Eleven “Soldier Boy” Love Letters from the Lost Summer of 1919 – 52 Ancestors #205

By June of 1919, my father, William Sterling Estes had already served more than two full years in the military. Born in either 1901 or 1902, he enlisted in May 1917 when he was either 14 or 15 years young. He was discharged as a Sergeant First Class in May of 1919 and re-enlisted the next day in the Army 10th Infantry. His re-enlistment papers tell us that he was a marksman, not mounted, no battles, no medals, no wounds, good condition, typhoid shots, paratyphoid and he was single.

Dad was stationed at Camp Custer, then named Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan for most of his time in the service. He was included in this human shield of 30,000 soldiers, the photo taken from the Camp Custer water tower in 1918.

WWI was coming to an end in the summer of 1919, thankfully.

Somehow, probably on leave, Dad met Virgie Houtz who lived in Dunkirk, Indiana. In the summer of 1919, Virgie was 16 years old and attended high school.

Dad was either turning 17 or 18 that October, but in one of his letters to Virgie, he told her he was turning 20. We know for a fact that wasn’t true. Not only is he not on the 1900 census, his sisters said that he was born in 1902 and several other pieces of documentation point to either 1901 or 1902 as his birth year. The 1910 census tells us that he was 8 years old in April. He was born on October 1st, so he would have turned 9 later than year, which means his birth year was 1901 if the census is accurate.

Dad and Virgie fell in love that summer. They were two starry-eyed young kids – except one of them had been toughened by being turned out on his own at age 12, then fending for himself until he was old enough to “age himself” appropriately so he could join the military. I’m guessing the Army was his best bet for regular meals.

Indeed, he was one handsome lad. He was also still a boy, and a boy who had been rejected and abandoned by both parents before he was even a teenager. Dad had completed only 8th grade, according to later census records, which would have been about the time he and his younger brother Joe hopped a train for Tennessee when his parents split and neither parent wanted the boys. Dad would further his education later, but in 1919, he wrote amazingly well, considering.

The Letters

Ninety-nine years ago, almost exactly a century, as I sit here today light-years removed, my father was using a fountain pen and ink well to write letters to his sweetheart after he finished his duties on the military base including feeding the horses which were widely used in the war effort.

In total, 14 envelopes and 11 well-worn letters remain.

From these historical gems, we gain an intrusive glimpse into their young love, and as a side-note, we also get to peer into his life at Camp Custer.

Reading these letters felt almost invasive, like I was a peeping tom, peering into something intensely personal. However, when this bundle arrived roughly 8 decades after he penned each letter with lovesick yearning, years after both of their deaths, I was exceedingly grateful to Virgie’s daughter for sending them. I read them with much trepidation, unsure of exactly what each page would reveal.

In addition to the letters, Virgie’s daughter included several photos that Virgie had cherished all of those years.

This treasure trove was truly amazing, all things considered. All things? What are those “all things?”

This is an unbelievably bittersweet love story. I’ll let Virgie’s letters and photos tell their story of summer love.

Bill and Virgie

My father was obviously very smitten with Virgie. Smitten doesn’t quite do this justice. I think the phrase head-over-heels-in-love is a better description.

We have Dad’s letters to Virgie, but of course, we don’t know what her letters to him said – although we catch some glimpses of that as well, between the lines so to speak.

I am sharing some of his letters, but not all. As you might guess, if you remember being 15 or 16 and lovestruck, they say “I love you” in every single way possible over and over. I’ll spare you that. I’d also like to afford them some privacy, even in death.

The first letter is dated June 25th, 1919.

Dad opens by telling Virgie that it’s 7:05 AM, he had already fed the horses, ate his own breakfast and is taking a few minutes to write to her. He calls her “Blue Eyes” and asks why he has only received one letter from her. He says he has written 4 to her. This appears to have been a whirlwind romance that turned serious quickly. He jokes that if she keeps it up, meaning not writing, she may “be without a hubby,” so they are obviously discussing a permanent relationship – whirlwind or not.

At first I thought he meant he had written her 4 letters since she wrote one, but based on later exchanges, I think this was actually the beginning of the relationship and he had just left Dunkirk a few days earlier.

