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Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 9:46 a.m.

Lost wartime letters back in loving hands

Daughter reunited with her father's World War II letters

  • Tracy Appleby and her mother, JoAnn Anderson, read one of the letters from Anderson's father.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Tracy Appleby and her mother, JoAnn Anderson, read one of the letters from Anderson's father.

  • A letter from John Williams to his daughter, JoAnn, sits atop a stack of letters Williams wrote to his wife and daughter during his military service i...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    A letter from John Williams to his daughter, JoAnn, sits atop a stack of letters Williams wrote to his wife and daughter during his military service in World War II The family was reunited with the letters after the current homeowner found them in the Williams’s former home.

  • Lisa Mull holds a picture of her grandfather, John Williams (right) that was found along with a box of letters Williams wrote to his wife and daughter...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Lisa Mull holds a picture of her grandfather, John Williams (right) that was found along with a box of letters Williams wrote to his wife and daughter during his military service in the early 1940s.

  • Lisa Mull reads a letter that her grandfather wrote to his wife and daughter during his military service in the early 1940s. Mull, her sister, Tracy A...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Lisa Mull reads a letter that her grandfather wrote to his wife and daughter during his military service in the early 1940s. Mull, her sister, Tracy Appleby, and her mother, JoAnn Anderson, were reunited with the letters Thursday afternoon at the Starbucks in Lake Stevens.

  • Lisa Mull, right, reaches into a box of letters while her mother, JoAnn Anderson, and sister, Tracy Appleby, left, read one of a box of letters Anders...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Lisa Mull, right, reaches into a box of letters while her mother, JoAnn Anderson, and sister, Tracy Appleby, left, read one of a box of letters Anderson’s father wrote to his wife and daughter, JoAnn, during his military service in the early 1940s. The family was reunited with the letters Thursday afternoon at the Starbucks in Lake Stevens.

  • Tracy Appleby reads a letter that her grandfather wrote over 60 years before to her mother and grandmother during his military service in the early 19...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Tracy Appleby reads a letter that her grandfather wrote over 60 years before to her mother and grandmother during his military service in the early 1940s. The family was reunited with the letters Thursday afternoon at the Starbucks in Lake Stevens.

  • Tracy Appleby, left, and her mother, JoAnn Anderson, laugh as the pair share stories with Appleby’s sister, Lisa Mull, as they read from a boxfu...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Tracy Appleby, left, and her mother, JoAnn Anderson, laugh as the pair share stories with Appleby’s sister, Lisa Mull, as they read from a boxful of letters Anderson’s father wrote to her and her mother during his military service in the early 1940s. The family was reunited with the letters Thursday afternoon at the Starbucks in Lake Stevens.

  • Rhonda Rodriguez of Monroe found letters from John Williams, written during WWII, in a friend´s basement.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald

    Rhonda Rodriguez of Monroe found letters from John Williams, written during WWII, in a friend´s basement.

