This is a continuation of my husband’s parents and my dad’s Military Service during WWII. I actually started this blog, Lifetime of Forgiveness, in my dad’s honor and memory. Like so many who lose a parent, we don’t want to lose the good memories. One Uncle always refers to my dad as a war hero. This post is now to help honor that legacy!
Bill and my parents were raised during the great depression. We both heard A LOT of details about that aspect of their lives. Our parents were part of the GREATEST generation. But dad and my in-laws, Earl and Ruth Lees did not talk about their service in WW II.
My dad’s Service Record: Lawrence Rijnovan, enlisted on December 11, 1942, and was honorably discharged on May 19, 1944. He was 18 at the outbreak of the war and was 19 when he enlisted. My parents married on August 12, 1944. Lawrence had a brother 18 months older. Dad’s mom remarried years later, then had her only daughter, Eleanora. More on my grandma and precious aunt later.
We have a total of 16 letters Earl Lees wrote home. We are grateful we have these. I don’t have any from my dad’s WWII Service. And I know a few relatives who have nothing from their parents’ service. A reminder, Earl enlisted on 4/29/1942 when he was 26. He was honorably discharged on 9/7/1945 as a Staff Sergeant at age 29. My memories of him are that he was very youthful in spirit – and wise when I first met him. I regret not appreciating all his wisdom while he was living. Thankfully, some of his finest traits live on in both of his sons. Earl left our family a wonderful legacy and we want to never forget his service to our wonderful country.
The previous two letters are posted here and here. I am numbering them as I hope to fill in some blanks later. His return address will remain the same unless I post a different one. This address confirmed he continued to serve alongside and under Lt. Col. Matt Urban until September 4, 1944, when Urban was severely wounded.
Cpl Earl Lees
Co F 60th Infantry
New York, New York
Just a few lines to let you know that I am all right. You probably have guessed that I am in Sicily by now and we have had a busy time for a few days but all is quiet right now for me and I have been lucky again. I never told much about what we had to go through in Africa but I am telling you it was really a tough grind there, it was no easy fight but I suppose there is not much use in using up space talking about it. But you might want to know we didn’t have it as hard in Sicily as we did in Africa. I received your letter and was glad to hear from you and to hear how much news about the old town. I had my picture taken by the BN command once in the field in Africa but he and I are not overly intimate you know and I have never seen it or anything and he is usually a rather busy man. It has been a long time since I’ve heard from Jack. Is he still in California?
You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t seem to write a more informative letter but there aren’t many things that I could say and I don’t know where to begin. So about all I can say is it will have to wait till I can tell you first hand and the way things look for me that day will not be too far distant. I hope so anyway. But I think I will close for now. You can tell everyone I am all right and give my love to the kids. I hope this finds you all in good health and until I write again, I will say so long. Earl
9/3/1943 Cpl Earl Lees
I just received a letter from you and thought I was about due to write you anyhow. There isn’t much to write about now except that I am well. You were asking me how I was making out with my weight and things like that. Well I have no idea just what I weighed the last time I weighed myself was in January before we left for Tunisia. I weighed 153 then but everyone loses weight in battle you know. It was darn near three months we ate C-rations almost all the time and one time during the battle we went three days without food or water and things like that takes you down. But I think our forces are better organized now and we didn’t have any trouble like that in Sicily. You were saying that you would like to be with me. I don’t think you would be here very long before you thought otherwise. Just to give you a slight idea, one of our objectives in Sicily was a hill 5000 feet high and where we attacked we realized more. If you think it’s fun being shot at and climbing a hill like that I don’t know.
I was wondering if you ever got that letter I wrote you asking for something good to eat like candy. You know, well I would like it very much if you could fix me up a package something that would keep until it reaches me. One good thing about Sicily, at least just now is that we are helped a lot. I wrote a letter to Uncle Matt, the first and I don’t know how long. I hope he answers. I guess you don’t see him very often anymore. I guess Barbara is pretty happy about that bike and by the time you get this, she will have started back to school. Well, I think I will lose now and be sure to write me often as I will try to write you too. I hope this finds you all well so until the next time, I will say so long. Earl
10/10/1943 Cpl Earl Lees
Hello folks: I thought it was about time I wrote you again although there isn’t very much to write about now. I am well and I hope you all are the same. I was just thinking it was just a year since I had my first day furlough and a lot has happened in that year. I wish I could get another furlough but I guess my next one will probably be a permanent one. I hope. I got a letter from uncle Matt and they seem to be getting along all right. He was wishing he could get some (???) red. He says it is scarce at home. It sure is plentiful over here, and that is one thing the Germans didn’t get from here. But for myself I don’t like it very much. It makes me sick and it isn’t worth it to me.