He says that since coming back to Battle Creek:

“The girls there don’t abount (sic) to a hill of beans.”

Yep, he’s hooked!

I’m guessing that Dad had been with his friend, James, because he says that James took the car home when he was discharged and therefore, Dad has “nothing to do.” James and the car may be how he met Virgie in the first place, since he seems to write as if she knows James.

If they get paid before the 4th of July, Sergeant Lynch and Dad are going to visit Dunkirk. They may live it up after they arrive and go to Redkey or Eaton, both crossroads towns not far from Dunkirk in the land of cornfields and soybeans.

I have to wonder whatever brought these soldiers to this remote country location 171 miles from Camp Custer in the first place.

Dunkirk isn’t close to much of anything and not on the way to anywhere.

Apparently Virgie called Dad “Buddy.” I never knew that was his nickname. Maybe it was only between them.

Dad appeared to be writing to Virgie every spare minute. The next letter is dated the following day.

Later in this letter, he tells Virgie that he showed her photo to the lady at the YWCA Hostess House who told him Virgie looked like a nice girl and he must think a lot of her. I’m sure Dad was showing Virgie’s photo to anyone who would look and listen, and probably a few unsuspecting people who wouldn’t.

He told the lady:

“Yes and I’ll tell the whole world I do.”

Ah, the achiness of fresh, new, overwhelming love.

But then, he said something very prescient.

“I will be true to you till death.”

If someone had told him that day that he would die as her husband, but would not marry her until 42 years later, he would have thought them crazy.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t sacrifice for you, even my life.”

Then, perhaps having gotten too close to the hole in his soul, he changed topics abruptly:

“The boys, we are arguing about the war, but I don’t know about their brains. Ha. Ha.”

Later the same day, he writes a second letter. For a man in service to write two letters to his intended in the same day – he had to be wonderfully, miserably lovesick.

In Dunkirk, I can see Virgie going to the post office every day to look for a letter – maybe multiple times every day. In the era of “general delivery,” mail wasn’t delivered to homes. Of course, that meant the entire town knew who received mail from whom. In Michigan, Dad probably lived for mail call, either elated or dejected, depending on what was waiting.

Look at the back of this envelope! Apparently he had proposed and she had said yes.

If you’re groaning at the syrupiness of this, I know, me too. Yet, I remember doing this same thing at about the same age.

I should probably explain at this point that he refers to himself as her husband often. They were clearly betrothed. If you’re laughing, remember that this was nearly a century ago when women often married as soon as they were old enough to reproduce. Tennessee, where his family was from was notorious for marriages that began at 15 or 16 and lasted a lifetime, whether they should have or not. Large families and poverty are powerful cement.

Soldiers in WWI received tetanus, typhoid and smallpox vaccines although experimentation with a flu vaccine followed the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. Regardless, only Virgie would be allowed to touch his sore arm:)

In this letter, Dad asks Virgie about Fluffy, “their child.”

I do believe this is Fluffy. This man was no dummy. Way to her heart! If he’s asking about Fluffy in the letter, this photo would have been taken just a week or two prior.

Oh, and if a kitten alone doesn’t work, try a kitten and two ducks. Who can resist this? Seriously!

Fluffy is perched on his shoulder, eyeing the ducks I suspect or wondering how to get down.

“Your hubby sure does love you with all my heart and soul.”

He tells Virgie that he’s saving for July 4th, which appears to be when he plans to visit her in Dunkirk again. He rode horses in the afternoon and had “a sweet time” but wishes she was with him. That theme, of course, permeates all of his letters.

He is probably the only soldier at the Knights of Columbus Hall that is writing to a girlfriend instead of dancing. He tells her never to doubt his love.

“I stay awake at night thinking of you. You will be my wife soon. I am yours forever and ever.”

An empty envelope is all that remains of a June 30th letter. Did she love it to death, hide it from her parents maybe, or lose it somehow?

The 4th of July

The next letter follows on July 8th, and based on its contents, we know where he was over the 4th of July.

