Deborah Sweeney stumbled upon a genealogist’s treasure trove. During World War II, her grandparents, Roscoe and Gladys Foster Yegerlehner kept up a daily correspondence while he served in the Navy. And as the family historian, these letters, over one thousand of them, made their way into Ms. Sweeney’s hands. For the past couple years, she has been transcribing and posting them on her blog, and in 2015, she published the first set of letters in a book she lovingly titled, Dear Mother, Love Daddy, after the way her grandparents addressed their letters.
The book is a fascinating read. It begins with the story of the letters and how Ms. Sweeney acquired them, and then a short overview of who Roscoe and Gladys were, and details of their families. By the time the war began, the Yegerlehners were living in Kentland, Indiana with their two young sons, John and Mark, where Roscoe was a practicing medical doctor. The story she tells leads up to the day Roscoe left to report for duty at the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia. We get to follow along Roscoe’s daily correspondence, but we aren’t introduced to Gladys’ for some time, as Roscoe did not keep her letters until after he shipped out later in the book. We get a glimpse into his daily life on the base, and he reports everything from the weather to his excursions off base. But throughout this time, he is mostly concerned with finding a way to bring his family down to visit, and also when he might take leave to come home, which they were able to do. Gladys happened to be pregnant during this time, and he was especially concerned about her condition. The son she would give birth to later is actually Ms. Sweeney’s father, David.
The love and devotion between the two of them is evident in the letters. They made every effort to write every day, and this book is the collection of their letters from May to September 1942. It even includes many letters written to and from Roscoe and his sons, which are especially sweet. Once Roscoe ships out to the South Pacific, we start to see Gladys’ voice in the story, and we are able to see her struggles and her incredible strength tending to the home front while pregnant and obviously missing her husband. Roscoe tells her that he is now saving her letters, saying, “Ordinarily, while I was in Norfolk, I’d tear your letters up as soon as I had read them, but these I save in order to read once in a while. I get to thinking back about the things you wrote, and then read a letter or two again. It seems there is certain connecting tie which nothing else can supply.” After he lands in New Caledonia, which he tells Gladys of his location in code, the letters are quite delayed, and the reader can sense each of their concern, but they both keep up bravely.
This book is certainly an important piece of history, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in life during World War II, or simply to peek into the past and follow the story of a remarkable family. In a true genealogist’s style, Ms. Sweeney has included annotations to clarify to the reader about certain cultural activities, historical events, and people mentioned in the letters, as well as other important documentation. Overall, the book is a beautiful tribute to family history, and an important time in world history. You can find the book on Amazon, and the second volume is due out later this year, but if you can’t wait for it, you can go to Ms. Sweeney’s blog where hundreds of Roscoe and Gladys’ letters have been transcribed: GenealogyLady.