This was Clabe and Leora’s first Christmas in their very own home, which was one of Leora’s goals in life. With all five sons in the military, they just couldn’t handle the landlord’s farm near Minburn any longer. In October 1944, the Wilsons bought a small home on five acres a mile southeast of Perry. The buildings were pretty run down, but they enjoyed painting and fixing things up, especially because they owned them.
Another of Leora’s goals had been high school diplomas for all seven children. Junior graduated from Washington Township School in 1942. The only goal left to fulfill was to have family nearby.
Their adult children spent Christmas 1944 across the globe–from Italy to the Pacific Ocean.
Both daughters were married and all five sons were serving their country, two in combat, one Missing in Action.
That Christmas their oldest son Delbert was running an Attack Teacher at the Naval Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, where he lived with his wife Evelyn and six-month old Leora Darlene.
Donald Wilson, having survived the sinking of his ship over two years earlier, was again in combat in the Pacific, aboard another aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock (CV-19). His wife Rose had moved back to Washington State near her father.
Doris lived in Marfa, Texas, where her husband Warren was stationed as an Advanced Instructor in the AAF. Their baby, Joy, was six months old.
Darlene lived on a farm near Earlham, Iowa, with her husband Sam and two-year-old Richard. They were expecting another baby in the spring.
Dale had been missing in action in New Guinea for over a year. Earlier in 1944, notes from people on the west coast had told about hearing a short-wave Japanese broadcast naming Dale as a POW, but this was never confirmed.
Donald wasn’t the only Wilson in combat that December. Danny, a P-38 pilot in Italy, had already completed his first missions.
By Christmas, Junior expected to be in Advanced Training in Texas, probably fighter planes because of his age. “They want the younger boys in the fighters—they can stand more strain and their reflexes are faster.”
“I suppose you are having pretty cool weather up there now,” he wrote home. “Probably have some good coon hunting weather.” They had a pet coon on a long chain at the base and they could pet him just like a kitten. Junior didn’t think he’d kill any more of them.
Junior sent home more money, “maybe help buy a bucket of coal or a big box of bran from the Thriftway,” he said.
He supposed his parents were having fun fixing up their new home. He thought it was pretty close to the Wiese Airport, where he and Danny once ran a fox through the airport and several miles north. He figured they might have hiked right through their yard.
Is the car standing up okay? he wanted to know. Maybe a good little pickup would be handier for the “Wilson ranch.” Junior said he wouldn’t trade five acres of black Iowa soil for five sections of Texas rock and clay. “They raise mostly cotton in this part of hell,” but wrote it was a little better there than the western part with its blowing dust storms.
Home for Christmas
Junior managed to get home for that Christmas, their first son to see the “Wilson ranch.”
His mother spent Christmas Day writing letters. “Clear and cold,” she reported to Danny. “Junior came yesterday about 10:30 A.M. Came walking in from Perry. He gave us hints in his letter we received on Friday that he might get to come, so we looked for him at the train Sat. night. Junior sure looks good. We are having a good visit, going to be too short.”
They’d driven over to Darlene and Sam’s farm, where Richard was having a good time with his Christmas toys.
“Will be wonderful when all you boys are home together!” she continued to Danny. She could imagine them all telling of their different experiences, and the rest would just enjoy listening.
No one had dry batteries to sell, so they had no radio. They hoped to figure out a way to use the car battery for it.
Junior also wrote Danny before catching the train in Des Moines. He had to be at Aloe Army Air Field, Victoria, Texas, before midnight the 30th. They were to start flying the AT-6, then P-40s.
Their folks were looking good, he said, and the ranch was a pretty nice little place–good soil, house pretty good, and they were keeping him well fed.
Clabe and Leora took their youngest son to catch the train for Texas on a bright moonlit night. The moon was so bright the snow sparkled.
“We were sure lonesome when Junior left,” Leora wrote Danny, “Just like when any of you are home and go so far away—will be so wonderful when you can be at home.”
They were glad to stay busy as it kept their minds occupied. Otherwise, they worried. About Donald, in combat in the Pacific. About Danny, in combat in Europe. And Dale, wherever he was.
Story from Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II
So much to worry about, but still so positive. Nice post, Joy.
Thank you, Don. Clabe and Leora were so delighted to finally have a home of their own.
And 5 acres of rich Iowan soil, instead if five sections of Texas dirrt.
Especially after what their sons wrote home about Texas dirt!
Loved this, Joy!
Thank you, Kellye!
Merry Christmas Joy ~ I have enjoyed following you through this past year 🙂 Looking forward to 2023
Thank you, Sharon. To you as well!
A bittersweet chapter from Leora’s Letters . . .
It sure was, wasn’t it.
It’s so hard to imagine spending Christmas knowing your son was missing for the last year. And yet they have to stay positive for the other kids.
They all tried to keep their letters to each other positive as well.
It must have been so hard.
Though they had to be concerned for their boys, especially Dale, it must have been a real kick to own their own property at last.
You’re right, Eilene. Clabe enjoyed straightening his own fences and painting their very first house and out buildings.
What a living nightmare Clabe and Leora went through at that time. Their story is heartbreaking, but showed the strength of their family’s bond.
When I wrote the third book and noted how different their growing-up years were, I watched for clues to how their characters were forged even before they met. It really is an amazing love story, especially what they endured during the Depression years and losses of WWII. Thank you, Nancy.