I was surprised to hear that Oscar Ostrom was overseas. I wish when you know someone like that might be near where I am you could let me know. What outfit are they in and maybe I could look them up. Maybe I could see them, it is possible you know, when I was in Africa I know Dick Battiston (?) and Stan Lintner were in an outfit that we were close to but I could never find anyone that knew them. I got a letter from Barbara the other day and she seems to do all right for her age. She says she likes her bike but doesn’t like school. I guess she is a regular tomboy isn’t she? Tell her I was glad she wrote me and I will write her some of these days when I have more to say than I can today. I am at a loss for more to say right now so I hope you will excuse. Tell Sambo I said hello to him and say hello to the folks around town there and be sure to write me and give me the local news when you can. So I will say so long for now. Earl
11/7/1943 CPL Earl Lees
I don’t have much to write about just now, but I thought I would let you know everything is all right with me. I hope you all are well and happy. I received your letter and you were asking me about my serial number and as it is no secret I guess I can tell you it is 33264202. I haven’t received your package as yet but I will get it I think. You know it doesn’t pay to be impatient in this army. I haven’t received an email from Jack either but I believe I get all of yours. I have been getting more mail lately than I have got since I have been in the army. I also got a letter from an old gal friend and it was pretty nice. Sam, if you have to be inducted I hope you do get into the Navy and not the army. It isn’t good or anything but it gets very unpleasant at times and I guess we shouldn’t complain too much for after all we want to do is get this war over with and it takes a lot of headaches to do that. Well I am very sorry for that is about all I have to say right now and I will try to make my next letter a better one. Tell Barbara and Sam but I still remember them and tell everyone I said hello. Earl
12/28/1943 CPL Earl Lees
I received your letter the other day it was glad to hear from you and that you are all well. Well, Christmas has come and gone again and we had a pretty nice Christmas at that. Much better than last, we had lots of turkey. We had some English children out to dinner and they seem to enjoy it very much. I suppose you have received my letter by now letting you know that I am in England now. I was interested to hear that you were talking to someone who has been over here but I don’t know if I’m allowed to answer all your questions. You know we have to be very careful as to what we right about now. I guess I could have told you lots of things but I just didn’t think it sounded very glamorous. I think I know the barrage that fellow was telling you about that we were caught in but that was only one and you asked me if we were ever in a hand-to-hand fight. I guess that is what you would call them when it is close and brother I have been close, just to give you an idea. The battalion I am in received a special decoration and I understand there has been only one or two given out in this war. We were all very proud of it, but I don’t know, I may be funny or something that I just don’t feel like writing you and giving details on things that we have done because to me it just isn’t a good topic if you know what I mean. Incidentally, I haven’t been reclassified. I must be disgustingly healthy or just too dumb to quit. I do get the little papers. I like them I hope you keep sending them. I was glad to hear about Jack Dyer being a gunner. I kind of like these fellows. I got a letter from Bill Spencer but he doesn’t say what he is doing. I also got mail from Bill Flaherty and he is in the armored artillery but what his job is I don’t know. But looks like I have to Bring this to an end now. So say hello to everyone for me and until the next time I will say so long. Earl
1/3/1944 CPL Earl Lees
How are you all? I am fine, you may be a little surprised and puzzled about that cable I sent you asking for money. I hope by the time you receive this I will have received it, but I thought I might owe you an explanation. That is why I’m writing this letter. Well as you know I am in England and it is the first time in a year that we have been able to go out and spend money and have a good time. I am getting a 10 day furlough and there are lots of things to do here and lots of things to see and it takes money and that is why I asked for it. Sometimes when I think of it I think I must be a terrible letter writer. I really don’t keep you very well informed. We are getting lots of time for passes and furloughs and we have here lots of dances with real women that we can talk to and we are doing just about as well as we would in the states. To make a long story short I’m having a good time. I wish it could last, but on the other hand I don’t want it to last too long. There is still a war to be won so we can get home. You probably hear as much as I do about it and you know what has to be done. Well there isn’t much more I have to say now. Did Barbara get that letter from me. I hope it was what she wanted. Well, say hello to everyone for me and until next time I will say so long. Earl
1/19/1944 Cpl Earl Lees
How are you all? I am all right, I thought I had better right and let you know that I got your money order all right and just in time, too. I got it yesterday and I am going on a furlough tomorrow. Wish I was spending it at home, but alas, I guess I will have to wait a while before I can do that. I guess you are up-to-date on this war business aren’t you? There sure is a lot of talk about it. I wonder if you hear the same news that we do. I really don’t believe you do. The papers here seem to print some revealing news at times. I don’t have much to say now. I guess you get to ride around in the car a little more than you could a while ago. Do you ever get in to see Uncle Matt? I haven’t heard from him for a while. I don’t know who owes who a letter. Did Barbara ever get that letter I wrote her. I hope it was all right she said she was going to read it in school to her class. I probably could have done a little better, but I get in some awful bad moods at times and I think the army is getting to be a little monotonous for me, but if what the President said the other day is true and I can get by in this deal it won’t be long. I hope you are all pulling for me. I hope my lock doesn’t run out on me. Well that is about all I have for now so I guess I will say so long and don’t be too long in writing me. Earl
2/23/1944 SGT Earl Lees
Just a few lines to let you know that everything is all right with me and I hope you all are the same. I received your big letter the other day and it sure was a whopper and I enjoyed getting it very much. I like to get a regular letter once in a while instead of the V mail.
