Column: A WWII mystery — Who made drawings?

07/28/2017 6:00 AM |

The letters and drawings date to 1944 and 1945, when the writer and artist was stationed in Europe during World War II. There are hundreds of letters and dozens of drawings and, together, they tell the remarkable story of a soldier at war writing home to a family in Florida.

Some of the letters begin ‘Hi, Honey,” and the writer asks about “the boys” and how everyone is doing. Some of the drawings are of cowboys and horses and a fence line. There are references to Montana. The name written on some of the drawings is “Billie Phelps.” Most of the letters are signed “Bill.”

This collection of documents and images is in the possession of Pat and John Kurpetski of Calverton. It was found by their son John in the attic of a house in Orlando, Fla. He gave it to them with the hope that, somehow, the family of the person who wrote the letters and made the drawings could be tracked down.

“We want someone in this person’s family to have them,” Ms. Kurpetski said. “That is our hope — that a daughter or a son or more likely a grandchild of this person can be located and this collection can go to them. It only seems right that it be given to the family.”

A Nov. 15, 1944, letter from France — five months after the D-Day invasion — starts off “Hi, Honey — Got two letters from you yesterday. They were written the same day and explained all about the storm you folks had. Until I got your letters I knew nothing of a storm in Fla.”

A series of letters written from Germany in early March 1945 are signed “lovingly yours, Bill.” He asks about “Ruth” and “Tom” and says he has received letters from “Sam, Jean and Vera Beth.” He goes on: “So you have a pig now?” He says he heard the house was being painted — “so glad you were able to have it done.” He writes he was glad to get a letter from “Edith and Buddy last week” and he asks for more stationery because “I’m using it up kind of fast.”

He signs it “Hello to my boys, love, Bill.”

There are hundreds of handwritten letters in the collection. Nearly all are on paper that is fading and beginning to crumble. If the family of this person can’t be found — could the writer still be alive? — they belong in a museum where they can be preserved from further deterioration. Dozens of names are mentioned in the letters — and some are addressed to a family named Lamb — but there is no firm clue as to the writer’s identity.

Where does one start to find the family of the letter writer?

The drawings that were found with the letters are inside a textbook called “A Laboratory Manual for General Science.” Inside the cover is handwritten: “Billy Phelps,” then what looks like “Vera Phelps” and under that “Castle Butte Montana.”

Inside are dozens of pencil and crayon drawings — of a cowboy holding a rope, a log cabin, a fence line, a corral, a cowboy holding a pistol titled ‘the outlaw’ and signed by Billie Phelps. There are numerous drawings of glamorous women in fancy gowns and dresses. A drawing of a cowboy sitting next to a tree is signed Billie E. Phelps.

Billie must have loved horses, as there are numerous horse drawings. The artist’s imagination seems to be in Montana, while his heart is with a family in Orlando, Fla. “Billie Phelps” seems to be the author of all the letters and the drawings.

Written in ink at the bottom of one page in the book are the words:

How can this heart be mine

yet yours, unless our hearts

are one.

by Cupid’s Arrow

Hopefully, this collection can be reunited with a family.

The author is the executive editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8048 or [email protected].

 
 

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