Long Lost World War II Love Letter Finally Finds Its Way Home

The yellowed, wrinkled envelope was postmarked July 15, 1945, at the Gary Post Office with a 6-cent airmail stamp.

It's addressed to U.S. Army Pvt. Ben Doxtater, who was serving in Europe during World War II at that time. It's penned by his wife, Mildred, who wrote her husband from their Gary home.

It never reached him. It's still unopened.

Doxtater was shot in his leg during combat with the Germans, and hospitalized in Belgium. The letter, mailed to a military mailing center in New York City, arrived in Belgium after Doxtater was discharged. Or it got lost along the way. No one knows for sure.

"Dearest Ben, I love you," the letter starts. "I don't know if you'll get this letter because you may be on your way home."

Ben, a Wisconsin native, and Mildred, who was from Iowa, met in Gary before the war. Like thousands of others, they found their way to the Steel City for work. They also found love.

The airmail array of love letters kept their young flame burning while Doxtater served overseas for Uncle Sam. He served in Europe and Africa, often using his Native American heritage as a translating tool during military operations.

"Being an American Indian, he spoke many dialects but he suffered a lot of discrimination back then," said Doxtater's daughter, Joan Henson, of Winamac.

The letters were all they had during the war. No phone calls and, of course, no texts, emails or Facetime chats. Just handwritten missives, mailed out with a kiss and a prayer.

"I got your letter saying you were coming home," Mildred wrote. "I'm so happy, so very, very happy. I can hardly believe you're really coming home. I love you Ben."

Doxtater made it home just fine. Their love affair burned brightly. The couple had six children. Somewhere along the way, they forgot about that letter. And about that war.

"My father never talked about the war," Henson recalled. "It must have been too painful."

"Never ever. Not one word," added Doxtater's son, Ben Doxtater, of Hobart. "He just didn't say anything about his war days. And we didn't ask."

The siblings said this this while holding the unopened envelope containing that letter. It was found many years ago in a farmhouse in Belgium. No one thought much about it. No one also thought about tracking down the Doxtater family some 70 years later.

Not even Brad Redelman, who got his hands on the letter 10 years ago.

Redelman is sports coordinator at the Hobart YMCA but he enjoys selling military-related items on eBay, especially ones with ties to Gary. A decade ago, a man from Belgium contacted Redelman, telling him about a letter he found in a farmhouse there.

"He wanted to get it back here, back to Gary, Indiana," Redelman said. "I researched the address to Belgium, so I thought it was legit."

Redelman kept the letter in his home on a shelf, not exactly knowing what to do with it.

"Just another piece of lost Gary, finding its way home," he told me.

Until last month, when he posted a photo of the envelope on a Facebook page called Northwest Indiana Memories.

"I thought that someone might find it neat to see," Redelman said.

Lynn Smith, who works at Sun Liquors in Hobart, noticed the unusual last name, Doxtater, on the envelope. She remembered a regular customer of hers who shares the same last name. In fact, he also shared the first name. Could they be related?

The next time that customer came into the store, she asked him about it. Sure enough, it was his father, Ben, who died in 1987, four years before his wife, Mildred.

"I couldn't believe it," said Ben Doxtater Jr., who's 62.

Lynn connected the dots and helped Redelman contact Doxtater and his older sister, Henson, who's 66.

"If it pans out, I would love for them to have the letter," Redelman said last month.

It panned out Saturday, when I finally met with the three of them at the Hobart Y.

Redelman brought the letter. The siblings brought memories. A kind soul brought over a box of tissues. It would soon be needed.

After Redelman explained how he acquired the envelope, Henson slowly opened it. Her brother leaned forward to hear her words.

"Oh my gosh," Henson whispered to herself while slowly opening the letter.

A couple minutes went by as she read the entire message, written on both sides of the heavily creased, slightly stained paper.

"Oh God," Ben Doxtater said, reaching for a tissue paper. "I've already got tears in my eyes."

"That's definitely momma's handwriting," Henson said. "She wrote to my father all the time."

The letter's handwriting appeared as if it was written in a hurry, penned with more passion than precision.

"I hope your knee is better," Mildred wrote to her wounded husband.

Henson stumbled on a couple of her mother's lines, causing her to blush a bit.

"Oh my, I don't think we need to say that out loud," she said with a chuckle.

The letter didn't contain anything monumental or life-changing. No confessions or rants or complaints. Just two young lovers missing each other from two worlds away.

"I don't think you'll get this letter but, if you do, remember I'm waiting for you. All my love and kisses. Always yours, Millie."

The young, wounded Army private never received the letter. His children did, though. It's something the young lovers could never dream of. Over the course of seven decades, that love letter transformed into a time capsule.

"It's just so nice to see my mom's handwriting again," Doxtater said, dabbing his eyes. "And to hear her words."

Henson added, "And to hear her feelings about our father back then, before any of us even came about."

Redelman could only smile.

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Army World War II