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Arizona man returns lost letters to living descendant of WWII hero in Humboldt, Kansas

Letters Reunite

HUMBOLDT, Kan. - An antique find in Arizona leads to the discovery of a forgotten World War II hero and fills in the blanks of a Kansas family tree...

"It's with the greatest joy, I can bring this home to you."

With tears, Edward Hennessy hands off a small wooden box he picked up in a shop in Chandler, Arizona, not knowing the letters found inside would change his life.

"...Originally, I passed on the box and I didn't buy it, but I got home that night and I told my wife, 'Somehow, I have to have that box. I don't know why, but those letters would be incredibly special to somebody.'"

The contents of the box dated back to 1913, but it was the correspondence between a mother, Edna Klingensmith, and her son, Virgil Henry, that kept Hennessy digging.
 
"Dated May 6, 1943: 'Dear Mother, I received your welcome letter today and was glad to hear from you."

Private First Class Henry served in the 17th Airborne Division of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, surviving the Battle of the Bulge.

"'Flying Coffins' is what they called the gliders, 10 troopers in a glider without parachutes, no motor, the line is cut and you drop, and the only thing you can do is kinda steer and slow it down a little bit with flaps to hit the ground," explained Hennesy.

Henry died on his birthday, during Operation Varsity, the largest air drop in military history. Marty Cavanah, a representative of the 17th Airborne sets the scene:

"They're immediately surrounded by the enemy, but there's so many of them coming in, that they're able to accomplish their objectives."

Cavanah's father served in the same regiment as Henry.

"On behalf of the 17th Airborne Scions' organization, which are the descendants of the soldiers that fought in WWII in the 17th Airborne, we want to give you a challenge coin," said Cavanah, presenting Hennesy with the honor.

Through Ancestry.com, Hennessy managed to track down Henry's living ancestor, Ronda Rivers-Stone, who was totally unaware of Henry and the role he played in WWII.

"I just couldn't believe what he had found in Arizona had something to do with my family in Kansas," said Rivers-Stone, Henry's second cousin, once removed.

Henry was buried in the Netherlands, but his mother brought him home so that they could rest together at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Humboldt, Kansas...a fitting place for the friends to meet face-to-face, for the first time.

"Being here and seeing his headstone, I'm very proud. I'm very proud to be an ancestor of a man who served his country," expressed Rivers-Stone.

"We don't often get an opportunity to do something meaningful, that lasts beyond us. It was just critically important. It was the right thing to do...It's more reward than you can ever ask for," said Hennessy.

Rivers-Stone gifted Hennessy the box, thanking him for restoring this missing branch of her family tree.

She's made copies of the letters with the intention of providing the originals to a museum to preserve Henry's legacy.

Hennessey plans to continue delving into Henry's past, to honor the WWII hero.
 

 

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