You remember you told me that Jack told you not to write to him until you heard from him. Well I was talking to a fellow the other day and he said that the outfit that Jack is in England now. He said they just arrived a few days ago and I haven’t been able to find out for sure though. But when I do I intend to look him up. That would be something, I was just thinking it has been two years since I’ve seen Jack. They are several fellows here who have met their brothers and friends. You seem to be awfully concerned about my health. Well I’ll tell you there was a wow there I wasn’t sick or anything but I didn’t have much appetite but the last few weeks I’ve been hungry all the time. I eat seconds now and I don’t Believe I ever felt any better. I guess I am not so bad off though. I weighed a little over 10 stone the last time I weighed. Oh what a stone is, sounds kind of funny doesn’t it? But there are many funny things in this country and if I could only tell you my location I could tell you some very interesting things. So I guess that is about all for now. I don’t seem to have said much but I will try writing you again before long so give my love to Barb and Sambo and don’t forget to write soon, so long. Earl
3/16/1944 SGT Earl Lees
I received your letter the other day and was glad to hear from you. I was glad to hear that Barbara didn’t have any trouble with her measles. I guess she is out of bed now. I haven’t much news for you. I’ll make a few comments on your letter. I am reasonably sure that Jack is in England but I haven’t heard from him and I don’t have his address. If he forwarded it, I am here he should be able to find time to write me. But Jack is funny about things like that. I got a big surprise the other day. I got a letter from Patsy Muir. I was glad to hear from her though I guess I had better write her. I think it was nice of her to remember us. Don’t you? You said Edyth was giving some more blood to the Red Cross. You know that is pretty good for that really goes for something worthwhile. You know it does me good to hear of things like that and keeping bonds too, for a fellow gets kind of cynical towards a lot of people who won’t share the same dangers and troubles as he does not do people at home of course. Oh well I want to get started on that right now. You know I think you are wrong about me not feeling properly proud of being a sergeant for I am the only thing sometimes a man feels like he could do bigger things if he tried harder but I guess I am not especially this type to go ahead and fast especially in the army there are still many things we do that don’t seem necessary and it all gets dull at times. I am having trouble writing this letter. There is a big game going on right across from me and they get noisy sometimes and there is so many things that I think that I could say and I just can’t figure out how to say it. I haven’t had my picture taken yet but I might yet. Oh, you never did mention anything about the decoration my battalion got or did you ever get the news? Well we got the ribbon the other day I am sure you have never seen any. It is blue inside a gold frame. I don’t think it is a military secret because some of the fellows have newspaper clippings from home about it. Well I am going to close now and I hope this finds everyone well and happy. Earl
4/2/1944 Sgt. Earl Lees (regular letter)
Well I finally had my picture made so as you have already noticed I have sent them to you. I guess it is a good picture although I am not quite satisfied. They are not quite clear enough to show you everything. It doesn’t show you my campaign stars. You know I never wear three of them. They are on the ribbon on my left if you look real hard you might see them.
Well I hope everyone is well now I am still going strong. I haven’t very much to write about right now so if this ends suddenly I hope you won’t mind. I found out that Jack is in England and I know just about where he is located and I have written him and if I get the chance to go and see him I will. I’ll tell you how I found out, I ran into a couple of fellas out of his outfit and they told me where they are and I gave them a message to deliver for me. I don’t know if they did it though, but if they did he also knows where I am so we should be able to get together soon. I gave him eight for not writing you. They have been here over a month just in case you don’t have his address now it is still the same as it used to be. His a PO number is 256. You’ll never guess what I did yesterday. I went to the dog races and I made myself a couple of pounds, and I had a big time.
You know next Sunday is Easter. Time sure is flying. You know it is 18 months this month since I left the states. I know Easter is kind of an anniversary over here with me now, a year ago we were in a bad place and I guess it is one day I will never forget. Did I tell you I had a letter from Patsy Muir? Kind of I was kind of surprised. I did manage to answer her too. I believe I am improving don’t you? Well as I just said before I don’t have much I can tell you at this time so I won’t strain my feeble mind any further and just call it quits for now. Say hello to the kids for me and don’t be too long and writing me. So Long
Handwritten letter, # 12, written on April 2, 1944 from England. He used onion skin paper so there is bleed through
The following are three undated letters from Earl regarding his time in the hospital. He was wounded in action 0n 6/15/1944. In the last dated letter, 11/30/1944, he had a promotion to Staff Sergeant.
Sgt Earl Lees US Army Hospital
Detachment of Patients
4143 US Army Hosp. Plant
APO number 641 c/o Postmaster NY NY
I hope this has arrived in time to save you from worrying about me. In case you don’t understand just what I am driving yet. You will be receiving a notice from the government that I have been wounded. I’m writing you to let you know it is not serious and that I will be good as new in a very short time. Perhaps I should elaborate just a little. Well to begin with as you might be able to guess, I have been over in France and I got into a little scrape (of course it wasn’t me alone) and I got a piece of shrapnel in my back. It wasn’t a very big piece, but it was big enough to bother a man a little. Anyhow I had it removed and I’m getting along fine now. You know I am in England now and I don’t know when I will be able to get a letter from you. I don’t think there is any use in writing to me at this address. I won’t be here long. I am not sure just what I will do now, but I will try to get back to my own outfit however, if I do get a little different address where I think might be for a while, I will let you know. Tell Barbara and Sambo that I think their prayers have done some good for me. I have been very lucky. Well I think that is about all for now so I will say so long. Earl
UNDATED Sgt Earl Lees US Army Hospital
Sgt Earl Lees US Army Hospital
Detachment of Patients
4122 US Army Hosp. Plant
APO number 591 c/o Postmaster NY NY
I thought it must be about time I was writing you again and let you know that I am all right. As you can see I am still in the hospital. Although this is not exactly a hospital but that is what they call a rehabilitation center. They are supposed to put us in the proper physical and mental condition before we are returned to combat. Well I am ready to leave here now too and expect to leave in a short time. I will have gone I think by the time you receive this. One reason I haven’t been writing more often is that there isn’t much to write about. I hope you don’t worry about me. I really should write a little more often but if anything had ever happens, you would probably hear about it quickly. One thing that was kind of disappointing, I found out when I was in the other hospital was that Jack was still here and he wasn’t very far from where I was. But I left the next day and didn’t get a chance to try to see him and you know I never heard from him so I didn’t get a chance to do much about it. However it may not be too late yet. Well there isn’t much more to say right now. I hope this finds you all well. Maybe the next time I write I will have more to say. Tell everyone I said hello. Now I will say so long. Earl
UNDATED Sgt Earl Lees out of US Army Hospital
Just writing to let you know that I am all right and I hope that everyone there is enjoying the best. I don’t have much to say right now but I guess you noticed that I am back at my old address. I know you were hoping for something different but it just can’t be helped and I don’t mind it too much myself.
