Second World War: War Department Letters

Iowan recalls the War Department letter she received, declaring her husband missing in action during the Second World War.

Content Tools

The Second World War in Europe seemed to be drawing to a close. Everyone had an ear glued to the news to hear the latest developments. News from our GI was sparse all the time he was overseas. The children haunted the mail box, only to be disappointed. 

On March 19, my little son came to my bedroom with fear written all over his face. "Mommy, the depot agent is at the door, and he has a yellow envelope in his hand."

I put on my housecoat and opened the door. The yard was filled with all the neighbors, waiting to comfort us. The agent handed me the envelope and said. "It's a War Department message. I am very sorry." Everyone who saw him come to my house assumed that it was a death message.

Numbly I opened the telegram. It read, "Your husband has been declared missing in action."

The neighbors were so kind and helpful. Friends came and went all day offering to help us. In the evening, the legion commander and a friend came to see us. "We'd like to plan a memorial service for your husband," they said. I explained what the message had conveyed and how uncertain the outcome might be.

The following morning I made contact with the Red Cross, which was most willing to help, but they had received no messages to confirm what had happened. They contacted the National Red Cross, and it, too, was without any information.

One day the depot agent came again to deliver another message. The agent said, "At least it is not a death message."

The message read, "Your husband was returned to military control on April 26th. II No details were made known.

The following Saturday a man who worked at the post office noticed a letter go through the line with an APO address. It was for me, and he knew there was no delivery on Saturday, so he brought it to the house.

It was from our GI. He said they had been captured by the Germans and since the War was nearly over, they were not supposed to take any prisoners and could not confine the Americans to prison camps. They marched these prisoners for 44 days, trying to find a place to put them. Every camp they approached, a runner came out and told them to go elsewhere. The only food they had to eat was potatoes left in the fields behind the diggers. These they boiled in their helmets. Sometimes they found some cabbage roots. Their health suffered a lot.

On June 1st he walked into my kitchen. In his hand he carried a dozen farm-fresh eggs. He couldn't tolerate potatoes, but he was hungry for eggs.

It was a happy reunion, but I could see how much he had changed. He was nervous, irritable and unable to tolerate crowds.

Madonna Storla
Postville, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.