PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- "...most wonderful news we got this noon about the surrender of Italy...haven't been able to write in several days. Been to Belgium, France..."
Gary Steele, who grew up in Portland, didn't know World War II letters from his father even existed. His mother may have saved the letters in boxes for decades until they were somehow lost.
Recently, a woman in La Center, Washington tracked him down and said she had dozens of letters from Delbert Steele.
Shawn Story's friends bought the boxes of letters at an auction a few weeks ago in Washington and she began searching to learn more about the World War II soldier.
"It became, 'Who is Delbert Steele?'" she told KOIN 6 News. "I need to find his family. These letters don't belong to me."
Interested in family history, she discovered an image on the Internet of his gravestone.
"So I looked and there was a message that said, "RIP (signed) Stephanie," she said. Story emailed Stephanie and then phone calls began.
Within a few days, she met Delbert's son, Gary, and delivered his father's letters to him in Sauvie Island.
"The most important thing that comes up is, what a Father's Day gift this was. Because this is what a Father's Day gift should be," he said.
Gary was only 21 when his dad died in 1979, and he hadn't talked with his dad about his life during the war.
"I think it was something hard for him to discuss because of what he did go through," Steele said.
One letter tells about soldiers who went into gas chambers right after their use during the Holocaust. "...fellows left their sterling silver rings on and they came out looking like they had been burned," the letter said.
There are other, more lighthearted notes in the letters, including Delbert's many letters to his love interests.
"He seemed to be kind of a lady killer," Story said.
For Gary Steele, it's been a fascinating journey and his father's words make it even more significant.
"Just the letters alone," he said. "No one does this anymore. It's all email or text. Instantaneous, immediate gratification."
Story hopes others might now be moved to start digging through letters like this and get them back with their families.
Where they belong.
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