It has been a long time since I last heard from you and I hope I start getting some mail from you soon. I guess I owe a few letters myself. I received a letter from Reverend Matchett and he asked me to write him but I hardly know how to start. Still don’t hear anything from Jack. He must’ve forgotten how to write. Does he write you yet? One thing that may interest you before I close here is that I am in Belgium now, getting around aren’t I? You know it is getting near all the time to that day when I can see you all again and I only hope that it isn’t too long. I think it will have to close now so I will say so long and don’t forget to write me. Earl
11/30/1944 S/Sgt Earl Lees
520 Repl. Co. 80 BN
APO #226, % Postmaster NY NY
Just a few lines to let you know that everything is all right with me and I hope you all are enjoying the best. I did get your letter and I was glad to hear from you. As you can see I’m not in the hospital now and I think if you write me at this address I may be here long enough to receive it. I think you’re hoping that I might get to come home was a little too good to be true. For right now I am not headed that way, the army seems to think I can still be of service to them. It does seem rather hard since I have been doing more than a little bit these two years and a trip home would be a pretty nice reward. I guess you are curious to know just what I am doing and maybe what I am going to do. Well as to what I am doing is easier to say than what I am going to do. I’m going to go to school, carpenter school in fact right now. And after that, I have no idea what it may lead up to. I don’t think I will be doing any more fighting. At least I won’t be with the infantry. But you know nothing is certain these days. I am glad Jack is home. I do hope he is all right. I have a good idea just about what is his trouble. I’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing. It is better anyhow for now. You only have me to sweat out and I seem to be unbelievably lucky in some respects. I think I will have to close now and be sure and give the kids a big squeeze for me. I sure wish I could do it myself, but it is possible that it won’t be long. I’ll say so long for now and be sure to write soon. Earl
It was very important for moral both for the men and women serving and for their loved ones to receive mail. With these letters are three undated “Season’s Greetings.” But we do know, Earl spent three Christmas’ as an infantry man.
We don’t know when Earl last saw Matt Urban during the war. It was a miracle Urban survived. He wrote in his book how he marveled at the doctors’ skills and abilities while giving praises to the field medics and hospital nurses. He was still critically wounded, but by December 1944, he thought he was ready to go back to the front lines! He convinced the doctors and command he deserved a 5-day pass for R & R in Scotland. While recovering, he was reading the reports from his unit and thought he was needed! Believe it or not, he managed to hitchhike and use all kinds of tricks to get himself back to the front lines and with his unit, in Germany! After a few days, he knew he needed to return to the hospital. That trip back was easier but he now faced Court Martial. Instead, he learned he missed a ceremony where he was to receive a bronze star. And after a thorough review, the court marital was dismissed! (PS Earl and Matt reconnected years later and many times at the 9th Infantry reunions. He sent Earl a copy of his autobiography I’ve referenced.)
We don’t know where or why Earl was reassigned. His discharge papers reflected he was last assigned to Company “B” 358th Engineer General Service Regiment. A search of records by Andy Adkins, Veteran, Author, and Consultant, revealed he was once again hospitalized but due to illness. Now I know why he was discharged at the Hospital Center, Camp Pickett, VA on Sept 4, 1945.
I need to give a shout-out and a HUGE debt of gratitude to Andy Adkins. He was an outstanding resource and can be contacted through his website: www.azadkinsiii.com/blog. I was matched up with him through WW2 Research website.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
This has become harder than I imagined! I just had the inspiration to get me back on track. But first, let me make an “table of contents” so to speak, to help those who are interested. I have also written various blogs to honor our dads and mothers. Those links are provided in various blogs as they pertain to this series.
WWII Letters home:
The first WWII Letters Home post will eventually be expanded as time allows or as other family members want to help! This is a brief post of the letters Bill’s mom, Ruth Brunner Lees wrote home. Click here: War Letters
A diversion as I waited for more information on Earl’s Service records. This also carries a short introduction to WWII. Click here: WW II – Our Parents
The first letter we have that was saved and in Part 1, did not provide much information. Such as where he was other than he had been in Africa for seven months. What we do know about the battles he was in is from the autobiography of his first commanding officer and Lieutenant, Medal of Honor recipient, Matt Urban.
If any family member wants to graphically understand Earl’s actual service, read The Matt Urban Story! Earl was with him during all of the battles. I HIGHLY recommend it AND to any WWII enthusiast. I am NOT receiving any compensation for this, just a love of history and the warriors who served. But it is personal for me now that I can actually SEE what these brave warriors did for our country.
One of the first things I want to share from Urban’s book, is how Earl and the majority of men under his command managed to survive. Our family knows Earl was born into a family of faith. Perhaps it was shattered when Earl’s mom and baby brother died during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. But we know after the war, Earl’s faith blossomed!
It was evident Matt Urban and the men above him in his chain of command were also men of faith. In fact, at the time, our country was a praying country and many were on their knees. After reading Matt’s book, I KNOW God had His hand on both men and every other one that survived. I can’t explain why so many did not survive. They also were men of faith, who also had family on their knees praying. This is one of many mysteries of God we cannot explain.
The next thing was more practical as we learn how the Army prepared for war and eventually, how Urban prepared his men. We want to remember this is what all those in the USA infantry experienced as I focus on Earl’s service. Earl’s life up to the war was in the school of hard knocks. When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was 24. At age 22, Urban just graduated from college graduate and was an athlete when he volunteered to serve. I’m grateful to know, his book is also part of Earl’s story.