I can’t help but wonder what happened in Fort Wayne to cause him to leave so late and drive all night. Today, that same drive is about an hour and a half or two hours, max. At about 100 miles, that means they averaged about 15 miles an hour. Cars were a lot slower then than today, roads were in a lot worse condition and tires had to be patched regularly. The Model T which began to be manufactured in 1908 was the first affordable car and is probably what they were driving.

Not only did he manage to get back to camp late, which means he was technically AWOL, but he also seems to have had a case of tonsillitis severe enough to require surgery. This is a decade before the invention of antibiotics.

Dad goes on to say that $30 a month isn’t much to live on, which I would presume is his salary. He thinks it will cost them $25 a month for “light housekeeping” but he can get his groceries on base and his clothes from Uncle Sam.

“I sure want my baby dressed nice but we’ll try and get along somehow. Oh, I know, well just live on hugs and kisses.”

I remember being so in love I could have cared less about anything and everything except for that person. Apparently, I inherited that trait from my dear father.

Dad says he’s expecting Virgie to visit the 4th of the following month. He references an old girlfriend who he identifies as having a “hairlip.” Apparently, the old girlfriend referred to him as Billy when she was inquiring as to why he had not written to her. I’ve also never heard my dad called by what was probably his boyhood nickname.

I’m suspecting that Dad told Virgie about the other gal on purpose to “keep her interested” and so that Virgie wouldn’t think that there weren’t other gals pursuing him. He doesn’t say, but if the “hairlip gal” is who I think she is, her name is Martha. Dad told Virgie that he replied that his wife was there, on base, so there was “no chance now.” Ummm, that wasn’t exactly true either, but I don’t want to get ahead of the story. Just remember Martha.

Another empty envelope from July 29th, followed by a letter on August 5th that tugged at my heartstrings.

My father was apparently quite ill.

“I thought I was a goner.”

Why did he think Virgie might not love him anymore? My heart aches for him.

“You know I was going to come and see you this pay day and then I never herd (sic) from you and now I can’t come.”

He asks:

“Have you been true to me?”

I’m not clear why they apparently need or want to wait two years to marry. Yes, he’s in the military, but other men marry while in service. Perhaps her father wouldn’t allow it until he got out, or until she was 18 or perhaps graduated from high school? The only two people who know the answer to that are together now, and not here to ask.

“I’ll be true to you.”

“For you I would die.”

Oh, my heart.

Then he says goodbye with:

“10,000 kisses and as many hugs.”

The next letter is mailed from the base hospital. If you’re keeping track, this is the third time in just over a month that Dad has been hospitalized.

He has been and remains very ill.

I wonder if he had meningitis or encephalitis introduced when they removed his tonsils. Maybe they shouldn’t have done that surgery while the tonsils were infected. He had been hospitalized at this point since about August 7th, two days after his last letter.

The next letter is dated August 20th, almost two weeks later, and he’s STILL in the hospital and hopes to get out in a couple weeks. Sadly, he mentions that Virgie is only writing him once a month. Uh oh!

He tells Virgie that he has a case of “phenomia fever.”

I can’t even imagine being a critically ill 16 or 17-year-old boy, claiming to be 20, trying to be grown up, alone, in the Army, and with my lady-love not writing. Talk about feeling frightened, alone and abandoned. Again.

First, he survived his family, then two years of military service during a war, and now something that kept him hospitalized for 3 weeks.

VIRGIE, FOR GOD’S SAKE, WRITE TO HIM!!!!!

The next letter is dated August 23rd. Virgie has apparently written, thank goodness!

He mentions his mother, Ollie Bolton Estes, in Franklin Park, Illinois. Apparently Ollie said that “Bessie is looking short,” whatever that means. He then goes on to mention that it has been “only 4 months since I busted up with her (Bessie) and Mama said she claims it’s all my fault.” I’m not quite sure how he could go with a gal in Franklin Park, Illinois and be in the service in Battle Creek, but then again, he’s going with a gal in Dunkirk, Indiana.

I’m making a mental note of a woman named Bessie in Illinois in April 1919, just in case that half-sibling DNA match arrives. However, given that 1919 is 99 years ago, I guess that match would have to be the half sibling’s child, grandchild or great-grandchild. Um, that might explain something I’ve been wondering about. I have a mystery match at MyHeritage of 383cM that is clearly on my father’s side, is about exactly perfect to be a grandchild of a half sibling, and hasn’t answered my messages, but I digress.

