In an old block building. On the second floor. In a far corner. In a pile of boxes. I picked up one letter. Here’s the story about that letter.
While my husband was busy studying horses at the Keeneland Yearling sale in Lexington KY, I snuck off to do some antique and flea market shopping. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for specifically, just that I wanted some interesting props for some photos I was planning on taking. A handwritten letter would make an interesting subject to photograph. So my search began.
The Peddlers Antique Mall is a large 2 story building bursting with booths from various vendors. The first floor took me a long time to cover. For that reason, I contemplated not going to the second floor. The mall was enormous, what else could there be that I hadn’t already seen? Yet, I ventured to the second floor.
Back in the corner, was a the booth that was the most disorganized of any I’d seen there. Boxes stacked on top of one another as if they landed where they were dropped. Old store receipts, operating manuals, pictures, and lots of envelopes. Most envelopes had no contents, just an empty shell with decades old handwritten addresses and faded stamps. Some written in English, some in German. Some had stamps with pictures of Hitler on them. I just wanted one handwritten letter. There it was. One envelope with the red and blue printed ribbon adorning the edges. Through the envelope peaked beautiful handwriting. I decided not to read it right then. The mystery of the unknown was exciting, so I decided to just buy it and read it later. Just this one. I didn’t purchase any other letters that day. I put the acquisitions of my treasure hunt on the counter for the cashier to add up. For one dollar the letter was mine.
I returned to the horse sale and found my husband. He asked what I bought and I pulled out the letter. I began to read it and that’s when this story unfolded. The letter was dated Jan 21, 1945, written buy an American soldier stationed in England. It was to his “Ma” back home in Lexington, KY. He told of his days in England. He and his friends had picked up “the gals” and taken a bus to see a show. The theatre was so cold “he’d like to froze”. They had the girls home by 10pm because everything was closing up. “Imagine taking a gal home at 10 o’clock on Saturday nite. I always thought that was the time to start out.”
They found a pretty decent place to eat that night. On the menu was steak (which turned out to be hamburger), mashed potatoes and Brussel sprouts. Add soup, coffee, light bread and dessert for $1.20 each. “And a cup of coffee here is 2/3 milk and 1/3 of something besides coffee.”
He assured his mother he was being a good boy and had gotten up in time for church that morning. Because it was so cold, he hadn’t stirred far from the Red Cross building.
He wrapped it up saying he was going to get caught up on his other mail. “News from Joe Stalins boys still sounds good. I only hope they roll right on into the heart of Germany. Love, David”.
How did such a sweet letter home to mom end up abandoned in a box buried under piles of paper? If this were my grandfather or father, I’d want to keep this treasure put away for safe keeping. The perfectly intact letter and envelope was clearly address to Mrs. John W. McCord of Silvacola Farm, Lexington, Kentucky R#5, from David C. McCord. How many McCordscould be in Lexington? Within 5 mins I found a few McCords on Facebook and chose a lady who’s last name was hyphenated, Mary Diane McCord-Hanna from Lexington. It seemed like a good start, so I messaged her. Two days later, after I had returned home to West Virginia, I received a reply. She confirmed that David was her father’s older brother. He had been injured in the war but was later sent back out in battle. The second time out, he gave all. David was killed by a grenade 2 weeks prior to the end of the war.
Now this letter was no longer a piece of paper I stumbled across in a box, in a corner, in a big building full of knick knacks. It was a story of a soldier who sacrificed his life for his country. It was a story of a mother who would not get another letter from her son, just a box of his belongings delivered from a far off place where he had gone and not returned.
Although I paid $1 for this letter, it did not belong to me. It became my mission to get this letter back in the hands of the true owner, Mr. Bill McCord, Mary Diane’s father. Mary Diane and I corresponded over the next 2 months on FaceBook. I informed her that my husband and I would be returning to Lexington for the November Sale at Keeneland. If possible, I would like to meet her father and place this letter in his hands. Graciously, Mary Diane extended an invitation to me to have lunch with her at her home on Silvacola Farm, the address to where the letter was addressed in 1945. From there, we would drive to the retirement home where her father currently resided.
November 8, 2018 I drove through the entrance adorned by stone pillars engraved with “Silvacola Farm Since 1880”. As I drove up the driveway, I thought of a young man who left his home over 70 years ago for the last time. How his family said their goodbyes and prayed he would return home safely. And how his bedroom sat empty and quiet when he didn’t.
Mary Diane and her beautiful dog Harry Winston greeted me as I pulled in. For the next 2 hours, I toured the historic home and was educated on the history of the farm. The original home burned down when Mary Diane’s father was a senior in high school. She recalled his recollection of seeing the fire trucks going past his school and how he felt sorry for the unfortunate people awaiting their arrival. A short time later, he would learn it was his family who had lost their home. The McCords rebuilt following the fire.
After an amazing lunch and even better conversation, I followed Mary Diane to visit her father, who lives about 15 minutes away from the home place. As we entered the apartment, I saw a white haired gentleman sitting in his recliner, patiently awaiting his visitor. Although Mr. McCord is 94 years old, when I looked into his eyes, I could see a young man, the younger brother, who’s heart was still mourning the loss of his older brother even after 73 years. After a brief introduction, I handed him a small gift bag with the letter inside. Pulling out the letter, his eyes welled up at the sight of his brother’s handwriting. Mary Diane read the letter to him and he sat silently listening to every word, laughing occasionally at his brother’s humor that was familiar to him.
I learned that both McCord brothers, who were born 4 years apart, were serving our country at the same time. While David was in Germany, Bill was serving in the Philippines. Mr. McCord explained how David had been injured and was recovering in London, from where he sent the letter in January 1945. After recovering, he was sent back out to battle and was killed in action near the Ruhr River in Germany on March 3, 1945, just short of the end of the war in May 1945. After David’s death, a replacement soldier was called in to take David’s place. This soldier asked his commanding officer “who am I replacing”. The commander assured this young man he did not know the soldier who had died. After several request for the name of the soldier he was replacing, he was eventually told he was replacing Lt. David McCord. As fate would have it, the replacement soldier David Mahaines and David McCord were longtime friends. Fortunately, David Mahaines would return home after the war.
Hanging on the wall behind me was a shadow box adorned with and American flag, a picture of David, and a multitude of awards, including a purple heart and medal of honor. In Mr. McCord’s bedroom hangs David’s senior portrait.
During our visit, Mary Diane’s sister, Caroline arrived and I was able to capture a picture of the remaining McCord family. After exchanging hugs and thank you’s with Mary Diane and Caroline, Mr. McCord stood and put his arms around me. We held on just a little longer, a little tighter, and with the most heartfelt thank you, he said goodbye.
To the McCord Brothers: Sergeant First Class Jon William McCord, Jr, thank you for your dedication and service to our country. Lt. David Carter McCord, we honor you and thank you for your sacrifice.