As Urban tells his story, his book adds in WWII history:
“While he was starting his senior year at Cornell in September 1940, “the first cadre of the newly activated Ninth Infantry Division was arriving at Fort Bragg. Army life began in a tent on a desolate insect-infested tract of sandy land. ‘Bragg’ became the birthplace of the modern American Army.”
“Urban’s graduating class from Cornell University in 1941 was nicknamed ‘The Class that Went to War.’
“When Urban graduated from Cornell in 1941, over 500,000 men have been called into uniform. The industry was rapidly changing from producing civilian products. Now they were tooling up to produce planes, tanks, bombs, rifles, cannons, etc. Rationing had begun for rubber, gasoline, and other essential items.” (My comment – There was no doubt, the United States was preparing for war.)
“On December 7, 1941, a dreadful shock engulfed the nation. The United States Navy fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor lost seven of eight battleships. Casualties reached 3581… With 2,403 Americans killed in a treacherous attack. The Arizona and Oklahoma capsized. President Roosevelt declared this ‘is a date which will live in infamy.'” (excepts from his autobiography)
From memory, a few details remembered as I read the book and visualized Earl’s service. Urban pushed his men to get into combat-ready condition to fight. He ensured everyone under his command during training knew how or learned how to swim. And not just swim, but with heavy gear. And finally, he emphasized the value of good foot hygiene as he commented, living in a foxhole will take its toll on their feet. To survive combat, one must have his feet in tip-top condition!
Earl enlisted at the end of April 1942. By now, Urban was an established officer and was ready to GO to war! Already in the works was “Operation Torch.” Earl completed his three months of basic training by August 1942. Without any additional documentation, we don’t know if Earl was one of the 107,000 men which deployed on one of the 850 ships. Operation Torch was an armada that made a 3,000-mile zigzag journey across the submarine-infested Atlantic Ocean. We know that Earl was in North Africa in December 1942. Urban’s description of the ship ride over is worth the read. I tried to imagine how Earl did as he became a fan of the navy as he wrote in his letters home!
By the time this second letter we have written to home, Earl had been enlisted for 13 months. He made Corporal but we don’t know the exact date. He said he had been “acting” for a while. At age 25, he did have the maturity to take on the responsibilities of men and weapons.
Co F 60th Infantry
Just a few lines to let you know that I am all right and still enjoying the best of health. I hope you are the same and that I still think of you all and looking forward to the day when I can see you again. There really isn’t much news that I can give you at this time except that I am a corporal now. I have been acting for some time but now it is official. You might guess that I am still in Africa, although I have been here only seven months it seems as though I have been here the biggest part of my life.
By the way I received that paper with Jack and my picture in it. I guess it was all right, Everyone else seems to be doing it. I bet Jack didn’t like it though. How long has it been since you have seen or heard from Jack? I guess he is still in California, isn’t he? I haven’t heard from him for some time. Another thing I just thought of is that we can receive packages now and something good to eat like candy for instance would go pretty good. Do you receive my allotment regularly? As you can see space is getting short and there isn’t much more I can say for now. Tell Barb and Sambo I think about them a lot and say hello to most of the people for me and don’t forget to write me soon. Earl
Six days after Earl wrote this letter, his Captain, Urban was awarded a Silver Star Medal. You can see in this commendation, it was earned in F Company. Earl was right there with Captain Urban!
Captain Matt Urban, Silver Star Medal awarded on 6/21/1943: Unit: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division “Old Reliables”, U.S. Army was a Silver Star medal, awarded on June 21st, 1943 “For gallantry in action while serving with the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division in Tunisia, in 1943. As Executive Officer of Company F, Lieutenant Urbanowicz was a driving spirit of his organization throughout the entire campaign. His leadership was an inspiration to everyone under him. When the Company Commander became a casualty, Lieutenant Urbanowicz took command and displayed extraordinary initiative and efficiency in further knitting the company, under heavy enemy fire, into a first-class combat unit. Without regard to his personal safety, he was at all times at the front, constantly hazarding his being in the interests of the success of his company. On ** March 1943, he personally led a two-man patrol back of the enemy lines and knocked out an enemy observation post, that had been directing the source of artillery fire, with hand grenades. After being wounded on another patrol in the morning, he returned for medical aid and then volunteered to lead another patrol that same afternoon. He was a source of confidence to his men and a source of cheer to the wounded.” Headquarters, 9th Infantry Division, General Orders No. 49 (from Traces of War.)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.Colossians 3:23-24
It takes patience and perseverance to uncover family histories. This became more real with the recent passing of my dad’s only sister, Eleanora Birau Daly. I’m grateful I was able to spend precious time with her. But I forgot to ask her a few more questions and now it is too late….😢
It is hard to just focus on Earl’s WWII service as I roll out his letters. So let’s expand things for a post. It will help me then zoom back on Earl’s service.
Bill’s parents dates of service and marriage: Earl Lees was inducted on April 29, 1942, in Pittsburgh, PA. He was Honorably Discharged on September 7, 1945. Ruth Lees (nee Brunner) started her Army service on February 1, 1944, and was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946. They met and married after the war on May 10, 1947. Their faces are aglow! And to think they were both serving in World War II just two years prior!
Bill’s dad, Earl, was the youngest of three sons. At the time the United States entered the war, on 12/7/1941, Earl was 25 years old. We don’t know much about his life before the war. Just a few interesting tidbits. He shared how his hard life was after his father asked him to move out, upon graduation from High School. He told us he hopped on trains, and traveled out west, looking for work. Some details are in hiseulogy, posted here. He was asked to come back home and help care for his father, diagnosed with oral cancer. More later.