Why oh why does he use no one’s last name?

Dad vacillates between asking Virgie if she still wants him and then says he is “sure she is true.” This sounds like one terrified young man. I just want to hug his heart that longs to be loved.

“I will always do all that I can to make you happy and to help you.”

Dad then once-again switched abruptly to, “I am going horseback riding this afternoon.” He closes by saying he wishes she was there to ride with him, signs as “Hubby” and fills the rest of the page with Xs.

In the next letter, dated August 24th, I clearly sense an air of desperation. Note that he is still in the hospital.

“I shall love you the longest day I live and you can depend on me as your best friend in the world.”

Dear God.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.”

What else is there to say? While in the hospital no less. What pain he must have been in to have to pen the next line.

“You know I’m nothing soft, so write plain what you think and I will thank you for it.”

He knows.

This is killing me.

On August 30th, another letter on hospital stationery hints at answers. Apparently, high drama has occurred in the small down of Dunkirk, and someone told Virgie “something.” If this reminds you of Junior High School and 13-year-old girls, keep in mind how old these two were, and the naivety of the time.

Dad’s letter doesn’t tell us what Virgie said, but he replies:

“Don’t believe any thing like that for I never thought of saying such a thing. I came to see you because I loved you. I love you so much and you are the light of my life. There are lots of people in Dunkirk that would like to brake (sic) up our friendship but if it’s left up to me it will never be broken up.”

He goes on to expand on that thought in loverly fashion, and then says:

“I have been true to you since I began going with you and I have letter what can prove to you that I’ve stopped all of my correspondence with all other girls.”

A few paragraphs later he states:

“I think of you if I am idle on duty walking post at midnight or riding across the camps. You are the vision of my dreams and you always will be. Won’t you please believe in me forever and trust me.”

The next part is a bit confusing, and he is clearly flustered or exasperated, but he in essence says that he wants her to think of him when she is in specific “other company,” which means another boy.

He follows with:

“I am in camp waiting and saving for you and preparing for your future and think how much I love you. Then after you think it over and consider your love for them, if your love for me isn’t strong enough to resist other company, then you may go ahead but never with my consent. That last kiss I placed on your lips I placed it there to stay till I came back. It wasn’t placed there for other fellows to take off. If I ever have to give you up I don’t want to ever see another girl for my love is too strong for you. I have never asked for a release from our engagement for that has never entered my mind. I won’t want one if you will only be true to me and promise to believe in me. I have you a sapire (sic) ring for your engagement ring. I will bring it when I come to see you if you will only let me come and nobody else.”

He must feel terribly out of control, like he is at a severe disadvantage, remote, and unable to “compete” by being present. Yet, he somehow found the money for an engagement ring that I don’t think she ever saw.

Dad then asks when her school starts and tells her to study hard and hurry and graduate.

“I love you enough to die for you.”

“I’ll protect you till the end of time.”

Why would he invest this much effort if these feelings weren’t genuine?

He closes by telling Virgie that he’s now out of the hospital, although this 8-page letter appears to have been written in sections and probably over several days.

“Your Soldier Boy.”

My heart is screaming.

The next letter is dated September 4th and opens very differently. Instead of calling her by a pet name, he greets her with, “My Dearest Virgie” and proceeds to talk about when they went to pick strawberries, referring to that time nostalgically as “the good old days.” Something has changed.

He says he would like to visit her next month and then at Christmas. Unbeknownst to him, his life by Christmas would be very, very different.

By the end of the first page, departing dramatically from earlier letters, there are no professions of love. Instead, he asks if she ever thinks about him. At the end of page 2, he tells her he would like to kiss her and then closes by telling her one last time, and the only time in this letter, that he loves her.

“My love is yours.”

One final desperate try.

The tone has changed dramatically.

This is the last letter.

Then…

Nothing.

Nada.

Silence.

For more than 40 years.

However, this heart-wrenching picture taken outside her parents’ home with the message written in Virgie’s hand tells a different story.

“Thou Art Gone.”

She clearly grieved this loss, as did he.

