Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Mystery of PFC Breslen's World War II Letter

After my parents died a few years ago, my brother and I found among their possessions a diary that revealed a family secret we didn’t know. Our paternal grandfather had a wife and child before he married our grandmother, and it appears he left the first wife under less than honorable circumstances. Likewise, a World War II letter I found on eBay a while back held a surprising secret for a family in Vermont. Let’s start at the start.

I periodically search eBay for postcards and letters written by soldiers during WWII. If I see an item where I can identify and locate descendants of the soldier, I alert them to it in case they want it. Over the course of this year I’ve connected several families with letters and postcards, along with one heirloom Bible carried by a pilot who was killed in the war.

A few weeks ago I spotted a letter that was written by Marine PFC George Breslen in 1943. The letter was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Allen C. Greer in Indianapolis, parents of one of PFC Breslen’s Marine buddies. The salutation was, “Dear Mom and Pop Greer,” and the letter went on to assure them that their son Johnny was doing fine in the Marines.

My research showed that PFC Breslen survived the war, married, and had children. His wife, Josephine, died in 1974, and he died in 1979 at age 56.  With a little more research I located his son, Jeff Breslen, who lives in Vermont, and sent him an email telling him where to find the letter on eBay. He replied with a very cordial note thanking me for the information. He said the letter was especially important to him because he was only 11 when his dad died and he knew very little about his father’s WWII service.

Jeff and I both wondered why PFC Breslen was writing to the Greers. He contacted the eBay seller and learned that the seller had bought a group of letters from an estate sale for the Greers, and had even more letters from PFC Breslen to Mr. and Mrs. Greer. Jeff bought all the letters, and they contained a surprise. As Jeff tells it:

“The most perplexing thing in the letters was when my father references ‘his new wife June!’  My older sisters recall that my father was engaged during the war to a June from Australia but they were, according to them, never married.  In fact they remember occasionally when my mother was angry with my father making comments like “You should have married June!”  He references June as his wife several times in the letters.  We’re all curious if in fact he was married to her and that little fact wasn’t made known to anyone else.  I guess maybe one day we can ask him!!”

As for why PFC Breslen was writing to the Greers, the letters were inconclusive. Jeff explained:

“(The letters) were very interesting.  Unfortunately they didn’t shed any light on why he was writing to the Greers.  It sounded like their son also wrote to them so I think my father also did to emphasize that the Greer’s son was doing well.  I sensed that maybe their son asked my father to do it to ease some fears of the war and to confirm he was safe. The letters didn’t have a lot of details about the war or what they were doing.  Quite a few comments about how important it was to be serving and that they were hopeful it would end soon.  There were two letters from late 1943 and two from 1944 – April and June.  It appears that based on what he talks about there must have been more letters but for some reason they weren’t in the box that the seller bought at the estate sale.

Jeff said his brief searches for a “June Breslen” in Australia have not turned up anything. Maybe I’ll join the search . . .

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