Debbie’s dad, Lawrence Rijnovan, enlisted on December 11, 1942, and was honorably discharged on May 19, 1944. He was 18 at the outbreak of the war and was 19 when he enlisted. Her parents married on August 12, 1944. Lawrence had a brother 18 months older. Their mom remarried years later, then had her only daughter, Eleanora. More later.
Bill’s mom, Ruth, was 20 and Aunt Posey was 19 at the outbreak of the war. She and her sister attended nursing school upon graduating from High School. They became Registered Nurses and then went to work in the same hospital. They were both Supervisors in the hospital when they volunteered to join the Army. They said they were a “package” deal so to make a long story short, they served together! She was about to turn 23 when she was officially registered. Her sister was a year younger.
With these dates now as our framework, we need a review of WWII. Especially now putting their ages into perspective.
“Earl Lees was born in Pittsburgh on January 30, 1916, to the late William and Elizabeth Smith Lees. Earl lived a long and blessed life … 80 years, one month, and 16 days (2/16/1996). Today we are here to remember, honor, and give to him our respect.
“He is survived by his wife of nearly 49 years (Ruth) Brunner Lees, two sons, David (Linda) of Tallmadge, OH, William (Debra) of Fredericksburg, VA; and four grandchildren: Rebecca, Matthew, Rachel, and Jessica.
“Earl Lees began his adult life at age 18 upon graduating from high school during the depression years. There was no work in this area, so he left Irwin and went west, to begin his second education in the school of hard knocks. Hopping freight trains, he made stops in Idaho, where he worked at digging potatoes, to the State of Washington, where he worked on apple farms, to California, where he threshed rye and wheat, all just to eat, to sustain life.
“He was back in Irwin three years later due to his father’s ill health. After several odd jobs, he found work at Westinghouse Electric Corporation where he worked until being drafted by the Army in 1941.
“Earl was off then to war in the United States Army where he served his country in the Ninth Infantry Division, 60th Regiment, 2nd Battalion. General George Patton was his General. Earl again went through hard times spending two- and one-half years overseas in Europe fighting for his country. His Army duty took him throughout and across Europe-where he ended up in Germany. He once went three days without water in the deserts of Northern Africa. , · • .· ,
“Earl did not talk about World War II. He gladly served his country, but the memories of war were anything but pleasant to him. He received the Purple Heart Medal after being wounded in Europe. He came home to Irwin, back to his lifelong job at Westinghouse, and soon met his love, whom he married in May of 1947.
“Mr. & Mrs. Earl Lees were soul mates. They made decisions together as a team. They were together to the end. Ruth by her personal care during his long illness added a couple of years to his life by her skillful nursing.
“Earl Lees was not a flashy man, nor very talkative He was a man who excelled at the ordinary things of life. A meat and potatoes kind of man. He lived for God, his wife. and his family, friends, neighbors, and his job. Earl was loyal to all these l ‘ve mentioned.
“He was a man you could set your clock by. In forty years at Westinghouse, he was never late. He was home at 3:55 PM, supper was at 5:00 pm. His sons knew to be at the supper table at 5:00 for meat and potatoes! Earl was very dependable, predictable, and always faithful. He always had a smile. During deep snow days, the boys were awakened early to clear the driveway so that he could be at work on time.
“Earl had no enemies because he was always good to people. His yard was the best-groomed yard in Sheridan Terrace (made the local paper). He would pay his sons to pick dandelions from his yard. He made time to help his neighbors. He was not a complainer, nor did he speak badly of anyone.
“He would do for anyone and expect nothing in return. He mowed their yards, cleaned off their snow, raked their leaves.Earl Lees was a humble, sweet-spirited, God-fearing man. He shared his garden vegetables, cared for his elderly neighbors. When asked, “What do I owe you?” his answer was … “Pass it on.” That was his motto in life: “If I’ve helped you, pass it on … now you help someone.”
“A man with a song or melody, a happy man, a positive person, gentle and kind and very honest. He cared for the neighborhood children and always had a word or comment for them. To the boy down the street named Spear, he’d say: “Shake, Spear.” If you said “hey”, he’d say, “hey is for horses.” If you would say “Wait a minute,” he would respond with”Weight broke the wagon.” If you would say, “open the door” it was “Influenza” etc. So many quips!
“In earlier years he brought the Cub Scouts to Irwin. His sons cherish the memories of the things they did together. For years and years, he taught Adult Bible Classes and was an elder of his church, and serving in church repairs.
“Along more personal matters:
“Earl Lees loved his wife and family. He gave them stability. He taught them to work for a living. He gave precious memories to his grandchildren. After receiving the news of cancer, there was a family trip, where he became as a child. At the age of 79 He took a family trip to Washington D.C., MD., and NJ. All his family was present. He made that vacation a time to be remembered for the rest of their lives. He played with his grandchildren, teased them, sang to them skipped with them.
“Rebecca remembers her grandfather teaching her how to ride a bike. Jessica remembers Grandpa skipping with her. Encouraging her to be a happy child
“He was a wonderful example of what a man should be as a husband, father, grandparent, friend, and neighbor. He sang the cadence: “You had a good home but you left .. left, right, left.”
Earl has left.
Earl is not dead,
He is just away (He left)
With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand
He has left us for another land
Think of him still as the same
He is not dead – He just left us and went away.
Eulogy written by and service officiated by life long Pastor and friend of David and Linda Lees: Terry Schmelzenbach. He also ministered to Bill and I in our reconciliation process. And he served as Pastor for Ruth Brunner’s service. More later…
As we researched Earl Lees’ WWII service, we long for more information about him. In digging through old records, we found his eulogy. This actually fills in a few blanks. What was his life like before WWII? We only knew a few details.
