Historian searches for WWII veterans, returns letters

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 19, 2014

 West Bloomfield residents Ellie Montgomery, 10, and Ellie Saperstein, 10, travel through history by reading letters from World War II servicemen and women at the Orchard Lake Museum Nov. 9.

West Bloomfield residents Ellie Montgomery, 10, and Ellie Saperstein, 10, travel through history by reading letters from World War II servicemen and women at the Orchard Lake Museum Nov. 9.

Photo by Donna Agusti

SYLVAN LAKE — To honor local veterans, copies of letters from Sylvan Lake men and women who served during World War II were displayed at the Orchard Lake Museum Nov. 9.

The letters are part of the World War II Letters Project, which Sylvan Lake historian Helen Jane Peters began in 2012. In addition to letters, the display boards showcased pictures, and foreign booklets and money sent with letters during the war.

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society President Gina Gregory said that letters to service people were among the many patriotic acts that people engaged in during World War II to support war efforts. She highlighted other efforts, including those of manufacturing company Stainless Ware, which was located at the corner of Walnut Lake and Drake roads. Stainless Ware manufactured airplane studs, mess kits and machine parts during the war, Gregory said. Seven hundred to 800 people worked at the factory before it burned down in 1959 and relocated to Mississippi.

“I think (the World War II Letters Project) is an awesome project. It certainly brings to the forefront our local history; it connects families with their World War II past. It illustrates how well the Sylvan Lake community, or the Whitfield School community, was connected,” Gregory said.

During World War II, Glenn Husted, principal of the former Daniel Whitfield School in Sylvan Lake, began writing to military personnel — former students and friends serving in the military — about school events and Sylvan Lake news, according to a press release.

In total, 45 men and women responded to him, detailing their involvement in the war.  The news was then added to the next letter from Husted and continued in a round-robin fashion.

In May 2012, Sharie Husted VanGilder, Husted’s daughter, sent the 70 original letters to Peters, who then read them. In addition to being the Sylvan Lake historian, Peters has been living in Glenn Husted’s house for the past 44 years, which she attributes as the reason VanGilder sent her the letters.

When VanGilder sent the letters to Peters, VanGilder hoped the original letters could be returned to the veterans or their families, Peters said. Peters posted a message on Facebook about the World War II Letters project, and Randy Rogers, a Whitfield School alumnus who was living in Seoul, Korea, at that time, reached out to Peters.

“Randy thought he would like to get involved because he did a lot of genealogy and he was an interrogator for a branch of the service,” Peters said. “I would send him a few (names) at a time … and he started finding them. When he found someone, I would contact them and then I would call, in most cases, their family.”

Of the 45 men and women who wrote to Husted, Peters and Rogers have found all but eight veterans, and eight of the 45 are still living, Peters said. They are still searching for Alfred M. Carlson, Charles Dryer, Vernon Harcourt, Herbert Dean Jorgensen, Harold Lewis, Eva Sanford, Lee Valentine and Pat Wood.

“When we found somebody, then I would invite them to my house and they would come over and get the letters,” Peters said. “The first thing they did was sit down and read their father’s letter, or mother’s. … It was very, very rewarding to me to watch them read the letter and connect with their father again.”

Anyone who has information about the remaining eight veterans is asked to contact Helen Jane Peters at veteransletters@gmail.com.