I don’t exactly know what happened between them, or didn’t, but there are hints and I have some thoughts.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Remember Martha?

Martha Dodderer and Edna

My DNA confirmed half-sister, Edna, was born to Martha Dodderer on May 22, 1920. Martha, indeed, had a cleft palate which was at that time referred to as a hairlip. Edna told me that her mother met our father when she was a volunteer in the hospital or infirmary at Camp Custer.

Using a conception date calculator, and assuming that Edna was born after a normal gestation period, the most likely time of conception was August 21-28, with the possible dates ranging from August 18th to September 2nd. Right after the desperation letter and before that last letter. If we presume that he didn’t get out of the hospital until about August 30th, then the conception was closer to September 2nd, and probably before September 4th, the date of the letter in which the tone was significantly changed – like he had given up.

We have a desperately ill young man who thought he was dying – in the hospital three times, totaling 4 or more weeks in 2 months, the last time for 3 weeks – and far from any family to visit. During this time, he becomes increasingly desperate as his sweetheart is not writing to him and appears, at least to him, to be interested in someone else.

Martha, about 5 years older, took care of him in the hospital, was kind to him and perhaps commiserated with being rejected. One thing led to another, which led to Edna.

Dad didn’t marry Martha until 19 months later, in December of 1921. Their divorce was final three years later and the proceedings made it quite clear that their marriage probably should never have occurred at all.

He didn’t marry Martha in the fall of 1919 because he had already married someone else.

Yes, you read that right.

And it wasn’t Virgie.

I wonder what the engagement ring looked like.

Ilo Bailey and Lee Joseph

As if this story wasn’t complex enough, Martha apparently wasn’t the only person that my Dad had been seeing. On December 3, 1919 in Calhoun County, Michigan, he married Ilo Bailey under an assumed name. And yes, I’m positive it’s him.

Their child, unproven by DNA testing because Lee is deceased and had no children, was born on February 24, 1920. Again, using the conception calculator, the most likely time for Ilo to have become pregnant was May 29-June 2, with possible dates being May 23-June 7th.

Both of these pregnancy events, Ilo and Martha, skirt the timeframe of the letters from Dad to Virgie. Ilo before and Martha after. The letters to Virgie began in late June and ended two months later in late August, with the last one of a much different tone being dated September 4th. In other words, he may well not have been cheating on Virgie. These two relationships appear to bracket their brief engagement.

If Ilo got pregnant about the end of May or beginning of June, she would have been hunting for my father in August to tell him of her plight. It took him 4 months after that to marry her. I suspect strongly that he sincerely loved Virgie and not only had he “lost” Virgie, he had found a family he didn’t exactly anticipate. That marriage, however, didn’t last long.

In a letter from Ilo to Dad 15 months later dated March 22, 1921, Ilo states that she is leaving for Kentucky, their marriage “is illegal anyway” and “it’s in the hands of an attorney now.” Apparently, by December 12, 1921, he was unmarried because he married Martha Dodderer, Edna’s mother.

But that may not be all either.

Dad

Dad’s letters to Virgie are increasingly desperate and heart-wrenching. I’m left with the impression that both Virgie and my Dad were just too young and emotionally unprepared to withstand such a trying situation, even without complications of health, war and distance.

But there might have been more in play as well.

It’s very unusual for a healthy young man to become deathly ill for more than three weeks. It’s simply not normal. It wasn’t during the deadly flu epidemic which had hit Camp Custer hard in October of 1918 and it wasn’t during the winter, but the middle of summer. Reading historical documents from that time period, the first step of suspected flu on base was indeed to isolate the patient, but if he had the flu, he would have said so instead of “pneumonia fever.”

Dad was hospitalized for the second time right after he had a tonsillectomy. His third hospitalization was for three weeks. He mentioned that his head ached terribly, he had a high fever and was dizzy. I have to wonder if he contracted either meningitis or encephalitis during his surgery that caused some level of residual brain damage, impairing his executive function ability which regulates decision making. Executive function is the filter that keeps you from jumping out of the car and slapping the person silly who cuts you off in traffic. In other words, road rage results from the lack of executive function.

