October 28, 2013, Portland Police Officer, Matt McDonald, delivered a telegram to John Griffin, the dean of students and a former history teacher. In the telegram, it states that 2nd Lieutenant Royce Griffin had been killed in the war.
This would have been tragic news, if the telegram had been dated for today. The telegram came 68 years late. The original date on the telegram was May 9, 1945.
While it is uncertain if the Griffin family had received the telegram when it was sent, the family did know of the Lieutenant’s death. There was an announcement in the Columbian on May 22, 1945. The family received a flag and the nation’s gratitude.
The Griffin family were proud of his service during WWII. Royce was a fighter pilot in the Philippines. He flew a P-47 aircraft. There aren’t many records or details about what caused his death, the only thing that survived was the telegram that was sent to his mother, Laura Griffin.
The telegram states: “The Secretary of War desires to express his deep regret that your son 2/Lt. Griffin Royce E. died in Luzon 25 Apr 45. Confirming letter follows.”
Royce was only six weeks away from his 34th birthday.
It is unknown how the telegram and the creamer pitcher that it was found in, made it into the garbage. A garbage collector found the tarnished pitcher and took it home to show his girlfriend at the time. She took off the lid and found the telegram.
Although she thought that the a relative of the Griffin’s may want it, she never got around to looking for them. Three years ago, she found the metal pitcher again and gave it to her mother–who happens to be officer McDonald’s mother-in-law. She, too, set the pitcher aside. When she came she came across the pitcher again, she gave it to McDonald.
“My job has been finding people who didn’t want to be found,” McDonald told the Columbian.
McDonald researched for the family on his own time by using resources that were available to the public. With these tools, he was able to learn some information about the pilot. A website provided the information of Griffin’s grave marker. He learned that he flew for the Army Air Force’s 69th Fighter Squadron, which was based in the Philippines when Griffin died.
There was a stamp on the bottom of the pitcher that indicated it was made for the medical division of the Army.
How does this information connect John Griffin to Royce Griffin? Baseball is the link connecting the two.
Drew Griffin, John’s son, played baseball for the Air Force Academy for several years.
“In middle school, I did a school project on my family’s military history and I was able to learn a lot about Royce from my late Grandpa Byrl (his brother),” Drew Griffin said in an email.
“When I played baseball at the Academy, the form we filled out for our bios asked if we had any family members who had served in the Air Force. While he had served in the Army Air Corps, before the Air Force existed, I felt that it was important to include” 2nd Lt. Griffin.
When McDonald was researching, he found the reference and it set him in the direction to find Drew Griffin. McDonald figured that Drew was of the Facebook era, so he followed up on that lead.
“When Matt called, I was pretty surprised,” the former Fort Vancouver Trapper said. “My grandpa had always done a good job of keeping parts of our family history together, so I was shocked that the telegram had left our family’s possession. None of us realized that the document was out there.
“It’s also pretty incredible that it hadn’t been destroyed through all of these years. I knew my dad would be shocked by the news,” Drew Griffin said.
Along the telegram, the metal creamer was probably a piece of the pilot’s history. Royce had been severely burned in an aircraft accident. Subsequently, he was hospitalized for a while. It is speculated that he may have taken the creamer with him when he returned to duty.
And in the classroom that day, John Griffin reminded the students: “History is in a book, but it’s not about a book.”