By Ashley Bernardi
It was some 66 years ago that a young American woman wrote the following in a somber birthday card to her fiancé, a soldier fighting overseas in World War II.
My prayer tonight will be that God watch over you and keep you safe and that next year you’ll be home …. … My heart is filled with loneliness and my eyes are so filled with tears that soon I’ll be wetting this card…
… I love you hon—always.
The card was tucked away in a house in Belgium—along with other forgotten letters and pictures that spoke of love, friendship, family and plans for a future—their fate sealed in the handmade wooden box forgotten in an attic.
This may sound like a fictional wartime love story, but in the case of Army Private First Class John Alfred D’Amore and his then fiancée Rose Archie, it was anything but. To tell his story, one must rewind to 1944, near the end of World War II.
D’Amore was 21 and assigned to Headquarters Company, 82nd Airborne Division, when he was sent to fight in World War II. At the time there were no barracks for soldiers to live in, and like other servicemen, he was sent to live with a local family in Nandrin, Belgium. While living in the house, D’Amore kept a souvenir box of letters from Rose and pictures of friends and fellow soldiers with hopes to one day bring the box home with him when he returned from the war.
But fate’s plan differed from D’Amore’s. He wound up in the hospital with a broken ankle and never again returned to the house in Belgium.
Following the war and a safe return to the States, John D’Amore and Rose Archie were married June 29, 1946, in Niagara Falls, New York. They have lived a long and blissful life, having had two children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
The D’Amore’s already have their happy ending, but a recent discovery began a new chapter in this real-life love story. In early June 2011, a Belgian woman named Anne-Marie Radelet was cleaning out her deceased father-in-law’s attic when she came across an old wooden box with a name and location on its cover. Full of letters and photos, Radelet knew she had found someone’s lost memories.
Unsure of what to do with her discovery, she handed off the box to an employee of the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. Eventually it wound up in the hands of Alan Amelinckx, superintendent of the cemetery for American soldiers buried overseas. The box had a name and address from Niagara Falls, New York.
“I looked at several of the letters looking for information and discovered that they were love letters between an American GI and his girlfriend back in the U.S.,” he said.
Amelinckx immediately began trying to locate the owner of the box. He searched the Internet for the name on the box’s cover with no luck. Next, he called the city clerk in Niagara Falls, New York. With the records provided—and a few more phone calls—he finally reached D’Amore’s son, John David D’Amore, and explained that he had his father’s wooden box left behind from World War II.
John David couldn’t believe what he heard.
“The more Alan and I talked the more excited I became,” he said. “He was profoundly grateful.”
But what Amelinckx heard next was even more surprising—both D’Amore and his wife, Rose, were still alive and living in Florida near their son.
“I certainly never expected for him and his wife to still be alive,” Amelinckx said.
The next step was to figure out how to get the box to Florida as soon as possible.
“It was important for me to get this box back to Mr. D’Amore because I felt that it needed to be back with his family and that I needed to do my best to get it back to them,” Amelinckx said.
It would no doubt be a costly trip and Amelinckx was not able to cover the postage with government funds. Then he remembered a chance meeting the summer before. He had given Gerald Leary and his family a tour of the cemetery.
“He gave me his business card and told me to contact him if he could ever assist me with anything,” Amelinckx said.
Leary just so happened to be FedEx’s Regional President for Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and Africa.
Amelinckx contacted Leary and explained the story of the lost box. That same day, a FedEx courier picked it up.
“He told me he would take care of everything for us,” Amelinckx said.
“It was the golden package in our system,” Leary said. “Everybody along the way within FedEx was raising hands wanting to be involved in this.”
After 66 years, the box was finally going home. D’Amore, his wife, and other family members stood outside John David’s home the day of the scheduled delivery. All were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the FedEx truck that would bring back the memories left behind when D’Amore’s unit left Belgium.
“Two veterans got out of the FedEx truck and gently carried the box into the house,” John David said. “We all settled into the kitchen, about 15 of us, and I uncrated the box.”
John David emptied the contents onto the kitchen table—several 82nd Airborne patches and ribbons, photographs from the war displaying days long gone, Army friends and moments frozen in time. “One-by-one my father examined each of the pictures he had taken, and though his short-term memory suffers he recalled names, places, and situations from years ago that each picture depicted,” he said.
D’Amore never expected to see the box again, but he’s glad it finally showed up. “When I saw the items inside, it brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “I had forgotten all about the box until it showed up here.”
Rose D’Amore was equally as excited about the box’s return. “My mom, who suffers from some dementia, immediately recognized the card and the pictures she had sent my dad from the States,” John David said.
“Her immediate comment was, ‘I hope I didn’t say anything bad.’ ”
John David will make sure that the box won’t be forgotten in an attic for another half-century. “Whoever wants any part of it, they are welcome to it, for history, for me to pass down to the family,” he explained. “I think it’s important that everybody knows what has transpired. They need to understand what went on so this way we don’t let history repeat itself.”
When D’Amore looks at the pictures now, it opens up countless memories from his time at war.
“He seldom has spoken to me about the horrors of the war,” John David said. “Instead, he tells of the good times he had with people and those that he was able to help.”
For D’Amore, those good times include driving around entertainers Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope, and helping a pregnant woman get to the hospital to give birth.
But D’Amore remembers the hard times, too. “He vividly recalls the heat and flies in North Africa,” John David said, “the cold at the Battle of the Bulge, landing behind enemy lines in a glider, D-Day at Normandy—it was his 22nd birthday. He says they had fireworks just for him.”
Despite the horrors of war, it was clear love prevailed, and that might be the most significant take away from the return of John D’Amore’s treasured box. As if to add special emphasis to that point, the couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary just weeks after their long-lost love letters found their way home.
“The letters my parents have show that love and commitment from the beginning,” John David said. “I witnessed it throughout my life.”
John Alfred D’Amore reminisces over photos left in Belgium during World War II and recently returned. All photos courtesy of John David D’Amore.
Members of the FedEx team that delivered the box of letters to the D’Amores pose for a picture in the family’s kitchen.
-Ashley Bernardi is a Virginia-based freelance writer.
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