Digging into online records, we found some interesting facts: Earl’s grandfather was named Samuel, He was born in 1854 and died in 1932. Samuel was married to Elizabeth Watts Lees, who lived from 1863 to 1932, both were from Northern Ireland. They had 10 children. Four of their sons immigrated to the United States. Earl’s father, William, arrived first, in 1906 at the age of 25. Joseph Lees arrived at age 23 (born around 1890) and Matthew Lees, was 20 (born around 1892-93). These two brother’s arrived on the Caledonia, from Londonderry, Ireland on May 12, 1913. At the time of immigration, their last place of residence was Magherafelt, Ireland. We couldn’t find any information online about the fourth brother, Joseph. David and Bill recall their dad drove them to his home in the Philadelphia area-but no one was home.
Earl’s father, William, was born August 8, 1881, in Londonderry County, Northern Ireland, UK. He died on December 30, 1938, in Irwin in the care of Earl and Samuel. Bill just learned a few years ago his grandfather’s name was William. Did Earl name his second son after his dad we wonder? Looking at all the family records, this is a common practice. Bill only recalls his dad telling him his middle name, Douglas, was in honor of General Douglas MacArthur. Bill’s youngest grandson’s middle name is Douglas, in honor of Bill!
Earl’s mother Elizabeth Smyth Lees was born in 1884 in Northern Ireland and died in 1918 in Pittsburgh – during the flu pandemic. We couldn’t find her immigration info or their marriage date. At the time of her death, she left three surviving sons. Their ages at the time: Sam was 9, John (Jack) was 7 and Earl was 2. We know their baby brother also died in 1918 of the flu. Earl RARELY spoke of his childhood.
Earl did not share any memories of his stepmother, Marian Telfer Lees. She was born on September 11, 1879, in Muirkirk, East Ayrshire, Scotland. She died August 14, 1931 (aged 51), in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. We don’t know when she married Earl’s father. They did not have any children. She brought a niece and a nephew into the marriage. No other information is known. But yet, we have this precious picture of Earl with his step mother, her niece, nephew and another unknown relative. We wonder why his dad, William, wasn’t in the picture. Was he the photographer? Or like his grandson, Bill, he hates having his picture taken!
Earl’s oldest brother was Samuel William Lees, Sr. born September 22, 1909, in Pennsylvania. He died on February 19, 1983, at the age of 73. He died in Elyria, Lorraine county, Ohio, and is buried in Ridge Hill Memorial Park, Amherst, OH. He married Edythe Harriett Kleckner about 1935. They had three children. We don’t know when he moved to Ohio, but their dad was living with him at the time of his death.
John (Jack) Lees was the second oldest brother, born September 11, 1911 in Pittsburgh, PA. He died 3/31/1974 and is buried in Irwin Union Cemetery. He never married.
As we read Earl’s letters home, he is writing to his brother Sam. He references Sambo, Sam’s son, and his daughter, Barbara. We only have 17 letters from his two years plus in the Army. Are their other letters stuffed in an attic somewhere? As we write and share this information, we do hope to learn more. But alas, there are no surviving relatives from this era.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
We live in a wonderful neighborhood. Just one component is the Veterans Organization Cresswind (VOC). I had no idea what they do to promote patriotism and honor deceased veterans until May 2021. Our youngest grandson was with us for two weeks. He LOVES being a helper. He saw a group putting up flags at our neighborhood entrance. He offered to help. And that started a fantastic journey of discovery for us as he was then invited to be a part of their Memorial Day event.
Here are a few slide shows followed by a video that captures the tone of this wonderful event:
I asked why they picked Bryce. They said they want to help young people learn about Patriotism as we honor our freedoms in this country.
Such a proud Grandma moment. Bonnie is the Veteran, the one who asked for his help and she gave him his job!
The reward for his cooperation was a …. cupcake!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen as His heritage!”
Both my husband and I are so honored to have parents who served during WWII. Bill is doubly honored as both his mom and dad served. Not together, but met soon after returning home. I started this blog with a tribute to my dad, click here. I’ve written a tribute to Bill’s amazing momhere and shared her WWII letters here.
This is the first of a multi-part series as I plan to write about the actual service of all three of our WWII vets. Our neighborhood has an active Veterans Association. As such, twice a year, they hold patriotic ceremonies to honor the service and memories of the loved ones of our residents. This blog is a result of our desire to honor Bill’s parents and my dad. We are starting will Earl Lees. He was a remarkable man and I was privileged to know and love him as my father-in-law for 21 years until he passed. His life story is very interesting and worthy to spend time writing about. However, there are many gaps, but we know enough for God to be glorified in his life.
Stay tuned for pictures/videos of this wonderful event. The first time I attended, our youngest grandson, Bryce was here. He helped put up flags around our entranceway. He was subsequently invited to be a special guest at the Memorial Day ceremony.
What a glorious anniversary it is! I just have to shout out to our Lord and Savior for this wonderful couple, Bill’s brother, David, and his lovely wife, Linda. Linda is actually more than a sister-in-law to me. I need a blog post just on what a positive influence she’s had on my walk with the Lord. But for today, I need to share how much their marriage has helped us and SO MANY others!
I’ve talked about them several times in past blog posts. Particularly when Bill was facing heart disease as writtenabout here. Click to read the whole blog, or at least, read this paragraph:
“Thankfully, Bill’s brother and his wife are both in the health care field and are very experienced with this issue. They knew about the test, so they wanted the results. They live states away, but thankfully, only a phone call away. They began to mentor us. First, they are strong Christians and helped us in our divorce and remarriage by their prayers and counsel. So everything was bathed in prayer. They gave us some great tips and suggestions while Bill had to make a health decision.” AND as in every bit of advice they have given us over these 45 years, it was rock solid. Bill today is enjoying excellent health! We also married 45 years ago, so they have been in my life for 45 years from today forward.
