“Don’t worry about me mother. And write often.” Sgt. Delbert Steele sent that message through Western Union April 29, 1944.
It’s one of dozens of letters he would write to his mom throughout his World War II deployment. They are invaluable connections to a man long gone, and his children knew nothing about them. They had no idea a total stranger was about to change all that.
For her birthday, Shawn Story of La Center got the World War II memorabilia from a friend who bought them at an auction.
“She brought me this box of musty old letters here where I work and I just delved into them and started reading them when I got home,” Story said. “And I just got that feeling these don’t belong in my hands.”
Story picked up her Kindle tablet and searched for any information on Sgt. Delbert Steele, the author of the letters. She quickly found out that he died in 1979. So she looked for any family connections and eventually figured out the man who wrote the letters had a son who lived in Portland.
“I couldn’t get him the letters fast enough,” she said.
Sgt. Delbert Steele’s son, Gary, is 55 years old, the same age at which his father died from heart disease. Gary was in his early twenties when the man who wrote the letters now before him passed away.
“My dad and I barely scratched the surface,” Gary Steele said. “All those questions I would have asked him I think are in here.”
Gary has spent the past week reading about his father’s romances while serving in the Army—well before the young soldier would meet his wife. He’s also reading accounts of the realities of war.
“We all went into the gas chamber and stayed for 7-8 minutes,” reads one letter from Sgt. Steele to his mother. “We had to remove all of our watches, rings etc. before going in…a couple of them were wearing sterling silver rings on and came out looking like they had been burned.”
Many years ago, Gary Steele imagined he would have much more time with his father. Now, thanks to the kindness of a woman who couldn’t hold on to someone else’s past, Steele is getting to know his dad one letter at a time.
“Who could ask for a better Father’s Day than this? There’s no way.”