Army veteran John F. Schlatter has a unique hobby that preserves pieces of family history for relatives of World War II veterans. He finds postcards written by soldiers during the war, tracks down their family, and surprises them with a gift of a long-lost family memento.
During World War II, American soldiers used postcards to keep in touch with loved ones. Seven decades later, many of those cards gather dust in antique stores or are sold on eBay. Schlatter began collecting such cards in 2003. One day he realized that these cards were priceless mementos for the soldiers' families. Using resources of the National Archives, Ancestry.com, and FindAGrave.com, he began locating the soldiers or their families and returning the postcards to them free of charge. This book chronicles his quest to return these keepsakes and tells the inspiring stories of the men and women who wrote the postcards.
The stories are as varied as the people who served in WWII:
-- A sailor sent his wife in Connecticut a humorous greeting on their anniversary. She kept the card and other mementos after the war, but it was lost in a flood in 1955. In 2012 the card showed up on eBay. The author bought it, tracked down the wife (now a widow) in Florida, and returned the card to her nearly 70 years after she first received it.
-- A soldier sent a postcard to his little sister in Nebraska apologizing because he forgot to send her chewing gum. The author returned the card to the little sister, now 80+ years old and a great-grandmother.
-- A young woman wrote a postcard to her soldier boyfriend, recalling their tearful farewell at New York's Penn Station. Their wartime marriage lasted 64 years. They have passed away and are buried side by side in the California wine country.
-- A young pilot from Maryland wrote a postcard to his little sister. He was later killed in the Battle of the Bulge. The author found the card on eBay and returned it to one of his relatives. Just months before his death, the pilot married a Welsh girl. The family still searches for his beautiful war bride, who visited his parents in 1946 then disappeared.
-- Two Army lieutenants from North Dakota became friends while attending Officer Candidate School. When the wife of one of the men gave birth to a son in 1943, the other wrote a letter from North Africa welcoming the child to "this complex world." The letter writer went on to be a noted journalist. The baby boy is now a retired Los Angeles police officer. The author returned the letter to him.
-- A man from Pennsylvania sent a card to his future wife's family. He became a B-24 tail-gunner, was shot down over German territory and threatened with execution after being captured by the enemy. The author returned the postcard to him just weeks before he passed away.
-- A solider from Michigan sent his bride a postcard full of loving thoughts. He had only a fleeting time with her before shipping off to Europe, where he was killed in action in the closing days of the war. The author returned the card to his sister, who told how the family learned of his death the day before Germany surrendered. Until being contacted for this book, she didn't know where her brother was buried.
-- Another soldier from Michigan sent a postcard to his cousin. The card led to the story of two brothers killed in the war, their courageous double-gold-star mother, and the nephews who bear their names.
As the ranks of the "Greatest Generation" dwindle (two of the men who wrote these postcards passed away just before this book was published), these are the stories of ordinary Americans who were called on to do extraordinary things, and the families who still honor their memory after all these years.
The son of "Greatest Generation" parents, John F. Schlatter earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Tennessee and served two years as an Army officer in the 1970s. He was a reporter for The Oak Ridger newspaper in Oak Ridge, TN; and a media relations representative for the Tennessee Valley Authority. He joined the Bechtel Corporation in 1981 and held positions in corporate communications until retiring in 2012. He lives with his wife, Becky, at Chippewa Lake, Michigan.
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