Sunday, March 13, 2011


A framed photograph of a kind eyed man in a military uniform was displayed on the wall to the right of a pair of windows in the small extra bedroom where I played dress up as a child and hosted tea parties for my dolls. On the left a younger version of my mother holding a baby on her lap looked down on my dolly’s tea from a matching frame. These faces, separated by more than just windows, were my constant companions. The quiet little room away from the bustle of the household was my favorite place to play perhaps because I felt the deep, abiding love radiating from the photographs and filling the room. I liked to pretend that I, not my older sister, was the baby in the photo and the young man with the gentle smile was my father.

The man in the photo was always a part of my life. We visited Joe’s grave every Memorial Day and my mother often spoke of him. On certain days during the year, she would mention a birthday or special anniversary and I could see from the far away look in her eyes that she was in another time and place.

I don’t remember when I first realized my birth was in a way connected to his death. Sometime in my childhood I learned that if it hadn’t been for a horrific plane crash, just weeks before the end of WW II, I never would have been born. My mother would not have married my father, the little room would not be my playroom, and a different family would be living together in my house – Joe, Beth, and Judy with a different baby brother or sister.

Because the story behind the photographs in my childhood playroom has always fascinated me, I have been hungry for more information. A few years ago I researched WWII and the role Joe, a B-17 co-pilot, played while based at an Eighth Air Force field located on England’s East Coast. I found a list of his missions and names of fellow crew members, I read memoirs written by other men, and I talked to the sole survivor of the mid-air collision that took Joe’s life.

In all my research and wondering, nothing has touched me more deeply than reading the letters Joe and Beth exchanged between November 1944 and the day he died March 14, 1945. This past week as I reread all of Joe’s letters I was moved again by an unfulfilled dream lost forever in the rubble of war.
The thing I want most is a chance to come home to you and live in a free world that is peaceful and happy. I love you so very much sweetheart and am just marking time till I can be with you, then I can start to live again. Take good care of both of my girls for me. I love you both and will always be yours only. All my love, your Joe

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