Mother’s Day: Letter WWI soldier wrote to mom in 1919 returned to his granddaughter

BEAVERTON, Ore. — A heartfelt Mother’s Day letter written by a young American soldier in 1919 stationed in France has been reunited with his descendants after more than a century.

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Carl Howe wrote home to his mother in Seattle on May 10, 1919, from Nantes, France, expressing his wish to be home with her, KPTV reported. He was waiting to be shipped home after his tour of duty in Europe during World War I.

“How I would like to step in and surprise you tomorrow!” he wrote to Laura Howe. “Not an hour of the day goes by but what I think of you, and thoughts of you, and the much good advice you have always given me has always been a bright star for me to follow. And I shall always have those little visions and nothing in the world can dim the bright guiding light that it is to me.”

The letter from Chester Carl Howe to his mother was found by a researcher at MyHeritage, according to the television station. The employee spotted the letter in an eBay auction for $150, USA Today reported.

Roi Mandel, the director of research at MyHeritage, knew that the letter was a treasure that needed to be reunited with Howe’s family, and not as a relic to be sold at auction.

“We read the letter and it was just beautiful and it was obvious for us that we needed to bring this back home and return it to the rightful owner,” Mandel told USA Today from his home outside Tel Aviv, Israel. “It should be in good hands, it shouldn’t be sold on eBay.”

MyHeritage bought the letter and then began the task of tracking down Howe’s relatives.

According to his World War I registration card dated June 2, 1917, Howe was born on April 15, 1892, in McCoy, Oregon.

He was the son of George and Laura Catherine Gardner Howe, census records showed. At the time of his enlistment into the military Carl Howe was a mining engineer in Nevada. According to the June 7, 1911, edition of The Oregon Daily Journal, Howe received a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University).

He was married to Marie Levan on Oct. 28, 1919, in Portland, according to online Oregon marriage records.

Their daughter, Constance, was born on April 13, 1922, in Tonopah, Nevada.

Constance would not get to know her father very well, since Carl Howe died on Aug. 16, 1928, in Los Angeles, when she was 6.

She was Carl’s only daughter and her mother would remarry. George Burnside adopted Constance as his daughter; Laura died in 1978.

After researchers combed records, they found Constance’s obituary, which listed her children. Constance Nielson died on Feb. 23, 2017, at the age of 94, and one of her children was Jan Bellis-Squires of Beaverton, Oregon.

Researchers contacted Bellis-Squires, and she received the letter late last month, USA Today reported. The timing could not be better, as the letter arrived before Mother’s Day.

In the letter to his mother, Howe confessed that he would normally not share such personal sentiments in a letter.

“However, in a Mother’s Day letter I think such thoughts should be expressed in words,” he wrote.

After reading the letter, Bellis-Squires called it an emotional experience, KPTV reported.

“This is just a treasure for me to be able to see the handwriting and read the words that my grandfather, who I never knew, wrote to his mother on Mother’s Day,” Bellis-Squires said in a video recording of her reading the letter. “By all accounts, he was a brilliant, kind man, and I dearly wish I could have known him.”

It was a triumph for Mandel and his team at MyHeritage, telling USA Today that the letter “is a piece of history that has now been put back in its place.”

“The moment we found this very personal letter, of a soldier writing to his mother on Mother’s Day, from the battlefield -- hoping to return home soon -- we felt that we had to do everything to return it to his descendants,” Mandel told the newspaper. “It is the kind of treasure that may not have material value, but it has sentimental and mostly historical value.

“It will be passed on to future generations.”

Information from online genealogy records and newspaper archives were also used in compiling this report.