250 WWII Letters Found in Hatbox Returned to Soldier's Family

Courtesy Teri Winnett

It was 15 years in the making, but as of Saturday afternoon, 250 handwritten letters from World War II finally made their way home to the family of the two soldiers, also brothers, who wrote them.

"Oh, it was just the perfect way to spend our Memorial Day weekend," said Teri Winnett, 58, of Kingsland, Texas.

Winnett and her brother, Mike Harvill, are the children of Eural Harvill, one of the soldiers who penned the sentimental letters as correspondence with his family from 1940 to 1946.

"My grandparents received the letters," Winnett told GoodMorningAmerica.com. "My dad was one of the ones that wrote the letters. He had written to his parents while stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky."

Eural and Robert Harvill were apparently writing home to Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Harvill, Box 7, Drumright, Okla., from different training camps across the United States where they were stationed. And although the letters have successfully been reunited with their long-lost relatives as of now, tracking down the soldiers' family was no easy feat.

We first told you about the mysterious hatbox full of antique letters on May 9, after Pamela Gilliland, 53, discovered them when she purchased the box for $1 at an estate sale in Drumright, Okla.

"It's just crazy because I bought those in a box of junk," Gilliland, of Mannford, Okla., said. "I wanted the hatbox in an estate auction. When I brought them home 15 years ago, I had seen there was letters in it. I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty cool.' I knew they were from WWII. I read one and I thought, 'This is really personal.'"

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Too personal for Gilliland to read on her own, she enlisted the help of Doug Eaton, a history buff and author of a self-published book called, " Letters from Walter: A Personal Look at World War II Through the Eyes of a Young Solider," to assist her in tracking down the family who had obviously misplaced the letters years earlier.

Eaton made significant progress finding the Harvills, thanks to the help of local Drumright, Okla., residents who became fascinated with the hidden history lesson the letters contained.

"A third cousin once-removed was here in town," Eaton explained. "His last name is Harvill, and he contacted me. His wife got on Ancestry.com and started researching and located the two kids. We talked to them and emailed back and forth. We decided Memorial Day weekend would be a great time to do this. The timing was perfect."

Drumright's Assistant Mayor, Danny Cooper, even arranged to have City Hall be open on Saturday for the special reunion to take place.

"All I could do was cry," Gilliland said. "Teri's husband even asked me, 'Why didn't you just throw them in the trash?' Because then I'd be throwing away a veteran. I couldn't do that. Everyone talks about how Freedom's free, but it's not. These men fought for us. I couldn't throw them in the trash."

And Winnett is sure glad she didn't.

"There is absolutely no way I could say 'Thank you' enough, or do anything enough to show my appreciation," Winnett said. "My husband and I were trying to think what we could do. But we just couldn't' come up with anything. The only thing we could think to do was attend church Sunday morning, and we just made a sizeable contribution to their disaster effort to say thank you. Oklahoma is going through so much right now, I'm happy to bring them some good news for a change."

Winnett didn't even know the letters existed until Gilliland and Eaton reached out to her, but now that they're in her care, she's approaching each and every one of them with great caution to delicately restore them, scan them and share them with the rest of their family.

"I'm putting them all in chronological order," she said. "I want to read them the way they were written. There are some from my uncle as well. I'm scanning them all, and then I want to send them all out to all the family.

"To think that Pamela [Gilliland] kept them so long is just crazy," said Winnett. "How do you ever thank someone for preserving your own family's history?"

But for Gilliland, the answer was simple.

"It's just dear to my heart. I love the veterans," she said. "We owe them everything. We have to honor them in any way we can."