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L is for Legacy & Love

My paternal grandfather was one of 7 boys, 5 of whom made it to adulthood. Among the 5 brothers there were 4 children, my father being the only child of the middle son. Because this may get confusing, I drew a quick diagram showing the players in today's story.

family tree

All the brothers were born and lived in Turkey, but in the 19teens, when Grandpa was 16, he and the older 2 brothers moved to the US. Three years later, the youngest two brothers and my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States. From what I've been told, Grandpa and his next younger brother, Joe, were very close.

Joe became a doctor and was drafted into the US Army during WWII. This is Joe:

Joe was married to Geraldine, though everyone called her Gerry. She was hysterical--I remember her wearing leopard print pant suits well into her 70s. Here they are in their glorious youth:

Family legend has it that they had a fantastic love affair though their great pain was never having children of their own. Whether true about Joe's relationship with Grandpa or not, my Dad was the favored nephew of Joe and Gerry, and was treated as if he were their own.

Several years after Joe died, when Gerry got sick, she sent my folks their correspondence from the war. The correspondence fills a large plastic tub; there are hundreds--300, maybe more--of handwritten, WWII-era letters between my Joe and Gerry during the time he was stationed in Luzon, Philippines.

Most of the items are love letters with personal accounts of the war thrown in. However, there are some telegrams, a letter from Mrs. Roosevelt's secretary, photographs, postcards, and even two of Joe's old medical bags among the stash.

There are some gems included in the correspondence including the Thanksgiving 1944 menu from the base.

Joe's wooden medical kit, still full of medicines, gauzes, and supplies is a part of the collection too.

wooden medical kit from WWII

But, probably my favorite is a v-mail from Joe to Gerry (sorry for the redaction, but I'm not going to publish last names here):

In case you can't read the writing, this is what it says, in part:

"Hello Snooky, Your v-mail written in pencil photographed so well that I am writing this one in pencil too just to let you see what it looks like....Isn't it silly of you to work so hard to present me with a diploma so that I can feel proud of you. Why you foolish ninny, I love you just as you are and very proud to have you as my wife."

About 5 years ago, my Mom, under the guise that I may want to read through these letters, brought them over. They've been mine for safekeeping ever since.

Since C and I began looking at Spain in earnest, I have dreaded what would happen to these letters when we moved; I knew that I would not bring this huge tub of 75-year-old letters with me. As my parents' oldest child and the one that has been entrusted with these family treasures, I feel obligated for keeping these letters, and by extension Gerry and Joe's memories, alive. Tossing the letters into the trash just wasn't an option.

I spent months researching organizations, reaching out to them (over and over), meeting with dead ends, and asking these folks for more leads. It was a happy-tear day when I finally found a museum in Washington, DC right off the Mall that will accept the collection. The National Museum of American Jewish Military History on R Street will be home to Joe and Gerry's written legacy.

Joe & Gerry were lovely, good people and knowing that their letters will be preserved fills me with joy. I understand that the items may never make the public collection, but they will be archived and will live on.

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