Wesley Roland Woodbury
WRW Letter 1
WRW Letter 2
WRW Letter 3
WRW Letter 4
WRW Letter 5
WRW Letter 6
WRW Letter 7
WRW Letter 8
WRW Letter 9
WRW Letter 10
Brenda Woodbury

This page and the letters that are appended to it concern my uncle Woody, Wesley Roland Woodbury, and his death in Korea. A more complete account of Wesley's history can be told some day, but the pages that follow, beginning with WRW Letter 1, tell of his brief life as a soldier. I've provided a transcription of each letter along with scans of the originals. Without the transcription one might give up on trying to read the handwriting, but seeing the original letters conveys so much more than the mere words. How do you describe an envelope with rubber-stamped imprints saying "VERIFIED DECEASED" and "RETURN TO SENDER"? (WRW Letter 4 and WRW Letter 5) The letters say it all, and I don't presume to explain or embellish over-much. There is nothing left at the end of the last pages but the hollow, ringing emptiness that remains when a soldier doesn't come home alive.

My father, Victor Walter Woodbury, was born in 1927. His younger brother, Wesley, was born in 1930. They spent much of their childhood living at 40 Baldwin Street in Livermore Falls, Maine, and shuttling to their grandmother Goldie Hines's home in Fairbanks and their great-grandparents' place, the Sweet camp on Porter Lake in New Vineyard. Besides his younger brother, Wesley, Victor had an older brother, Donald, and two older sisters, Dorothy and Virginia. Their mother, Clarice Hines Woodbury had divorced their father, Everett Hugh Woodbury, (called Hugh), around 1936.

When I was a kid, there were stories told about my Uncle Woody, even though he had been killed in Korea during the war there and his memory was fresh for several years afterward. Just as it wasn't OK to talk about my grandfather, Hugh, it was apparently comforting for the adults in my world to talk about Woody.

I heard the stories about him up until I was, say, ten years old, and then not much after that. (My parents were having more kids, until the sixth one appeared in 1964 - Hey, Laura! The world was changing and along with it our worldly cares. So over time, he was not forgotten, but there was less and less said about him.)

Among the stories I heard was one about him thinking he was going to get into amateur boxing and challenge Rocky Marciano, who was just getting started in his career after WWII, when Woody was in his late teens. Rocky lived in the Boston area and was making his boxing start there, an area which Woody was familiar with. Apparently Woody never went anywhere in amateur boxing, though, so there was nothing more to the story.

The other stories centered around his running away from home when he was coming into his early teens. I knew he had been sent to Good Will-Hinckley School for Boys, but why, I don't know for certain. It appears from other letters I hold that he also was held in another "reform" school in Portland when he was about 17. The only objective enlightenment I have now on the subject has come from the following five newspaper clippings.

My father's and Wesley's sister, Virginia, recalled that Victor and Wesley would sneak out at night and steal cars and drive them around until they ran out of gas. Dad was the older of the two, but it was Wesley who was always in trouble for the things they did together. This may help account for his term at Hinckley. Dad was already hearing-impaired as a boy, and that may have bought him some sympathy with the authorities; I don't know.

Since he had married Dorothy Rutledge of Concord, Vermont, Wesley enlisted in the Army in Vermont. His funeral was held there, which explains the preparations being made in WRW Letter 9, and his grave is near the top of the cemetery on Route 2 outside Concord. My father told me Woody was blown up by a mine, but I don't know whether ours or the enemy's.

There are 15 pieces to this correspondence, some many pages long, others just brief. (Ten are published right now, the rest will be added soon.) My grandmother, Clarice Woodbury, had hoarded hundreds and hundreds of letters, postcards, clippings, newspapers, legal documents, certificates, and related paraphernalia. When she died in 1969, apparently that stuff all found its way into my father's hands, and now mine. My parents added their own family papers to the mix - and a mix it was when I began to explore it.

I found these letters, as I had found so many other things, among boxes of papers that my mother had left with me at one time or another. Unlike some other things, though, I had these in my possession before my father died. I brought them to a family reunion in New Sharon in 1996, thinking I might show them to Dad or to my cousin, Danny, but I came away without having done so. There was too much else going on, and it's just as well that I didn't bring them out then. If 40 people had all handled them, the lot would likely not have stayed together or even stayed in my hands. It almost certainly would not have appeared in published form.

Dad died two years after that reunion. At the time, I had considered photographing them and sharing them around the family. But my own immersion in worldly cares interfered with that. Wesley's daughter and my first cousin, Brenda, was living I knew not where at the time. After seeing her when she was about 18, I hadn't laid eyes on her or been in contact with her in over 25 years when that reunion came around. I knew she had married a doctor in California, at one point, and they had bought a house that had previously belonged to José Feliciano. I suspected I could find her mother, Dottie, who is present in this correspondence.

In 1999 I started this web site and it took years before I contrived to make good quality scans of all the letters. Some day... Some day I would transcribe them and publish them on the Internet. Then Brenda died on St. Patrick's Day 2007, apparently of a heart attack. This shook me; she was two years younger than I. So I made the search and I found her mother, Dottie, Wesley's widow, who had later re-married and raised two more girls as well, Cindy and Gail Shippee. I had had sporadic encounters with Dottie and her younger daughters over the years, but decades had passed between times.

By phone, I learned that Dottie was once again a widow, and I told her about the letters you see here. She said, quietly, "I would love to have them." I bundled them up and sent them to her. Too late to reach Brenda, whom I should have passed them on to, I hoped it wouldn't be too late for Brenda's son, Michael Merriam, whom I have never met, but would be pleased to hear from.

Woody was Michael's grandfather, who may be of interest to him some day, just as my grandparents through several generations have intrigued me.

I'm told that I knew Woody, and that I saw him regularly until I was two years old and he shipped out to Korea. I believe it, although I can't recall an image of him or a setting when we were together. But my earliest memories include the knowledge of him. And all the while I was growing up I had a flop-eared stuffed brown dog that he had given me and which I have always treasured. While I didn't remember him in any distinct way, I seldom went a day, from my earliest memory until I was grown and left home, without seeing that dog. My oldest daughter now has it and knows its provenance.

So, like the aging memory of steam whistles across the valley on cold winter nights, I cling to what I can of Woody, and I offer up, at last, what I would have shared, if I had known how, nearly 15 years ago. Here, starting with the first letter, is the haunting exchange of letters that tell the story of Woody's last days.