MONROE — Three-penny stamps propelled the World War II letters from the South Pacific to a small farm on Route 1 in Monroe.
John Williams, then a Navy Seabee, wrote nearly every day to his wife, Florence, and their daughter, JoAnn, then 7.
Some of the messages were diary descriptions of wartime life on Navy bases, first in Virginia, and later, New Guinea.
Others mixed everyday thoughts with a love so strong that it speaks across the years.
Sept. 18, 1943, from Camp Peary, Williamsburg, Va: “How is our garden growing or has it quit? I wish I could get home before it is gone. I was pretty proud of it. How are you doing for money? I would have sent some but I figured if you were selling the cow you would be alright.”
John Williams was a meat cutter in civilian life. He had exquisite penmanship. His nicknames for his daughter were Jo or Joey. She's now in her 70s. She still remembers the letters her father sent. They arrived in bundles, sometimes minus a few words censored by War Department scissors. He promised to bring her home a grass hula skirt.
Nov 17, 1943, from Camp Rosseau, Calif.: “And Joey you dear little dear, when you say ‘Dear daddy' it really makes me think that I haven't done so bad in life after all. And when you send me 50 kisses I'll send you 50 back. Love, Daddy.”
John Williams made it home safe from the war. A decade later, he and Florence bought a house on Main Street. She ran the home and taught Sunday school at Monroe Evangelical Covenant Church. The wartime letters from her man were always near, tucked away in a dresser drawer.
July 26, 1943, Camp Peary: “Dearest Florence and Jo. It is 8:55 in the evening and I have been on KP since three o'clock this morning. Each platoon has its duty day. We had to scrub the deck and do the dishes. I am going to try to write every day so I have a record of what I have done. The most impressive sight I've ever seen is each morning when they raise the flag. Well Jo, I suppose you are waiting for something from Daddy. Don't think I have forgotten. I'll get you that grass skirt yet.”
John Williams died in 1985. He was in his mid-70s. His wife of 50 years lived to be 90. She died in 2002.
Before the family home was sold about eight years ago, the fading letters inadvertently were placed in a box on a basement shelf.
Rhonda Rodriguez, a former volunteer Monroe firefighter, noticed them while visiting friends. Nobody connected the letters to John and Florence, the home's former owners.
Rodriguez has what she calls “a rescue habit.” When fighting fires, it became reflex to snatch photographs and whatever looked sentimental to spare victims losing the items to flames or water.
She stowed the wartime letters from the basement in a plastic box with a lid. Rodriguez eventually called The Herald to enlist help in finding their rightful owners.
“The letters are so sweet,” she said.
The trail wasn't difficult to follow. After the war, the couple had a son, John S. Williams. He now lives in Richland.
He couldn't believe a box of his dad's letters from World War II had been lost and then found.
Sept. 12, 1944, New Guinea: “My pal, Bill, has been in the hospital with malaria. I have a new tent mate by the name of Johnson, a Swede from Wyoming. I have been homesick and wake up in the middle of the night thinking of you but when I find you aren't here the disappointment amounts to physical pain. If only you and Joey could know just how much I love you and miss you. I don't know how I could love you more every day but I do. Dad.”
And Joey?
JoAnn Anderson lives in Lake Stevens. She said she hadn't read the letters for years. She thought they were safely in storage.
July 29, 1944, from New Guinea: “Dearest girls, I received the socks and scissors. Believe me I can use everything. It's sure nice Joey gets to go swimming now and then. It would sure be nice if you were a full-fledged swimmer when I get home. I got Joey's skirt. It is colored and pretty. All you have to do now, Joey, is learn to hula. How are you holding out, Honey? Do you love your old man as much as ever? Gosh I love you girls so much. Dad.”
At a coffee shop Thursday, the letters went home with Anderson, and two of Anderson's daughters, Lisa Mull, 51, and Tracy Appleby, 49. Rodriguez brought the letters to the meeting, and was there to watch as the brittle envelopes were held as gingerly as precious jewels.
Aug. 6, 1945: “I want Joey to grow up and be as sweet and fine as her Mummy. Keep writing those letters because honey, they mean an awful lot to me. Sit tight and wait for me my dearest.”
On Thursday, Mull read aloud from one of her grandfather's letters: “I will be coming home to you. That is what means the most to me.”
She lifted her reading glasses to rub under her eyes with the side of her palm. She leaned over to tenderly hug her mother.
“Grandpa was the best,” Mull said.
Her sister said John Williams was a lovable, huggable, teddy bear.
Anderson chuckled as she listened to her daughters read the old letters. There was time to reminisce.
The family loved to fish.
Aug. 2, 1943: “I'm glad you got your licenses, both of you. When you catch a fish, think of me. Daddy.”
In the box with the letters was a receipt from a war ration book. A faded copy of the Monroe Monitor from Aug. 18, 1944 includes a long list of those serving in the military with the most delightful note under the headline. “Names and other dates compiled by Mrs. Bertha Zaugg after many weeks of phone calls and writing; file names away in your scrapbook each week for future reference.”
Anderson remembers the fabulous day her daddy came home from the war.
She still has the hula skirt.
Kristi O'Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.







Story tags » Lake StevensMonroe

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