This post is a bit different in that it is completely unrelated to Narnia. However, it is related to my children and grandchildren . . .
My future father-in-law and me in 1977. I already loved him dearly!
I loved my father-in-law dearly, and it was a terrible loss when he died at age 63 in 1979, just three years after he came into my life. When my husband, Herb, and his older half-brother Mike went through Dad’s stuff, they found an Army trunk containing everything that belonged to Dad’s first wife, and Mike’s mother, Barbara. In this trunk were ALL of the letters Dad and Barbara wrote to each other throughout the years of World War II when Dad was an officer in the U.S. Cavalry. Sadly, the decision of what to do with Barbara’s letters was out of our hands, and they were all burned. However, I won custody of a small stack of Dad’s letters to Barbara–and laid them in a box where they languished for over 30 years.
At the same time, we found files full of legal pads covered in Dad’s atrocious handwriting, and these were given to my husband and me. One folder was entitled “My Army Story.” Having heard a few stories from Dad, I was curious about his Army story, but I was busy raising our four children at the time. Like the letters, that story languished in the back of a file drawer for the next 30 years.
Capt. Ross Lea in uniform
Finally, two years ago I began the Herculean task of transcribing Dad’s handwritten Army story. Certain parts of it remained stubbornly indecipherable, and I put it away again. But toward the end of last year, looking ahead to Herb’s 60th birthday this March, I felt an urgency to finish “translating” Dad’s story. I turned to Google and spent hours figuring out some of Dad’s mystery phrases. Finally, after hundreds of hours of work, I signed in to Shutterfly and created Dad’s book.
Here is the book, as I gave it to Herb on his 60th birthday.
A V-Mail from Dad to Barbara
Once that book was done, I remembered the 33 letters that Dad had written to Barbara. By this time I was so “into Dad’s head” and so familiarized with the inscrutable ways of his handwriting that I was able to transcribe those letters. Along with a few letters from other friends and relatives, they helped me discover the story of Dad and Barbara’s love, their sacrifice, and their loss. Only one last piece was missing . . .
Barbara Hughes Lea’s wedding photo, 1942
Barbara was killed in a car accident when Mike was 18 months old–and that was all any living person knew. I couldn’t find the date of her death, although I knew the year based on Mike’s age. This time my genealogy subscription on Ancestry.com found me a date and a place. The place was Leesville, Louisiana, near Fort Polk where Dad’s III Corps had come back to be decommissioned. Was Barbara going to meet him? What was she doing there?
Google led me to the local paper, The Leesville Leader, and they sent me to their microfilm archives in the Vernon Parish Library. I emailed the library Director a request for someone to check the archives around the date of Barbara’s death on Sept. 11, 1945 to see if there might have been an article in the local paper.
A copy of the article on Barbara Lea’s death, Sept. 11, 1945 from the Leesville Leader
And thus began my correspondance with Mr. Howard L. Coy, Jr. and his kind staff at the Vernon Parish Library. In no time at all they had found an article, copied it and mailed it to me. It was the last piece of the puzzle! Unlike Dad’s Army Story, which he stopped writing before the end, Dad and Barbara’s story had an end. It was not a Hollywood ending by any means. I don’t think any living author would have chosen to end their story that way! And yet, 68 years later, we can read this heartbreaking story and see the goodness of God shining down through the years into the present.
Capt. Ross Lea in an undated photo, somewhere in Europe
With the last piece of the puzzle in place, I went to Blurb this time and created the second book about Dad’s life. Mr. Coy expressed a desire to purchase the book for his library if it was for sale. So I made the book public on Blurb and sent him a link.
Today I received a heart-warming email from Mr. Coy who said he could hardly put the book down and was reading it through his tears. I won’t call myself an author because all I did was compile the story that was there in a stack of letters. But what “compiler” could resist a letter like that? I certainly couldn’t! And what it made me realize was that “There’s Always Tomorrow to Hope For . . .” Letters to Barbara tells a timeless tale that tugs at the heartstrings of every reader who has ever known love or loss or sacrifice. It tells a story that belongs to the American people, because the sacrifice that Dad and Barbara made during the War was made to keep America free and to keep her good and honorable and true, like Dad and Barbara and their love.
So here, with love for Dad and Barbara, is their story.
Ross Lea’s law school graduation photo, 1938
Barbara Hughes’ law school graduation photo, 1938