The Press Newspaper
Lynne Drouillard remembers seeing the trunk in the attic of her Nebraska Boulevard home in Toledo when she was a young child. Painted pink, like a princess treasure chest, it looked so big to her.
She doesn’t recall whether or not she ever popped the lid up for a peek inside. “If your parents told you something didn’t concern you, you left it alone,” she said. “Even if I did look, I probably figured it didn’t have anything of interest to me – no dolls, or toys or anything.”
After her father passed away and her mom moved in with her, the pink trunk came to Lynne’s Lake Township home. “There was so much ‘stuff’ to deal with, so I put it aside and figured I’d go through it someday…when I had time.”
After her mom died, Lynne took
the trunk with her when she moved to Florida. “I looked and saw there was a scrapbook of some kind and again figured I’d look through it…sometime,” she said.
Now living back in Lake Township, the retired teacher found herself with a little time on her hands and thought she’d spend an afternoon looking through the trunk. What she discovered was a treasure beyond what she could have imagined.
Inside the Pepto-Bismol pink trunk was her mother’s scrapbook. Tucked safely between the pages were airmail letters, postcards and hand-drawn Christmas cards sent by her father while he was serving in the Army with U.S. Third 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions during World War II.
Young Myldred Pirwitz and George O. Benedict grew up in the same German neighborhood of Link’s Hill in Toledo. By the time they went to high school at Libbey, they were sweethearts. When George was drafted in 1942, he vowed his love to Myldred, but didn’t want to get married until after he returned – in case something happened.
Immediately after being shipped out, George started writing to his beloved “Myl.” Apparently, as the correspondences arrived, she tucked them away for safekeeping…perhaps to reread them until George returned home safely.
The first letter, dated Dec. 17, 1942, came from Camp Perry. “I won’t be able to say much, but I had to write to you,” George penned. “We’re being shipped tonight. I’ll write you as soon as I get to my next destination.”
It closed with “Don’t forget your honey…with love and 20 million XXXXXs (kisses), Your George and future husband.”
“As I started reading, I was in awe,” Lynne said. She knew her father had been in the Army – there were medals and mementos tucked in drawers and his old hat hung in the garage. “When my brother and I were in grade school and we had to write about World War II, I asked my dad a little bit about it, but he mostly discussed historical facts, never much about what happened to him.”
There were lots of letters to go through. Each one brought tears as the young couple’s love story unfolded. George, an Army machine gunner, had earned three Purple Hearts in 1944 after being wounded in action on a beachhead in Anzio, Italy in January; blown out of a foxhole in Cassino, Italy in June and wounded in Belfort Gap, France in August.
Wherever he went, and whatever he was enduring, George’s letters made it clear that he was very smitten with his sweetheart. Often, the letters were scribbled on the run on paper poised on George’s knee. “He didn’t give her a lot of specifics because I think the letters may have been censored,” Lynne said. “He just wanted to assure her and keep her informed as best he could.”
On the envelope of a letter postmarked July 12, 1943, Myldred wrote the notation, “1st wound.”
On Nov. 25, 1943, George sent “Greetings from North Africa.” The handmade card included detailed drawings of a Christmas wreath, poinsettias and the message, “Just a very small reminder, that your Honey still loves you. Love and kisses.”
Lynne tears up when she reads the letter dated Feb. 7, 1944. “By the time you have received this letter, the War Department will have notified my mother that I was wounded in action. Honey, please don’t worry about me too much. I know you will,” the letter said.
“I was wounded on the 30th of January in the morning. We were in the attack on the front. I am wounded on the left side of the head above the ear. The bullet went through my helmet and into my head. I was operated on Feb. 1 in a hospital they had set up in the field. I am now in a hospital in Italy. The bullet is out, so I ought to be ok.
“I have the Bible you gave me next to my heart,” George wrote, concluding with, “Love and kisses. Send me a box of cookies and some of your fudge or chocolate candy bars. I love you.”
“Exactly two years later from when he wrote that letter, I was born,” Lynne noted.
Toward the end of George’s service, with a left hand that was nearly blown apart, he was sent to a hospital in Brooks General Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Tex. “My mother went from Toledo to Texas on a train and stayed there in a boarding house ¬because she wanted to be near her future husband,” Lynne said.
Lynne cried “buckets of tears,” as she made her way through the 287 letters that spanned the period of December 1942 to September 1944. The couple was married April 7, 1945.
“It took hours and hours to get through them, mainly because I had to get my emotions under control,” she said. “But it was like a good love story…you have to keep reading to see what happened next.
“I just had no idea what they endured as a young couple – what they went through,” she said. “They did their duty, they went forward…they never looked back or complained about anything.
“To me, they were like everyone else’s parents. They lived a happy life doing the things moms and dads do. He worked at the post office. She cared for the family and taught Sunday School. They liked to dance. They were affectionate…and happy,” Lynne said.
“I’m so grateful for this precious glimpse into their lives before they were Mom and Dad…when they were a young couple so much in love,” she said.
Throughout her reading, Lynne took notes. She’s also planning to enlarge some of the letters and make copies for her brother Mark and for George and Myl’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
When she’s done, she’ll tuck the letters back in the scrapbook, which will be kept safely in the pink trunk.
“Why not?” Lynn said. “My mother painted that trunk pink and put them in there – yep, that’s my mother.”