If this 80-year-old chalkware figurine of a U.S. sailor could talk, what tales it could tell. One would be the World War II saga of John Wells from San Benito, Texas, who wrote letters home to his wife, Gwen.
John was a gruff, no-nonsense guy who smoked Lucky Strikes. A tall, muscular man of few words, he didn’t walk; John stomped. Short on patience and long on energy, John spent his youth doing backbreaking manual labor on a farm in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Before he was drafted in World War II, John worked for major Texas Gulf Coast contractors like Heldenfels Bros. and Brown Bellows & Columbia, which was building the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station.
World War II Letters Home
At the time John became a Seabee, he didn’t project the outward demeanor of a romantic and never developed it. However, after seven years of marriage, he still loved Gwen so much that he attempted over and over to put his thoughts and feelings into words.
Here are a few excerpts from the correspondence that John sent Gwen:
“I hope you are not as lonely as I am, but somehow I know you are. As long as I live, I know I will never be as miserable as I have been since I left you.”
“I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you from the bottom of my heart.”
“I am sure proud of the picture you sent me. You are so sweet! Ask me. I know!”
“Write me, honey, as soon as you get this because your letters help so much. I am pretty sure where we are going we won’t see much action if any.”
“This is not what a person would think of war. Some of the country is really beautiful. I will probably get sick eating coconuts. Honey, you can write anything you wish. Incoming mail is not censored, only the letters that are sent from here.”
“Honey, the other night we caught a little animal that is white with a body like a possum and a head a little bit like a monkey. We put it in a box and are making a pet of it. When we were all scared to touch it, I started to laugh. One of the boys who made a new road through the jungle asked me what I was laughing at. I said if my wife was here she would catch it and tame it. They said I must have an awful powerful and big wife. I said no she just weighs 120 pounds and showed them your picture.”
“I was figuring it up last night and if there was land between here and San Benito, it would take me more than two years to walk home. If you ask me that is a far piece.”
“Honey, I am sending you a ring I made out of a Japanese hand grenade. The shell in it is a stone from the sea here.”
“If I could be home with you, I would be the happiest man in the world.”
John continued to be a formidable force in later years, although there was sometimes more of a twinkle in his eye. All her life, Gwen remained just as lovable as she had always been.
John died in 2001 and Gwen passed away in 2009. Gwen always kept John’s World War II letters and they were passed along to me. It was my privilege to know this dear couple, my husband’s aunt and uncle.
Memorial Day Remembrance
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described World War II, “For some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected. This generation of Americans had a rendezvous with destiny.”
While John made it home safely and went on to live a long, productive life, his older brother, Lt. Jay Wells, did not. Jay, a World War II pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed in England, died when his plane was shot down in action on April 8, 1944.
Jay, who served with the 735th Bomber Squadron, 453rd Bomber Group, was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously. He is buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium, a resting place administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
On Memorial Day, please join me in remembering Jay Wells and all those who died defending our nation. Let’s also think about veterans like John Wells who made it home safely.
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