I’m delighted to feature a guest host today. Joy Neal Kidney is the author of Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.
She is the oldest granddaughter of the book’s heroine, Leora Wilson. It is about a family who had five sons in the military during World War II and the consequences of their service. Quite an example of patriotism, especially as we approach Memorial Day, a day when we honor those who have given their lives in military service to our country.
I’ve read Leora’s Letters and was really touched by it. Here is my review on Amazon:
“This is a beautiful book. Much of it is spent giving us a background of a loving Iowan farm family who struggled through the Depression to raise five sons and two daughters. Through hard work and a strong religious belief, they made it to the 1940s.
Then World War II hit and five sons went to war. What a challenge it would have been for that family to give five sons to an unknown destiny. And as it happens with tragic results.
Though the topic is dire, the author handles it with gentleness and honesty. The letters that flew between family members during the war — even from sons on the battlefield and at sea — reveal how much they cared for and supported each other during grief.
War is never lovely. But it can bring out the best part of people if allowed. The stamina and fortitude of this family is something we can all learn from in 2020.”
At my request Joy wrote this post for Memorial Day – a day that has meant much to her family over the decades. She is keeping the memory of these ancestors alive.
I hope this story will inspire each reader to remember our veterans and the price they and their families pay for defending our country and people around the world.
Five Brothers Served, Only Two Came Home
Memorial Day is the only day set aside by our nation to remember and honor our war casualties. When it nears, my thoughts are always drawn to Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry, Iowa.
Even before Pearl Harbor had been attacked, one son of Clabe and Leora Wilson was already in the U.S. Navy. Their four other sons, two still in high school, worked as tenant farmers with their father near Minburn until war broke out. One by one, they too left to serve their country. Two were Navymen. The three younger ones became Army pilots.
As the family optimist, Leora Wilson took time to write hundreds of letters in addition to doing all her regular chores. Usually the last one still up at night, lit by an oil lamp, she kept everyone, including two adult daughters, informed of the news. She was the encourager of the family.
Without enough help on the farm, Clabe and Leora bought an acreage near Perry in late 1944. By then, two sons were Missing in Action. The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, in August 1945, their postman brought another devastating telegram announcing the death of their youngest in Texas. The engine of his P-40 had exploded.
Violet Hill Cemetery
As a child and well into adulthood, I helped Grandma, Mom, and Aunt Darlene arrange bouquets at Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry, but we never talked about the lost brothers. Not until after Grandma Leora died did I realize that only one of the brothers is actually buried at Perry.
Delbert G. Wilson, Navy. Served 1934-1937, reenlisted during WWII. Combat: Served on the tanker USS Maumee (AO-2) on the East Coast and North Africa.
Donald W. Wilson, Navy. A plank-owner on two aircraft carriers (member of the crew upon commissioning). One was the USS Yorktown, which was sunk in the Battle of Midway. Awarded a Naval Commendation Medal. Also the USS Hancock (CV-19)
Dale R. Wilson, Army Air Force, co-pilot on a B-25 Mitchell in New Guinea. Never found.
Daniel S. Wilson, Army Air Force, P-38 pilot in Europe. Now buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.
Junior Wilson, Army Air Force, P-40 pilot, not yet sent into combat.
After transcribing many of the letters for surviving family members and extensive researching to learn what happened to the brothers who were lost, I soon realized the Wilson story needed to be shared more widely.
One central Iowa family had lost three sons during the war but no one seemed to know about it. I even journaled prayers that those young uncles would not be forgotten.
Grandma Leora’s letters had been saved for decades, along with those letters sent home from her sons. Condensing that many into a readable story was a challenge. Eventually Leora’s Letters was published in late 2019, soon after the dedication of the Dallas County Freedom Rock, which features the five Wilson brothers.
I’ve been amazed and humbled by responses to the story of a woman who lost four family members – three sons and her husband – in three short years. Grandma Leora reframed her original yearnings of having a home of her own and family nearby. Even with all those losses, she was a wonderfully affirming grandmother.
Now that the whole family is gone, I’ve become their main rememberer. Especially on Memorial Day.
Joy is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and married to a Vietnam Air Force veteran. They live in central Iowa.
Joy’s second book on a similar theme is due out soon: Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.
Joy is a regular storyteller for “Our American Stories.”