Daughter gets WWII medals, letter from father she never knew

Twelve years ago, Donna Gregory was helping her then-husband go through his deceased grandparents’ home in Arnold, Missouri, when she came across a box in their bedroom closet labelled “War Department.” Inside she found a collection of documents, clippings and medals belonging to Army private first class John Farrell Eddington, including his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, draft card, dog tags, high school diploma and a letter from the War Department notifying the family that Private Eddington was killed in action in Italy on June 27, 1944. He was 25 years old.

In the box along with 16 letters he had written to his wife, Helen, there was one particularly moving letter Eddington had written to his infant daughter Peggy three weeks after she was born on February 5th, 1944. He was still training in Texas when he wrote the letter, but before he even got a chance to meet his beloved baby girl, John was deployed overseas. He died four months later, never having held little Peggy in his arms.

Touched and fascinated by the history and emotion inside the box, especially in the letter to baby Peggy, Donna Gregory took it home to St. Louis and researched the soldier off and on for the next dozen years. Gregory’s husband at the time had no idea who Eddington was or what connection he might have had to his grandparents. Eddington was born in Leadwood, Missouri, just 50 miles south of Arnold, but that tenuous geographical proximity is the only commonality we know of. Google and the library led her to some more details about John Eddington. She found that he was buried at the Jefferson Barracks in St Louis. Donna was able to trace Peggy to Nevada, but wasn’t able to find a current address.

A few months ago Donna picked up the search again, widening the parameters in the hope she could find John Eddington’s daughter before it was too late. She enlisted the help of friends and random Facebook people who read about the story and the crowdsourced effort worked. She found Peggy’s grandson, then she found her son, and then she found Peggy, now Peggy Eddington-Smith of Dayton, Nevada. Donna called Peggy and told her she had her father’s mementos and most poignantly, the letter he wrote her before he died.

Peggy was shocked. She knew almost nothing about her father other than that he had died in World War II. Her mother had been so devastated by John’s death that she couldn’t bear to speak of him. Helen never remarried because, as she put it the few times she spoke of him, she had once found the perfect man and would never again find the perfect man.

To present Peggy with her father’s things in proper style, Donna raised money to travel to Nevada. She also contacted the Nevada Patriot Guard to see if they could put her in touch with a World War II veteran in Dayton or environs so that he could be the one to place the Purple Heart in Peggy’s hands. The Patriot Guard found Navy veteran Quentin McColl, 93, to perform the duty and they organized a motorcycle escort to accompany Donna from Missouri to Nevada.

On Saturday, September 21st, Donna Gregory arrived at the Dayton Intermediate School gym. In a ceremony attended by Peggy Eddington-Smith, her family, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars who had fought in World War II, local dignitaries and residents, Peggy received her father’s Purple Heart, Bronze Star, personal documents, replicas of his dog tags, gold star flags and the letters. Donna read the very special letter John Eddington wrote to Peggy aloud before giving it to her.

The first page was written to Helen. John hoped she wouldn’t find it “silly” that he was writing to a baby who couldn’t read or understand his words. The next two pages were just pure sweetness from a doting Daddy. I was unable to find a transcript of the entire letter, sadly, but here are bits from various news stories:

My Darling Daughter,

You have never seen me or may never see me for some time. I’m sending you this so that you will always know that you have a very proud daddy somewhere in this world fighting for you and our country.

“I love you so much,” the letter said. “Your mother and daddy … are going to give you everything we can. We will always give you all the love we have.”

Eddington urged his daughter to “always treat your mother right. You have the sweetest mother on the Earth.” He closed the letter by writing, “I love you with all my heart and soul forever and forever. Your loving daddy.”

General sobbing ensued. Peggy, who had told reporters before the ceremony she wasn’t going to get “super-emotional,” abandoned that plan.

“The letter gave me more knowledge of who he was,” she told The Associated Press. “He poured out his heart to me, and a lot of men don’t put that kind of emotion in writing. I’m just overwhelmed by everything, trying to absorb everything.”

Then this happened:

Almost everyone in the crowd in the Dayton Intermediate School gym broke down when the VFW commander called roll for members who served in World War II.

Each old soldier shouted “Here sir.” Then he called for Pvt. John F. Eddington. There was silence. He called for Eddington again. A member replied that Private Eddington was killed in action.

Then the shots of a 21-gun salute rang out outside the gym, and taps was played in his memory.

Weep.

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15 Comments »

Comment by WandaSue
2013-09-26 09:58:30

How do I not cry after reading that? God bless them all …

Comment by livius drusus
2013-09-26 18:23:54

Right? I was tearing up all over my keyboard as I wrote it.

 
 
Comment by Davistele
2013-09-26 11:10:55

*sniff*

Comment by livius drusus
2013-09-26 18:24:08

Tissue?

 
 
Comment by Android
2013-09-26 13:08:46

That last pic really says it all.

Comment by livius drusus
2013-09-26 18:24:41

It really does.

 
 
Comment by Liam
2013-09-26 14:43:45

Amazing! I have to admit, I teared up a little. Thanks.

Comment by livius drusus
2013-09-26 18:25:04

You and me both, brother.

 
 
Comment by cf
2013-09-26 18:15:38

Great post

Comment by livius drusus
2013-09-26 18:25:12

:thanks:

 
 
Comment by fbrown
2013-09-26 19:30:14

Did they ever find the connection to the people that had all the letters and items of Eddington?

 
Comment by Hels
2013-09-26 22:37:37

Fascinated by the emotion inside the box and the apparently lost history, Donna Gregory was very wise to take it back to her own home and to research the soldier. But as you note, it seemed to take forever off. Military records are censored or scrambled, personal details are lost, families change their names. It must have seemed hopeless.

So what a great story! I read “Fromelles” where they had an entire, professional team trying to trace ancestors on behalf of their fallen grandfathers… it was very very difficult.

So thank you.
Hels
http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/australians-at-western-front-fromelles.html

 
Comment by LeAnn Knifer Atkin
2013-09-26 23:14:50

You will never know how close to home this hit me. You see we lost my Dad’s only sibling, George Lewis Knifer, when he was hit on the beaches of Saipan. My cousin never got to meet her Dad either. Except all she has is his diary, purple heart and the telegram they sent him telling him he had a new baby daughter and what her name was. If only a letter….
It destroyed 2 families that day. Her’s and my Dad’s!

 
Comment by Kelli Crackel
2013-09-27 17:46:49

fbrown, I have searched the internet, but according to what I was able to find, no it’s still a mystery as to why and how the people came to have Eddington’s letters and personal items. Maybe it was just God, fate, karma, etc…and maybe it doesn’t really matter, but I too would like to know the connection. I’m a medieval historian by profession and woefully know entirely too little about this era of history, but I intend to keep researching because I would love to know more.

 
Comment by Donna Gregory
2014-04-29 00:12:55

still trying to answer the many questions from many sites about my journey to find PFC Eddington’s daughter….No we will not know why the items were in my ex’s grandparents home…they are both deceased and I no longer are in contact with that family….nor does it matter to me or to the family…My journey is complete! I am very blessed to have the one that find these precious items and feel very honored by all the kindness showed to me along the way! –thank you all, and just remember… never give up on something you want!! :thanks:

 
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