My father’s first stent in the service was not marked by any known disciplinary action and he was a Sergeant when he re-enlisted in May of 1919. Everything was fine right up until it wasn’t, and then it went to “hell in a handbasket,” as my Mom would have said, right after his illness.

Beginning right after his last letters to Virgie, his behavior changed dramatically. It’s as if there was an invisible line in the sand. Here’s a brief timeline.

  • April 1919 – Breaks up with Bessie, according to letter to Virgie, possibly in Franklin Park, Illinois
  • May 20, 1919 – Dad re-enlists in the Army at Fort Custer
  • Late May or early June 1919 – Ilo gets pregnant in Battle Creek
  • Mid/late June 1919 – Dad meets Virgie
  • June 25, 1919 – first letter to Virgie
  • July 9, 1919 – in hospital for tonsillectomy
  • August 5, 1919 – just released from hospital, but “I thought I was a goner.”
  • August 7, 1919 – hospitalized again for 3 weeks
  • August 30, 1919 – letters to Virgie increasingly desperate, out of hospital
  • September 4, 1919 – last letter to Virgie, very different tone
  • Late August or early September 1919 – Martha gets pregnant in Battle Creek
  • November 4, 1919 – Dad is AWOL and remains AWOL until April 1920
  • December 3, 1919 – Dad marries Ilo in Calhoun County, Michigan under an assumed name
  • April 1920 – Dad arrested for being AWOL and sent to Leavenworth
  • March 1921 – Dad released from Leavenworth, returns to Camp Custer
  • March 1921 – Ilo letter to Dad saying she has left and they are getting divorced, letter found in possession of Martha Dodderer at her death
  • August 8-11, 1921 – AWOL again
  • August-October 1921 – I think he was back in Leavenworth
  • November 1921 – discharged from service
  • December 1921 – married Martha Dodderer in Calhoun County, Michigan
  • February 1924 – divorced from Martha Dodderer

This also may have been about the time Dad started drinking heavily. Then again, being quite ill, having two separate women pregnant, losing the one you love who is not one of the two pregnant women, and being AWOL at the same time will do that to you.

What a mess he got himself into with absolutely no good way out.

I keep hearing the refrain, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”

By then, it was simply too late.

Fast Forward to 1960

We’re going to fast forward through several decades and failed relationships. In hindsight, it feels to me like Dad never got over Virgie and continued to make decisions that lacked in judgement – each new situation weighed down by the quickly accumulating baggage of the past.

In the mid-1940s and again in the 1950s, he was involved with two women at the same time, one of which was my mother. As late as 1960, we have a photo of Dad in Fort Wayne, in his “other” wife, Ellen’s living room, provided by my “half-brother,” David Estes, who turned out not to be my Dad’s biological child.

Dad had a penchant for just showing up and hunting people down after absences of many years. In spite of his prolonged absences, he was an extremely likeable guy, and it was very difficult to remain angry with him – at least initially, according to Edna and others. Edna told me that she hadn’t seen him in literally 3 or 4 decades when he appeared at her house about 1960, wearing a suit and looking quite dapper. The photo below was taken that day with Edna’s children.

This wasn’t long after the period when he was practicing medicine in Tennessee and elsewhere. If your mouth just dropped open, welcome to my world. That’s a story for future article, and it’s a humdinger. My father was anything but boring.

About the same time that this photo was taken, Dad decided to stop by Virgie’s parents’ house in Dunkirk to see if he could find Vergie. He must have been on a search-and-recover binge that year.

Keep in mind that he had last been there 40 or 41 years earlier. Virgie’s father had died, Virgie had married, raised her kids and divorced, and just happened to be living with her mother in the same house where she resided back in 1919.

What are the chances, right?

Virgie had never remarried. She squirrelled away Dad’s pictures and letters that entire time – 4 decades. If Dad thought 2 years was a long time, 40 years is forever.

On April 24, 1961, Virgie and Dad married in Rome, Georgia. No, I don’t know why Georgia, but knowing Dad, I’m sure there’s a story there someplace.

