PRATT — Garey West, 83, was born on the Jennings family farm in Macksville, Kansas, in 1940. Now retired after a 30-year career with U.S. Postal Service, which took him to California, Kentucky and Montana, he has come back to Kansas, settling in Pratt this year with daughter Kelli O'Connor.
As one of the last living children of Evelyn Jennings and Clyde West, (he was the oldest of six children and had five younger sisters), he embraces the task of consolidating family treasures and relics. He recently came across a box filled with love letters.
"I knew that this box existed, but I had never actually seen it before," West said. "There are hundreds of letters in here written from my mother Evelyn to my father Clyde during the time he was drafted during WWII."
The stack of letters more than 10 inches high begins with dates in 1944, affixed with 3-cent stamps, a detail the former postal employee finds very interesting.
"There are some great stamps here," West said. "All worth collecting, there is airmail sent for 6 cents and then several kinds of 3-cent stamps. I also noticed that Macksville had no zip code at that time. Zip codes for rural mail didn't come into use until some time later."
While West finds the outside of the war letters interesting, the inside contents are special as well.
"I admit I haven't read all of them yet," he said. "But what I've started with so far are just an inside look into what was going on in the family during that time. There is a lot about the kids, me and my sisters. We were very young at the time, I was the oldest and only 4 when my dad shipped out from San Francisco in the Navy."
West said his father was drafted in 1944 and sent to the Philippines just as the war was ending. What he has learned from the letters was that his father spent a lot of his two-year term of service with the Navy working on cleanup. There are not many details of what they were actually cleaning up mentioned in the letters.
"It was a tough time for my parents," he said. "My mom lived on the farm with her parents and us kids while dad was gone overseas. When he came back, it was a difficult adjustment, and by 1950, we had moved to Wichita to a little two-bedroom home. My dad got a job at Beech Aircraft and then Boeing."
Along with the old letters from the WWII era, West has found a picture of his father's Naval Academy graduation from a base in the Great Lakes area. He also found a flag belonging to his father that has 48 stars on it.
"I inherited most everything when family members started passing away," he said. "I've got my granddad's wooden farm tools from the 1800s and boxes and boxes of items that were important to someone. These letters though, they provide an interesting look into what was going on in their personal lives at the time."
West said there wasn't anyone else in the family with an interest in the items he has inherited, so he might consider donating the war letters to an organization he had heard about, the Veterans History Project (loc.gov/vets). But for now, he wants to take some time reading through them and learning more about what his family was like during the war years of 1944-1945.
"I've got a lot of reading material here," he said. "This could take me awhile."