Or when we spent one of the most meaningful Memorial Day weekends with them, written about here. Best part of that blog post, which I would HIGHLY recommend reading, is their picture at the event:
They not only probably helped saved Bill’s life – or at least helped him enjoy a longer and healthier life – they helped restore our marriage. You can readabout it here or read the most important except below. Had it not been for Linda’s fervent prayers, I’m pretty sure I would not be writing this post about my dear brother-in-law and his wife! Our lives would have been a mess and no telling where we’d be spiritually. This paragraph was after we were well into the divorce process:
“I dove into God’s Word and also into a book recommended by my sister-in-law, Love Life for EVERY Married Couple: How to fall in love, stay in love, rekindle your love by Ed Wheat, MD and Gloria Perkins. (This is the Biblical marriage manual and is the BEST book ever written for marriages, taken straight from the Bible! In my next post, I will share the five types of love needed in every marriage!) Linda pleaded with us to read it before our divorce was final. Bill did and he tried to get me to read it. But I was not ready, until we finally lived apart.”
But today, I just want to share a little about them and their marriage. Or maybe you are getting the “picture” of this happily ever after couple! I am imagining Linda cringe as she would read this. She would say, “but OH WE HAD TOUGH TIMES!” Yes, they did and they are open to share – how they got through them by God’s Grace! And how they made their marriage better and better and better! But of course, there was pain in suffering along the way. In fact, what marriage hasn’t had tough times? The secret is what do you do to get through the tough times? Not only is their pathway to the Lord but that became our pathway after we remarried!
David and Linda have been dedicated Christians, parents and health care professionals. They have enjoyed many great hobbies, have traveled to many wonderful places and have now entered into their “golden” years as retirees.
There is only one little twist to this ideal couple. And I am sharing this for you to join us in prayer! On June 2, 2020, just two months shy of their official retirement, a CT scan revealed David had stage 4, Peritoneal Carcinomatosis (PC) which originated in the appendix. This is an extremely rare form of cancer. (Actually the scan showed the doctor more testing was needed.)
PCis a late stage manifestation of several gastrointestinal malignancies including appendiceal, colorectal, and gastric cancer. In PC, tumors metastasize to and deposit on the peritoneal surface and often leave patients with only palliative treatment options.
by JRW McMullen Mar 22, 2017
David was in essence told to get his affairs in order, he only had a few months to live. WE ALL WERE DEVASTATED!!! But as people of faith, we all bowed to the Lord and prayed for His divine intervention. And to make a long story short, HE HAS DELIVERED!!! It was a miraculous surgical option and he is thriving. It had been our prayer he would live until we could see him again. It was VERY hard to travel to see them, with all the concerns over COVID and the fact we had our two grandsons living with us, to make the trip to Missouri to be with them. But here we are on Christmas Day, 2020!
Just a few more pictures to commemorate their 45 years together, including all their children and grandchildren! They have enjoyed a rich life and we all pray they have many more years to continue to serve our Lord and Savior. Amongst their hobbies, his are hunting, fishing and anything outdoors with family while hers are rug hooking, painting, crafts, daily Bible study and anything outdoors with family. Together they love to hike, camp, bike ride, be with their children and grandchildren and anything outdoors! Click for a slideshow:
Let me close with my favorite memory of their marriage. Just know that Linda and I are very close so we have no secrets. We know the good, the bad and the ugly! A few years ago, she shared how they had a couple over for dinner. They ministered and mentored SO MANY couples and individuals over their 45 years, they can’t be counted. Anyway, there was a couple who knew them well and saw them in both good and bad times. The wife confessed how she wished she had a marriage like theirs! She never saw them fight or be disrespectful to each other. We know they’ve had tough times behind closed doors, but no one saw them. Well, except maybe their children-and even then, I doubt they could recall any “fighting.”
They have been GREAT examples to their three adult children. All of them became Christians and serve the Lord in some way. They are proud grandparents of seven. But it’s not been all joy and happiness as there has been serious pain along the way. But they can honestly say, they will continue to Praise and Worship our Lord and Savior all the days of their lives!
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV
(For more information on what this verse means, here is one resource. David and Linda don’t want to waste their pain, the are praying the Lord will use his illness and their suffering for HIS Glory!)
Nothing tugs at our heart strings more than a child in need! One of my nieces, Rachel, has been a good friend to Clara’s mom, Lori since 2007. They met in Mexico while serving as teachers after college. Eventually, both accepted teaching positions in Colorado Springs. And then both went on to have three children each. Eventually, as is common in our culture, both of their families moved apart but they are “virtually” connected!
Clara turns 11 on March 26, 2020. Rachel’s mom, my dear sister-in-law Linda, has been kept up to date on Clara’s life since meeting her a few years ago. Linda has a memory of seeing Clara, her little sister Ana Cecilia and Linda’s grand daughter, Hadassah, running and playing on their farm. No one suspected an unknown and undiagnosable disease was lurking in both Clara and Ana Cecilia. Continue reading →
What a kind and unsolicited compliment to be told by a close family member, she knows I am constantly praying for her and her family. Actually, I need to tell you more about her, she is my sister-in-law, married to my husband’s only sibling. I wasn’t always known to pray – in fact, she started praying for my spiritual life soon after we met! Now talk about a person who prays. But Linda Lees not only prays, she fasts as the Lord leads when there is a crisis or critical event with any of her family members or friends lives. I can say she has had more influence on my spiritual life than anyone else. And in her blog post “The Fast” I learned how to take on a 72 hour fast.