Sandy and Daron Caswell found a box of World War II-era letters in the attic of their garage located on Grand Avenue in Hannibal. The letters chronicle the courtship of Mary Ellen Hulse of Rensselaer and Richard Webster Trower of Hannibal, who married when Richard was home on leave from the U.S. Navy.
This week, after posting an online plea for family to claim the letters, Vicki Trower of Florida, niece of Mary Ellen and Richard, came forward and asked that the letters be shipped to her, so that she can keep them in their family.
Before shipping the letters, here are snippets that tell the story of the love that grew in the midst of war.
3 Local Men
June 16, 1942
The following men from Hannibal have enlisted in the U.S. navy, through the United States naval recruiting office at Quincy, Ill., during the past week.
Hurley Henderson Jr., Hannibal, Mo.
Richard Webster Trower, Hannibal, Mo.
James Thomas Rowland, Hannibal, Mo.
Timeline: June 1942 U.S. carrier-based aircraft, alerted to Japanese moves by code breakers, stop a Japanese invasion of Midway, a U.S. base that guards Hawaii. U.S. dive-bombers sink four Japanese carriers; one U.S. carrier is lost. The Battle of Midway is the turning point of the Pacific War.
First letter home
June 26, 1942. Richard W. Trower wrote to Miss Mary Hulse from Great Lakes, Ill. “Dearest Mary. Well I finally got here last night about 9 and have really been busy today. I got my clothes and my hair cut today. You should see me. I took the last exam this morning and I passed OK. Got to write Mother a few lines. Loving you as much as ever, Dick.
Timeline: August 1942. U.S. Marines land on Japanese-held Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. This is the first battle in a U.S. “island hopping” campaign that will keep moving U.S. forces closer to Japan.
Aug. 6, 1942. Dearest Mary, I made my trip OK. Don’t worry about me a bit. I am getting along swell. Lots of love, Dick. My address is: U.S. Navy, USS Prairie 1st Div. C/O P.M. New York N.Y.
Timeline: September 1942. An aircraft launched from a Japanese submarine drops fire bombs on forests near Brookings, Oregon, in the first bombing of the continental United States.
Sept. 18, 1942. Dearest Mary, Honey, I sure wish I could see you and talk to you. I could at least tell you where I am and where I have been, but the way it is, I can’t. There is a boy sitting here writing a letter to his girl and I think he is trying to propose. He is having an awful time trying to get me to tell him what to write and he will write something and ask me if it sounds all right. I told him he had better use his own judgment.
Timeline: October 1942. After months of desert fighting, the British Eighth Army in North Africa puts Germany’s Afrika Corps to flight.
October 3, 1942. Dearest Mary, Honey, I don’t think there is a chance of me getting a leave for a long time yet. I wish I could get one for Christmas but I don’t guess I will. If I could get one I am so broke I wouldn’t have the money to get home on so I guess I just won’t think about it. Besides we are shipping out again right away and I don’t know where this time. Sending you all my love, Dick.
Timeline: November 1942. U.S. and British troops invade French North Africa and will later link up with the British Eighth Army.
Nov. 14, 1942. Dear Mary. I got the pack Mother sent this week. I got two cartons of cigarettes. I wish I had told them that I can buy them here for fifty cents a carton.
Timeline: December 1942. German troops are near Moscow. But, forced to fight in freezing weather, the troops pull back—defeated by the Russian winter, which had also defeated Napoleon’s army in 1812.
Feb. 15, 1943. Dearest Mary, I cleaned out my locker yesterday morning and had to go on watch afternoon. I am feeling just fine. Have you been working hard?
Timeline: February 1943. German troops surrender at Stalingrad (now Volgograd). The Soviet Red Army, turning the tide of war, begins an offensive that will end in the capture of Berlin in 1945.
April 8, 1943: Dearest Mary, I am back in the U.S. again and boy it sure looks good. They sent me back here to Newport, R.I., for treatment. It sure is a nice hospital here. All I get is milk and eggs and it is the best milk I’ve had since I left. I am going to try to get leave after I get well. I will be here a month or two.
April 14, 1943. Dear sweetheart. Honey you asked what kind of a ship I was on. It was a destroyer tender, in other words, we carried supplies and ammunition for a gunner on another aircraft carrier. That is what I went to school for.
Timeline: U.S. code breakers intercept a Japanese radio message saying that Admiral Yamamoto is flying to the Solomon Islands. He is killed when U.S. fighters shoot down his plane.
May 3, 1943. Dear Sweetheart. The X-ray showed up OK so I am going back to duty. I will be glad to get out of here. I just hope I can get a leave.
May 5, 1943. Dear Sweetheart. I feel pretty good now after I have rested up. I don’t know just when I am going to leave yet. The nurse said this morning that it may be Monday or Tuesday. I got paid this morning but I didn’t draw as much as I thought I would. I guess they stopped my sea pay while I am in the hospital.
May 8, 1943: Dear Sweetheart. They told me yesterday I was going to the training station here in Rhode Island. From here I don’t know what that is for. Some of the boys here seem to think I will have shore duty there. I guess I will soon find out.
Timeline: May 1943. The U.S. Navy announces that, except for the U.S.S. Arizona, U.S.S. Utah, and U.S.S. Oklahoma, all warships sunk at Pearl Harbor have been repaired and returned to sea.
June 2, 1943: Letter from Boston, Mass. Dear Sweetheart, I tried to call you about 8 o’clock but couldn’t get through and while I was waiting a boy from here came along and wanted me to go have a drink with him and I tried again and they got it right through. I am pretty sure I am going back next week. Maybe I will be home by that time.
Timeline June 1943. A Japanese destroyer rams and sinks a small U.S. Navy vessel, PT-109, commanded by Lt. (and future President) John F. Kennedy. He and other survivors swim for five hours to reach a small island, where they are later rescued.
June 7, 1943. Mary Ellen Hulse and Richard Webster Trower are married
June 7, 1943, in Hannibal, Mo., while Richard is home on leave from the U.S. Navy.
Richard Trower died Oct. 29, 1985. Mary Ellen died May 27, 1999. They are buried side by side at Grand View Burial Park
Timeline information: National Geographic, Remembering Pearl Harbor History. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pearlharbor/history/wwii_timeline.html