He may or may not have been officially divorced from Ellen at that time. Mom mentioned that Virgie had to “fix” something in that regard, having to do with a divorce not being final in Florida. I found a corresponding envelope with no letter dated October 17, 1961 from the law firm Jopling, Darby and Duncan in Lake City, Florida. The official story was that the waiting period was somehow “messed up,” or that the lawyers got the divorce petition filed a day late. I have been unable to find any divorce record in Florida. Maybe I should check other Lake City (Columbia County) legal records. Maybe there’s more that I don’t know. Hmmm….

Regardless, he and Virgie lived the next two years and 4 months happily in the little house with Grandma. They had such a short time to make up for 42 irrecoverable years. Virgie loved Dad and adored him, at the same time aware of his foibles. I hope Dad found the love, security and acceptance he desperately craved.

Dad died on August 27, 1963, with Vergie at his bedside. He had promised Virgie all those years ago to love her until his death, and he did exactly that, just as he had sworn. I believe that Virgie was indeed his true love, his soul mate. I’m so glad he found his way back to Dunkirk and to Virgie.

I know this isn’t your typical love story happy ending, but I think those last two fleeting years were as happy as either Dad or Vergie ever were, except, of course, for those few days during that long-ago lost summer of 1919.

17 thoughts on “Eleven “Soldier Boy” Love Letters from the Lost Summer of 1919 – 52 Ancestors #205

  1. Wow, that was a tough story to get through, much less to have lived it. At first I thought it was going to be simlar my grandfather leaving home at age 17 to enlist in the US Marines for WWI. That decision cost him the chance to go to college as his parents said that he had already learned a trade. Telegraph operator.

    At least he was able to marry his highschool sweetheart and start a family. By the time my mother was borh they had rejoined the family farm. And my grandfather became the orange grower he would remain for the rest of his life.

    Sent from Outlook

    ________________________________

  2. Roberta, thank you for sharing yet another amazing story about your family members. (Of course, your dad in particular is always a fascinating topic of those stories!). The letters were a wonderful glimpse into the heart of a young man away from home. My late dad’s uncle was a soldier, and I found his army records to be an amazing glimpse into his life, theatre of war, the tattoos he had (!) and yes, hospitalizations also, one of which was an eyebrow-raiser! How wonderful it is to be able to revisit the past!

  3. Wow, Awesome story cousin! Someone once told me, ” Parents are people and peoples lives are messy” I think those last two years were all he ever wanted and life was good.

  4. It breaks my heart this story of wanting to be loved all of his life and all the unwise decisions that were made . Love your children with all your heart and care for them that they may not search and not find what the heart yearns for.. To be loved.

  5. Roberta, your stories are heart wrending. Thanks for sharing. May I point out one minor fact you may have overlooked? You said your “Dad had completed only 8th grade.” We all (myself included) think in terms of today’s standards. My grandfather was also in this category until I found out that, until about 1930, an 8th grade education was pretty remarkable. My parents told me school teachers needed only a high school diploma to teach school back then which is why some of my dad’s aunts or uncles taught school for a living.

    Incidently, if your dad was on his own at age 12 then enlisted before his 15th birthday, odds are he never reached the 8th grade. If so, he may have told people that because completing the 8th grade was probably considered a good education then.

    Records for grades completed weren’t kept before 1940 but the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) did compile some revealing facts:

    From 1908 until 1916 when William Estes would have attended school, only 55 to 60% of 5 to 19-year-olds were even enrolled in school. By 1940 when the U.S. first began keeping education statistics, only 28.8% of the white population had completed the 8th grade and less than half that number attended high school. Only 12.2% graduated high school. In 1940, the median years of schooling completed by white males 25 and over were 8.7 years.

    Your dad was better educated than 70% or more of the kids his age. I’d call that remarkable!

    (Source: “120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait”; pub. the National Center for Education Statistics, PDF download; https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=93442 viewed 2018-08-05. See charts on pp. 6-8; 18.)

  6. Wow. What a story. Here’s another spanner in the works. You hinted at a possible half sibling match early in the story. Could Bessie have been getting *stout* not short – and it’s all (his) fault?

  7. Loved it ❣️You are a wonderful storyteller I was hooked at the beginning and sorry at the end that there wasn’t more.

  8. You are such an excellent story teller. I very much enjoy reading every single one of them! I’m hoping I will learn by example 🤞. Thanks for sharing. 😍

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