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It Changed Them Forever: A WWII Lieutenant's Letters Home


Now to a Memorial Day story about a young soldier killed in the Pacific, a story pieced together by a family member 70 years later thanks to the soldier's own handwritten letters. Second Lieutenant John Maloney from Norwood, Mass., served during the second world war. He was killed on December 7, 1944 on Leyte island in the Philippines. That was exactly three years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Maloney's great grand-niece, Kaitlyn Buscone, went through his letters for her final college history project. Here is the story she uncovered.

KAITLYN BUSCONE: It's very interesting because in the beginning of the letters, he's a 23-year-old kid. He's carefree. He's asking his parents for advice about laundry. He's asking for money. He's asking for things he forgot. But as the years go on and as the war isn't ending and as he keeps moving up in the ranks and gaining more responsibility, he becomes very reflective of his own life.

It's in '43 he makes the transition to becoming a paratrooper. And his letters start coming from an APO address, so somewhere overseas and they're getting sent through San Francisco. There's a letter he wrote on his last birthday.

Tomorrow will find me another year older, and I'm still extremely happy for being born. Wish more than ever that I could be with you tomorrow, but there will be many other days and years, I know. Still feel about 15 or so. Can't believe the years have gone by so quickly. However, it's been a lot of fun, these 26 years, and I have no regrets. Guess you know that, since I have the best mom and dad ever.

The telegram announcing John's death actually didn't arrive in Norwood for a month after his death. But since he died on December 7, the family had sent letters, they had sent Christmas packages, and they were all returned to the family with a stamp that's just a finger pointing at the return address, and it just says, deceased.

So they got the letters back. They got the Christmas package back that still remains unopened to this day. And that was a huge, huge blow to the family, of course. My grandmother still talks about hearing the screams coming from her mother and her grandparents and just how it changed them forever.

MARTIN: Kaitlyn Buscone talking about her great grand uncle, Second Lieutenant John Maloney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.