of my parents served overseas A few of the letters had been penned from the States, as they waited in different staging areas of the country. I picked the nearest stack and carefully wriggled one letter from the boot strings. The envelope said it was from Lt. Helen Eberhart to Lt. Frank Daley. My hands shook as I lifted out the letter are began reading.
One sentence (“I miss you so much, my darling.”), and I had to return the letter to its envelop, into its stack, its home for over 70 years. I couldn’t hear those voices–not yet.
Fortunately, there were other treasures in that chest, discoveries that intrigued me, rather than sent me into tears. Each soldier had been given a Bible, and President Roosevelt sent a letter to each soldier. In case you don’t have “eagle eyes” (an expression Dad used frequently), here’s what it says on that Bible page:
THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON To the Armed Forces:
As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel, and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest experiences of the human soul.
Very sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt
And yet, there were even more intriguing artifacts to discover in the old, but enduring Army trunk….
January 19, 2017
This is me angry. And young.
Why oh why did I promise my dad that I wouldn’t open that Army trunk? I dusted it. I sat on it. I ran my fingers over the lettering. Yep. Definitely my dad’s Army trunk. And I’d promised him I wouldn’t open it until my mom left this earth to join him in heaven.
For the last 5 years of her life, Mom came to live with us in Ohio. She and Dad had lived in Hamilton, Missouri for over 5 decades in the same house, with the same friends. By an act of her will and her faith, she didn’t look back, except to stay in touch with friends. Instead, she settled in and started a new life in Ohio. And the trunk? Neither of us mentioned it. Never ever. She must have known I had it because she was there when we cleaned out the house, including the attic. And she knew I was reading everything I could about WWII.
One day as we were playing cards I tried to nail a date in 1944, when a certain battle caused the nurses to evacuate. Mom’s recollection didn’t align, and I was getting frustrated. So was she. “That can’t be right,” I said. “F.D.R. was still alive.” Mom slapped down her cards and said, “Well, Dandi, just look in the letters!” A silence fell so hard I could feel it as we stared at each other for what felt like hours. The elephant in the room was standing on the table. After more cold minutes passed, Mom said sweetly, “Anything else?”
As soon as our game ended, guess what I did. Yep. I opened that trunk.
January 16, 2017
When my dad was sick and in the hospital for the last time, he waited until I was alone with him and whispered, “Dandi, I want you to go home and go in the attic and find an old Army trunk. Put it in your car and take it back to Ohio with you.” That sounded tough enough–driving an hour to their home in Hamilton, MO, creeping up to the attic, where I hadn’t ventured in decades, and somehow dragging an Army trunk to my car. But the next request was harder, if not impossible: “Don’t open that trunk. Not until your mom is gone too.”
I did as I was told, though it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I couldn’t stand not knowing what was inside that old trunk. So when I returned to the hospital, I begged Dad to tell me. Finally, he said, “Letters. We wrote each other 2-3 times a day during the war, when we were both overseas, but in different countries. Your mom is embarrassed by how mushy our letters were and how many secrets they hold. She’d burn those letters, and I wouldn’t want that.”
I kept my promise. And when I finally got to open that trunk, I was amazed at its contents. Stay tuned for the next blog….