“Dear Mrs. Barnwell, (from July 26, 1943, Tampa, FL)
I received a clipping from a SC. Paper this morning which stated that you had received a letter from your son who was stationed on the Strong. I know how glad you were to hear from him.
My brother, Lieut. (j.g.) Benjamin F. Jetton was on the same destroyer and we have not been so fortunate as to hear from him. We are trying to do everything possible to find out something about him and in hopes that your son might be able to give us some information concerning him I would appreciate it very much if you would send us address if you know it or send it as soon as you do.
Dear Mrs. Barnwell, (from August 8, 1943)
…....On July 10 we received a wire from the Navy Department stating that my brother was missing in action and this week we had another letter saying that he was still missing. From the information that we have, Commander Wellings has not been accounted for, but following your suggestion I have written friends in Boston asking them to contact his relatives to see if they could give us any information.......We are still hoping and praying that we will hear some good news.
I want to thank you for your kindness again......It was a big help.
Sincerely, Mary Missio”
“Dear Mrs. Barnwell, (from July 22, 1943, Mauch's Corner, S.C.)
I read in the paper this morning about you receiving a letter from your son saying that he was safe after his ship, the USS Strong was sunk. I know your grief when you heard from the war department saying that he was missing in action because my brother was on the same ship and we got a notice from the war department, too. If you would be so kind as to send me your son's address I would like to write to him and see if I can get any information about my brother who is Robert Franklin Gregory, because I feel sure that being on the same ship that your son must know him.
Please do this for me Mrs. Barnwell, and God bless your son and send him home to you.
Yours very sincerely,
Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Gregory”
I don't know if I'm empathic or just have an ability to tap into their emotions, or if it's just being a mother myself of two extraordinary adult children, and I realize what it would be like to lose either one of them in such a situation, but sometimes the realization of this is overwhelming. Over the thousands of years of recorded history, how many of these letters have been sent to commanding officers, to hospitals, to families of survivors? Many of these men were later discovered to be alive, such as Robert Gregory, Captain Wellings and Hugh Barr Miller, Jr. Many were never heard from again and their remains deemed unrecoverable, such as Lt. Jetton who died alongside my Uncle Billy. Lt. Jetton was Billy's superior officer, Sr. Communications Officer, and both either defied the abandon ship order, or were trapped below decks when rammed by Chevalier. In all probability they are still sealed together in the compartment of the ship that held the classified documents and equipment they had been charged with destroying.
I've often thought it would be great to locate Jetton's surviving family to see if anyone of them kept letters written home. Since his sister wrote from Tampa (but lived in Miami at the time and was in Tampa caring for her grandfather), I believe he must have been a native of Florida's west coast. If anyone here has connections in Tampa, St. Petersburg or that area, or knows of anyone who might know the Jetton or Missio family, I'd love to speak with you. There could be a letter or other artifact remaining of his time on Strong, and possibly some mention of working with Billy. It would be priceless to have such information.
I'm sure these letters are still being written by the parents of the men and women who serve in our armed forces today. Seeing such really brings home the sacrifices of those who put their lives at risk in foreign countries on a daily basis. And once they get home, they deserve all the help we can give them to return to some semblance of normalcy, and a productive life.
So for any of you who read this blog and follow the project on the web site have ever served in our armed forces, including my father, uncles, cousins and grandparents, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.