December 7, 1941

In a gold waitress uniform, Doris Wilson served Sunday dinner to the after-church crowd at McDonald’s Drug store in Perry, Iowa. A hint of Evening in Paris perfume always permeated the store. They sold a lot of it. She also worked at the soda fountain, but the restaurant section was always especially busy after church on Sundays.

McDonaldD (2)

Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade provided background music over WHO Radio. A news bulletin interrupted the music: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

“The Japs? Why would they bomb Pearl Harbor?” someone asked.

“Does this mean we’re at war?”

“Where is Pearl Harbor anyway?” asked another.

“Hawaii,” Doris said. “I’m afraid this does mean war. And my brothers are all the wrong ages.”

“How many brothers do you have?”

“Five. Donald is already in the Navy. His ship was stationed in Pearl Harbor a few months ago. He said we shouldn’t trust the Japs, and he was right.”

Thank God Donald had jumped ship a couple of weeks earlier to return to the Minburn farm to see the family. With war breaking out for real, who knew when they’d all be together again?

And thank God Danny was too young to be drafted, and Junior was still in high school at Washington Township School. But Delbert would probably be recalled by the Navy, and Dale had already registered for the draft. Donald wasn’t safe in the Atlantic either. Doris feared for all five brothers.

President Roosevelt had made a prophecy back in 1936, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

He was right. And Doris’s premonition was right.

One by one her brothers volunteered until all five had left the Minburn farm and were in military service. That generation of the Wilsons, having endured poverty during the worldwide Depression, was destined to suffer the anguish of losing three brothers during a world war.  

The family’s WWII story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. It’s the story behind the five brothers featured on the Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa.


  1. Wow! My father was too young to make WWII, but was drafted for Korea. Had an uncle the went to Europe, lost a leg courtesy of a landmine. he was in combat for a whopping 11 days. The only thing I ever heard him say was about how when he was in the hospital, he and the rest of the wounded for Sherert ice cream while the German POWs got the ice cream. I found a picture of him in uniform, and another of the hospital ship that brought him back to the states.

    Had another who was a gunner on a B-29. I don’t know much more than that about him. That side of the family didn’t talk much to mine.

    I had another uncle who was in the invasion of Sicily. Everybody said he was crazy. Never struck me as crazy, and I really liked him. He taught me to play chess. but looking back he was suffering from a streak of PTSD a mile wide. All I ever got was he went ashore, fought across the island, was blown up a couple of times, and sent home with enough shrapnel in him that getting past a metal detector was challenging. From what I’ve read of that campaign, he was entitled to his PTSD. it wasn’t pretty. It bothers me the way everyone talked about him. He deserved better.

    • My husband is an AF Vietnam veteran. They took a farm kid–who’d never been on a plane–and made an air traffic controller out of him, and giving him a career. Blog post in July will be about the first man on the moon–50 years ago–and my husband heading for Vietnam.

      My dad was a farmer, became a B-29 pilot during the war–well, I’ve written about that too:

      I only knew one WWII veteran who talked about his service–“light” water-cooled machine gunner in the Philippines. I didn’t know that only one of my mother’s brothers is buried here in Iowa until Grandma died. I was 43 and had decorated those “graves” for all those years. Some things were just too painful to put into words. I’m glad you have good memories of your “crazy” uncle. Make sure he isn’t forgotten.

  2. Joy Neal Kidney. Thanks to your family members that served and some gave all and buried are overseas if interpret correctly. I do enjoy your writing over the years, and you help that they are not forgotten. Alumni of EHS and retired CW5 AUS, Billy Foley.

    • Hi, Billy Foley! Were you in Gloria’s class? Thanks for contacting me. Tried to “friend” you on Facebook! I got to talk about the family on WHO-Radio this morning, and will get to again Thursday morning.

  3. Their share of heart break was realized beyond measure for one family but it seems to me while FDR’s words were so prophetic each generation since seems to have a rendezvous with destiny too 🙁

  4. Love the vintage photos of life in the Midwest during the time frame of WWII. Many of us had relatives who were called to action and who left behind families. We were lucky to have all return alive. Many were not at lucky. They are all in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Nicely told! Our current generation simply cannot comprehend an event such as Pearl Harbor. I hope they never have to go through anything similar. My father’s acting career was cut short and he wound-up as a code breaker in support of the Flying Tigers in China. Everyone’s life was impacted by December 7.

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