December 3, 1943. “The secretary of war desires me to express his regret that your son has been reported missing in action…”
Joy Neal Kidney’s grandparents Clabe and Leora Wilson received two telegrams like this and a third—the death of yet another child. In Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family during World War II, Kidney stitches their stories together.
Of her grandparents’ seven children, two girls and five boys, all five sons served either on ships in the navy or as pilots. Kidney’s aunt was married to a farmer who stayed on the farm to support the war effort. And though Kidney’s mother considered joining the WAVES, she instead married a flight instructor who, like my father, would have seen action had the war not ended.
As mentioned in last fall’s Veteran’s Day post, of my father’s ten siblings, five were old enough to serve in the war and four did: my father’s oldest sister and brother, my father and his second younger brother. His first younger brother stayed on the farm, like Kidney’s uncle.
My grandparents never received the heartbreaking telegrams like the Wilsons did. Yet as I read Kidney’s book, particularly the family letters, I marveled at our families’ similarities. Our grandparents lived on farms with no running water or electricity though both had telephones on shared “party” lines. Long-short-long was the Wilson family ring. Both her grandmother and mine kept chickens and sold eggs. And they worried about their children who served in the war, hoping for the best.
During this time of uncertainty, our pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church is leading us in a Bible study of the book of Job. A devout man and prosperous, one might have thought righteousness the reason for Job’s prosperity—until he lost everything: livestock, servants, and children. Betrayed from within his community and without, brought down by what seemed like acts of God or natural disasters. Yet when faced with an alternate script, Job did what he’d always done: he worshipped God.
I imagine my grandparents counted their blessings when all their chicks came home. And the Wilsons grieved their losses as Job did, too, and so many other families during WWII. It’s hard to be grateful for an alternate script, knowing your children will never fulfill their dreams. But it’s precisely these times of testing that give us the greatest opportunities to grow our faith, as it was for Job.
In her grandmother’s obituary, which Kidney included at the end of her book, I noted another surprising similarity between our families. Leora had not seven but ten children, seven boys and three girls exactly like my grandmother. Leora and Clabe lost twin boys to whooping cough during the Depression and a girl to an enlarged heart. Another alternate script, and my grandparents had theirs, too.
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Our present moment is a trial but we need to keep perspective and remember the sacrifices of our ancestors.
Thank you, and yes, indeed. May we endure and grow.
Carole, as the oldest of my dad’s five children, I inherited the letters and cables for my uncle, George Winston Hammerud, who was killed on December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona — the USS Arizona Memorial has just S1C GW Hammerud. The post you wrote had a special meaning to me because of that.
Thank you for sharing your family’s history with me. Among the effects of one the Wilson sons killed in action was his copy of the New Testament given to him by the Gideons. In it he inscribed, “I give everything for the country it stands for.” May we remember the sacrifice.
I see similar parallels with my Dad’s family. While he and a few of his brothers were too young to serve in World War II, others did as well as one of his sisters. My grandmother related to us her experience when one of her sons was wounded in combat in the Pacific theater. She awoke in the middle of the night when her young Marines son was wounded. She knew he was in harm’s way.
So many families from that generation were impacted by the war. Amazing story about your grandmother. Thank you for sharing. -C.D.