My buddy Andy Hoder (son of Stanley Hoder of Strong) found this article and sent it to me, claiming that the similarities were uncanny and he was not kidding. Titled A Homecoming: Returned letters, Purple Heart open book on deceased WWII vet’s life, the article covers a box of letters and mementos found by a stranger, a woman’s life long journey to know an uncle she never met and a woman working in a museum whose mission was to reunite this family with the precious box. Sgt. Kendall Morrow was a waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress with the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group when his plane was shot down over Germany December 11th of 1943. His niece Nancy Cederman was born two years after his death and recalls her Aunt Averill, sister to Kendall, talking about him her entire life. I had a similar situation with my great-aunt Stella, sister to Billy. Another cousin of my fathers related to me that his mother and aunts, other sisters of Billy’s, would discuss him at length. Recalling memories of their brother would make them cry and the loss of this beloved brother was something they never quite got over. Cederman’s aunt, “….grieved for Kendall her whole life. Her whole life. Every time she talked to us, she talked about him. All that stands out is her sorrow from losing him. All of her stories were about his death.” When her aunt died in 2012, she thought the last connection to Kendall was lost. This is where Linda Hastreiter comes on.
Linda is a volunteer for the Iron Island Museum in Buffalo, New York. The man who found the letters and other items found them in a basement in Rochester, NY. The letters indicated they were sent to a family in the Buffalo area, so he turned to her for help. Linda used internet resources and her love for research and veterans causes to track down the family. Long story short, she connected with Nancy Cederman on Facebook, and they set up to meet. At the museum, Nancy was presented with the letters, his diary and Purple Heart award among other things. For her uncle, Nancy felt this was a form of closure. For her family, she now has some historical documents that tell her about the life of this man, and possibly enough information to write a book about his short life. His remains were never recovered. For the entire story and details, click here: http://www.airforcetimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014301140002
On February 5th I had the opportunity to speak with Linda on the phone, and she is another kindred spirit in many ways. Her love of the chase, her desire to track down clues and bring a cause to completion is akin to my own. In her community she is the go to person for bringing closure and has had a wonderful success rate. If you are in the Buffalo area, check into visiting the Iron Island Museum and read the stories here on the web site about her work to properly bury the abandoned cremated remains of veterans which were stored in a closet of the building that is now the museum: http://www.ironislandmuseum.com/
I never knew Billy, but am well aware that his sisters grieved his loss profoundly. Stella expressed to me time and again how much she appreciated that I was taking an interest in Billy and his life because everyone else had forgotten him. I feel close to fulfilling my mission. Much remains to be done but wheels are in motion to bring some closure for him, and perhaps for others. I know Stella and the others are counting on me to finish this for them, and for Billy.