People often find things in antique shops, thrift stores, or even their own basements that turn out to be worth a lot of money. Sometimes, however, interesting finds have more sentimental than monetary value, as when two women found WW2 love letters in 2019. After reading through them, they became so drawn into the story of the lovers, they began a quest to find out what happened to the couple after the letters ended.
When they shared their find on Facebook while trying to contact the writers' descendants, their post went viral. Hundreds of people liked and shared the post, and some left encouraging comments about the sweet story. Many hoped the story of the WW2 love letters found would have a happy ending. According to The Washington Post and several other news outlets that picked up the story, it did.
The story began in 2019 when friends Megan Grant and Lindsy Wolke returned home to Clarksville, TN, from a weekend vacation in Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains and passed Sevierville's Smoky Mountain Knife Works. Although they weren't interested in stopping at the "world's largest knife showplace," their male companions wanted to take a look.
Grant and Wolke weren't particularly interested in knives, but went in anyway. They soon changed their mind about the shop when they discovered a "relic room" on the bottom floor where they found collections of old coins, fossils, and letters.
Wolke And Grant Discovered Something Priceless
Article ImageWolke and Grant began reading several handwritten letters they found in a box labeled "WW2 Letters" and discovered a series of 21 love letters written by two people from 1944 to 1946. The letters, featuring correspondence between 19-year-old Ilaine Murray and 18-year-old Elias Maxwell, were filled with their feelings for one another. Maxwell was in the Navy stationed aboard the USS Rankin in Japan and Hawaii while his sweetheart Murray waited for him back home in Blackwood, NJ.
"The notes were so beautifully written; reading them just made your heart melt," Wolke said.
Each letter was several pages long, and some even contained drawings, such as a large "I Love You" made up of small X's. "To my Sweetheart in the Navy," Murray wrote in one letter. "Hi ya honey. How are you? I received two letters today from you hon and you can just imagine how good I feel."
In one of Maxwell's letters, he wrote, "The time is now 18:50 pm. I've been exactly 30 minutes writing this letter so far... this is your Navy Sweetheart saying: So long & God Bless. Yours Forever. PS. Please think of me while I am away."
Wolke and Grant couldn't stop reading the letters.
"Once you read the first one you just had to keep going," Wolke said. "[T]hey were the cutest, most interesting people."
A shop employee became interested and also began reading. "We were sitting there for what felt like forever," Grant said. "But we couldn't read them fast enough." While Wolke compared going over the letters to reading a book, Grant said reading the letters was "was way better than any book I've ever read."
The women decided to buy the entire collection of letters for $4 each so they could finish reading them. "It was almost like reading a novel and we wanted to find out what happened at the end," Wolke said.
They continued reading the letters in their car, knowing that, unlike fiction, the letters were connected to the lives of two real people. "I almost felt bad reading them because they are very personal," Wolke said. "Like that's almost like a text message from someone."
After she and Grant finished reading the letters, however, they found themselves with a problem: They didn't know the ending to the story.
Wolke And Grant Vowed To Find The Writers
Article Image"We needed to find who these people were, what happens to them," Grant said. Grant and Wolke turned to an ancestry website where they were able to determine Maxwell and Murray did end up getting married in 1948 after the conflict was over and built a life for themselves in Clementon, NJ.
They both worked at a stocking mill before Maxwell found work as a machinist, and Murray obtained a job at a sweater mill. They had four children together and supposedly lived a happy life as a family. Unfortunately, any hope Grant and Wolke had for meeting the subjects of their research ended when they discovered Murray and Maxwell had both perished.
Although they couldn't meet the letter writers in person, Grant and Wolke believed they might still be able to meet their children and possibly return the collection of love letters to the family. According to Wolke, the letters were "priceless. It's a huge chunk of history... and you know it belongs to the family." They turned to Facebook and tracked down two of the couple's children. Wolke and Grant sent them private messages, but they went unanswered.
The women then took their story to the Facebook group Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared. Luckily, a friend of the family saw the post and shared it with Barbara Murray, one of the couple's daughters. She thought Grant and Wolke's personal Facebook message was a joke, but when she saw the post about letters from her parents, she knew it was real.
Barbara said she was "literally shaking" after seeing her mother's handwriting.
Grant And Wolke Finally Connected With The Family
After spending almost two hours talking to one another on the phone, Barbara said she felt an "instant bond" with the women. Although she couldn't explain how her parents' letters ended up in Tennessee, they left the family's possession in 2010 after Murray entered a nursing home and a bank sold her possessions while liquidating the estate.
Barbara knew her parents had written letters during the conflict because she had one in her possession, but the family said they didn't know others existed. "I was just so happy these letters were wanted," Wolke said.
Article ImageWolke and Grant were determined to return the letters to the family. "I think that this is something that will make them happy and, you know, give them a little piece of their mom and dad," Wolke said. Although they lived several states away from the family, sending the letters by mail wasn't an option.
"We had such an attachment to these letters," Wolke said. "I didn't trust the mail service to take them up there and keep them safe." They decided to drive the 800 miles to New Jersey to hand deliver the letters instead.
They Completed Their Quest By Hand Delivering The Letters To The Family
The women set out in Grant's Toyota Camry on October 4, about one month after their initial discovery. Two days later, they met all four of Murray and Maxwell's children at a New Jersey restaurant and shared the letters as well as laughs, hugs, and tears.
The family gave the women a tour of the town; showed them the house where Maxwell grew up and the land once owned by Murray's family; and told them stories about the couple meeting as young kids who walked to school together.
The women were even invited into the family's home, which one daughter had been able to buy back from the bank. The children shared stories about their parents, such as Maxwell tap dancing on the back porch on top of a board. "He tap danced at all our weddings," Barbara remembered. "He was a bit of a character."
"Standing on that land and knowing Elias and Ilaine walked there, together, we felt a connection, like we were there with them," Wolke said.
For the family, the letters and the lengths the women went through to return them touched their hearts. "It's just nice to see that there are really good people in the world," recalled Jean Pelouze, another of the couple's daughters.
For the couple's son Tom, the letters revealed previously unknown aspects of his parents. "It's quite a contrast from what Mom wrote to my dad and my dad wrote to Mom," he recalled. "They were obviously two different personalities."
The family believes Maxwell and Murray would be thrilled at the outcome. "I think my mother would probably blush some," Barbara said. "My dad would be like, 'Wow! This is great!' He might even do a little tap dance."