Recap from June 14th Post, “Dear Chaplain,”
If you haven’t kept up on my entries, I came across hundreds of war letters sent back and forth from my grandmother, Connie Maris, and her husband, Army Chaplain, Captain Marvin Maris, who was serving in New Guinea and the Philippines from 1942-45.
In those many piles, I found a letter from a mother who wrote to Marvin on July 12, 1945. Mrs D. B. Dana (Olga H. Dana) of Kewaunee, Wisconsin, inquired about her son, John Haney Dana, whom she hadn’t heard from in 5 months. She wrote a 2-page, type-written letter describing her situation as a widow, (her husband was a physician) and her worries concerning John, who had always been an avid writer although a bit of a rebel. His silence was unusual and was causing great concern. She had 2 other sons as well, one who was discharged from the Navy due to illness and the other, Mike Dana, who was on a destroyer.
I didn’t find any information about my grandfather’s reply to her, which left John’s absence a mystery. What had become of Olga’s beloved son, John? POW (Prisoner of War)? Killed in Action? AWOL (military acronym meaning “absent without leave”)? Court marshaled and dismissed? In the brig (abbreviation for brigade, with the meaning being imprisoned in a military jail/prison)? Just plain lazy, too embarrassed with a demotion or too ashamed to confess bad behavior to his poor, worried mamma?
This left me doing some digging. I didn’t have much help through the National Archives for WW 2 servicemen so I went to the website of Kewaunee, Wisconsin, where Olga had lived. There I found a city hall contact email. I sent out a brief explanation of myself and included a summary of Olga’s July 12, 1945, letter to my grandfather. Off it went, with me waiting for a reply.
A Rapid Response
Within just 2 hours, this reply came to my inbox, complete with photos.
Hi Ms. Wieck,
I’m Joe Mills, a Kewaunee city councilman. The clerk forwarded your email to me as I’ve been working on updating our cemetery records. The photos I’m sending are what I’ve found so far. Since John’s headstone states he died in 1971 I’m assuming he survived WWII!
There are no military plaques for either him nor his brother Byron. I can’t find anything on Mike Dana, yet. There is no mention of relatives/offspring of John, Byron, Mike or their parents. I will research any obituary records I can find to see if there is anybody still alive connected to the family.
Please feel free to email me with any other thoughts on this that you might have.
A friend of mine is the clerk at Community Congregational Church so I will be checking with her to see if we can expand this search a bit.
Sincerely, Joe Mills
Closure of Sorts
With Joe’s above photos and information, I was able to piece together a bit more than I’d had before.
- John obviously survived the war, dying at the age of 53 in 1971. When Olga wrote her letter, he was 27 years old.
- Byron passed away in 1975 at the age of 54. My guess is he is the one whom Olga mentioned as having been discharged from the Navy and living in Santa Fe, NM, when she wrote.
- No tombstone for Mike, the youngest of the brothers at age 18 in 1945, as Olga had mentioned.
- Olga herself outlived at least two of her sons, having left this world in 1975 at age 83. She was 54 years old at the time the letter was written.
I did contact Joe, sending him the full letter and I hoped he could find some extended family around the area who could provide more but I never heard back. I am very grateful, however, for the photos and the knowledge that John must have come home at some point, maybe even taking care of or living with his aging mother until he himself died in 1971.
What a shame that both sons lived only into their 50s while their mom carried on into her 80s. With no remaining relatives to ask, I find myself still wondering about the family. What was John’s excuse for not writing? What did he do after the war? Whatever happened to youngest son, Mike? Did Byron return from Santa Fe to be near to his mom? Did any son marry and have children, although no cemetery marker hints at this?
Despite clearing up one small piece of the puzzle, there seems to be so many more that remain. I guess I’ll just have to content myself with having one question answered while a hundred more are left simmering away in this one family’s history of mysteries.