Christmas 1943

Son Dale was missing in action. But surely he’s with his buddies, the four or five others who were on the plane. They’ll stay together, his mother thought, maybe making their way through New Guinea’s jungles.

As Christmas approached Leora Wilson kept writing her middle son, so there’d be letters waiting for him when he got back to his base. So he’d know they’d been thinking about him the whole time, praying for his safety.

December 20 was a beautiful day in Dallas County, Iowa. “I did a big washing as this is Monday. Dad has a big load of oats and corn ready to grind when the grinder comes. . . . We are so anxious to get word from you that you are OK.”

All five sons were in the service–Navy boys Delbert and Donald were both married and living on the east coast. Dale, Danny, and Junior in the Army Air Force. Training sent them to different bases about every other month. Danny was in Basic Training at Tuscon, Arizona. Junior was at A&M University, Stillwater, Oklahoma for College Detachment training. “Oklahoma A. & M.–the A. & M. stand for Agricultural and Mechanical,” he wrote home. We passed some hog pens the other day and the guys held their noses. I just laughed and said, ‘It reminds me of home.’ HA.”

Service flag in the Minburn farmhouse. Five blue stars for five sons in the service.

They’d decided not to tell the Danny and Junior that Dale was missing so the news wouldn’t upset their studies.

But their older sister Doris’s November 16 V-mail letter, the one telling Dale that she was expecting a baby, was returned to her in Texas, stamped “Missing.” She quickly wrote Junior and Danny, letting them know the awful news, rather than have one of their letters returned.


Darlene–Dale’s twin–was the only one of the Wilson’s seven children still in Iowa.

On Christmas day their parents were alone on the Minburn, Iowa, farm. Leora wrote letters, including another one to Dale.

“Dad and I listened to a world broadcast last night.” All four major radio networks broadcast a 90-minute show, including music by Bing Crosby, messages from President Roosevelt, and even from soldiers stationed in faraway places. “New Guinea was one place they broadcast from. Sure would have liked to hear your voice.”

“Doesn’t seem like it is Christmas with you boys and girls away–and no snow on the ground. We know it didn’t seem like Christmas to you either, but be of good cheer, as every one all over the world expects to be home for next Christmas. We sure pray to God it will be so. . . . We are so anxious to hear from you that you are all right. Love and Best of Luck. God Bless you, Mom and Dad.”

Clabe Wilson with Smoky Joe and Spats. Minburn, Iowa. Late 1943.

That evening, Darlene, Sam, and one-year-old Richard drove over from their farm near Earlham and stayed over Sunday. “Richard does a lot of jabbering now,” Leora wrote, “just like he was telling something so funny and then laughs–he had us laughing, too. Sam made him a little chair and Darlene painted it red. He looks cute sitting on it, when he sits. He doesn’t sit very long–a busy little boy.” Richard was their entertainment.

Junior had gotten a package from home. “I’m telling you, the figs and nuts really tasted good–although they were devoured in about 15 minutes! It reminded me of the good old times when we went to Perry and invaded the Thriftway store. No doubt that’s where you got them.” The Wilson family regularly traded in the nearby town of Perry.

Junior left for the AAF in late 1943. Clabe Wilson is holding Richard Scar, Junior (Donald teased him about being off one button), Leora (with Dale’s pilot’s wings), Darlene (Wilson) Scar. 

He’d also gotten Doris’s letter about Dale. “It gave me a damn sickish feeling in the stomach and throat. Of course he will be found. New Guinea is a big place and has a heavy jungle, so he will be found. I don’t want you to worry any, although I know damn well you will. Keep busy and chins up.”

Leora sent Darlene a postcard. “Got a good letter today from Junior. He got the letter from Doris Christmas Day. He said the news of Dale made him feel sickish down in his stomach and throat. We know how he felt. But he says Dale will be safe–will take time and for us not to worry, although he said he knew we would, but keep busy and chins up. . . . You take care of yourselves and don’t worry so much. You have Richard to cheer you up. Write and come when you can.”

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She wrote Dale again, hoping he was all right wherever he was, and reminded him that they were so anxious to get word that he’s safe. “This war may be over before another Christmas. We pray to God it is, so we can settle down in peace over the world–a war weary world. . . . Love and Best of Luck to you always, Dale, and God Bless you–from Mom and Dad”


The Perry Daily Chief of December 27, 1943:

Lieut. Dale Wilson Listed Missing

Minburn Youth Had Been Serving As Bomber Pilot

In Southwest Pacific

An Associated press dispatch today from Washington, D.C., reported that the war department had listed second Lieut. Dale R. Wilson of Minburn as missing in action in the southwest Pacific.

Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Wilson, who live on a farm southwest of Minburn, had been notified by the war department earlier this month but the public announcement was not made until today.

A letter from the war department said the family would be kept informed of developments and both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson have hopes that their son is safe. Quite a number of times, men are reported missing and then turn up safe and sound after a few weeks.

Lieut. Wilson, 22 years old, was trained as an army bomber pilot and received his wings and commission at Roswell, N.M.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson have four other sons in the service. They are Delbert, 28, first class electrical machinist’s mate and stationed with the navy at Washington, D.C.; Donald, 27, chief electrician’s mate, also with the navy in Washington; Daniel, 20, in the army air training at Tucson, Ariz.; and Junior, 18, in army air corps college training at Stillwater, Okla.


Christmas of 1943 was filled with uncertainty for all of the Wilson family.

Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II



  1. To me it is just mind boggling that all of their sons were in the service – I thought that wasn’t allowed. I have that sickish feeling in the pit of my stomach just reading this. I am curious if you have the service flag that hung in the window still, along with all the other family treasures.

    • A family in Iowa lost all five sons during WWII. They were all on the same ship–the Sullivan Brothers. Google them. One was married and had a daughter. The service flag is now displayed at the Dexter Museum, with three of those blue stars pasted over with gold ones–it’s fragile now. My grandmother was a Gold Star Mother–times three. I’m at joynealkidney@gmail if you’d like to see a picture of it, and also the display at Dexter. The family lived in Dexter during the Depression–stories under Depression category on my website.

  2. A sad time for a lot of families. I lost 1 son, I don’t know how Grandma Wilson did it until I realized how very strong she was back then.

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