During a ceremony on September 21 in Dayton, Nevada, Peggy Eddington-Smith, 69, was presented with a letter written to her by her father, Army Pfc. John F. Eddington, in 1944, when she was three weeks old. Soon after penning the letter–and before he had a chance to meet his new daughter–Eddington, of Leadwood, Missouri, was killed in action in Italy on June 27, 1944, at age 25.
Eddington-Smith, an only child, was raised in St. Louis by her mother, Helen, who was so devastated by her husband’s death that she rarely spoke about him to her daughter and never wed again. Eddington-Smith told The Associated Press: “I would ask my mother why she didn’t get remarried and her only comment was that she found the perfect man and will never again find the perfect man.” Helen Eddington passed away in 1997.
The chain of events that prompted the delivery of John Eddington’s long-lost letter to his daughter began a dozen years ago, when a woman in St. Louis, Donna Gregory, was helping to clean out the Arnold, Missouri, home of her now ex-husband’s grandparents and came across a box of World War II memorabilia. Among the items in the box were the letter Eddington wrote to his young daughter, his Purple Heart medal (awarded to those who are wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military), his high school diploma and draft card, and a message from the War Department telling his family he had died. Moved by what she had discovered, Gregory, now 46 and an accountant, began a years-long quest to locate Eddington’s relatives so she could return the box. With the help of the Internet, she finally tracked down Eddington-Smith, a retired Nevada state worker currently employed by Wal-Mart, in the summer of 2013. The daughter of the World War II soldier was stunned to learn about the collection of items belonging to the father she never knew. The two women still are uncertain how Eddington was linked to the people in whose home his mementos turned up.
In September, Gregory made a road trip from St. Louis to Nevada to hand deliver the box she had found to Eddington-Smith. She was escorted on her cross-country journey by members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle organization, which attends memorial services for members of the U.S. military and first responders. At the ceremony in Dayton, a World War II veteran presented Eddington-Smith with her father’s Purple Heart, and Gregory read from John Eddington’s letter to the assembled crowd. In the letter, the soldier told his daughter how much loved her and said she should always treat her mother right.
Eddington-Smith’s father is buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. He was among the more than 400,000 Americans who died in World War II. Of the some 16 million U.S. service members in the war, less than 2 million are alive today. The Veterans Administration estimates that by 2036, there will be no surviving World War II vets.