Derrick Heckman found a box of papers in the back of a shed.
“I found this box,” Heckman said. “I saw these letters with this unique border on it and … I started looking at it and thought ‘Holy moly, this stuff’s from World War II’.”
He had found a treasure trove of love letters, historical documents, and family treasures. He’s read 20 – 30 of the letters and they all begin with “My dearest sweetheart”.
In looking through the papers he found that the writer was Philip B. Ray, who served in World War II with the 83rd Infantry, one of the fiercest fighting units in the war. Heckman has learned that they ranked 9th in casualties because they fought in so many battles, including the Battle of the Bulge.
Ray trained in England and Wales and then landed in Normandy two weeks after the D-Day invasion. Included with the letters are documents from his graduation and articles about the end of the war. There is also evidence that Ray was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic action in service.
Heckman even found “a letter from Robert C. Macon, the Major General US Army Commanding.” Heckman said, while looking at some of the letters:
“The subject was VE Day which is the victory in Europe. It was to all ranks in the 83rd infantry division. The war against Germany had ended in complete victory for the United States and its allies so it’s a declaration that the war was over.”
It’s the letters to Ray’s wife that Heckman found the most moving. “It’s really amazing because as you read through these, it’s tough to read. It’s elongated tight cursive,” he said. “People don’t write like that anymore, they don’t talk like that anymore so it’s kind of a neat way to jump back into history and kind of read how things were and what people were like back in those days.”
After learning so much about Ray, Heckman knew he needed to get in touch with his relatives to give them the papers. He knew how much it would mean to them. “I can only imagine if somebody found letters or things of this statue about my grandpa,” Heckman said.
Heckman posted on Facebook in an attempt to get some information on Ray’s family. He said:
“I tagged you guys and Facebook in general made a public post of what I found just literally out of the top half of my box and posted some of these pictures and information that we already found, just to see how quickly something could potentially go viral to help somebody out.”
Someone on Facebook did some digging and located a possible nephew of Ray. Heckman had read Ray’s obituary and it did not mention any children. He wasn’t sure whether Ray had any other family. He has since found out the Ray’s nephew is 65 years old and living in Texas. He has Ray’s Bronze Star and was very excited to get the documents from Heckman.
Ray had lived in Springfield, Illinois for a while before moving to Wichita, Kansas. “I haven’t found out why he moved to Wichita but what I do know is that he worked with the Foley trucking company,” Heckman said as he showed a birthday card signed “The Foley’s.”
Heckman has spoken with a woman who was friends with Ray. He intends to speak with her before shipping everything off to Texas.