#BookReview: Leora’s Letters

Click on the poster image above to purchase Leora’s Letters from Amazon.

I am very pleased to be featuring my review of Leora’s Letters, written by Joy Neal Kidney. I have been following Joy’s family history blog, Joy Neal Kidney – Family Family and local stories and history, favorite books, for a few years now, and I was thrilled to see the history of her mother’s family during World War II compiled in book form. I immediately purchased it, read it, and reviewed it! Joy was gracious enough to provide me with some personal photographs with captions to accompany my review.

My Review:

Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family in World War II opens with a description of a family ritual: going to the local cemetery on Memorial Day to place flowers on the graves of three brothers killed in World War II. Many families across the United States engage in this ritual to honor the sacrifices of their loved ones, gaining some small measure of comfort in being with them at their final resting places–but in the case of the Wilson family, two of the three graves are empty.

Joy Neal Kidney, the author of Leora’s Letters, is the niece of those three brothers; Leora was her grandmother. Joy took on what was truly a labor of love to find out what exactly happened to her uncles and how these events impacted the family at home on the Iowa farm. The stories of her two uncles who survived the war are also included, as well as the perspectives of their two sisters, their father, and, of course, their mother Leora. This was a family.

Joy tells the story of her family’s experience in World War II with a skillful integration of carefully curated primary sources (the letters Leora saved and family photographs), historical research to provide clarity and context for the events, and creative nonfiction to bring the family members to life.

The structure of the book is equally impressive: it follows the Iowa farming seasons. In addition to providing unity and cohesion for the book as a whole, the details of the work on the farm each season of the year also provide a good history of the role of the family farm in World War II.
As a reader, I was greatly moved by the story of the Wilson family, a testament to the time, care, and love that went into the development of the book. In writing Leora’s Letters, Joy Neal Kidney has ensured that the memories of her family members who sacrificed so much for their country are honored and preserved. Equally important, the book serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t take these sacrifices or the human costs of war for granted, as World War II and the Greatest Generation slowly slip into the mists of history. Delbert, Donald, Danny, Dale, and Junior: we won’t forget you.
1989: Yes, that long ago I was transcribing all the letters–in our son’s bedroom. At that point I wasn’t thinking about a book. I just wanted to share the letters with all four surviving siblings. They fill eight 2″ notebooks. Then I began researching. Those documents fill a four-drawer filing cabinet.
Joy at Work in Her Writing Nook: Same wall as 1989, but son grew up and it’s now the “computer room.” Some of the books used in researching. Row of black notebooks are the transcribed letters.
Taping an interview for KFMG-FM Radio “Culture Buzz” program in Des Moines with John Busbee. He even has my website pulled up on the screen at the right.

Click on the following link to Joy’s blog for her radio interviews:

Leora’s Letters is the story behind the five Wilson brothers on the new Dallas County Freedom Rock which was dedicated at Minburn, Iowa, last fall (2019). Joy was one of the speakers. The poster that heads this post explains the connection between Leora’s Letters and the Freedom Rock.
Delbert Leaving: All the Wilson brothers but Donald were still home. (Donald had just experienced the Battle of the Coral Sea on the USS Yorktown). Parents Clabe and Leora, Junior (just graduating high school that month), Delbert (reenlisting in the Navy), Dale, Danny, and their sister Darlene (Wilson) Scar.
My grandmother as I best remember her, Leora Wilson. You can see the Capri bell dangling from her watch. It was sent home from Italy with Danny Wilson’s effects after he was declared Missing in Action.

75 thoughts on “#BookReview: Leora’s Letters

  1. I greatly admire this kind of work and dedication. The value it has for descendants is incalculable. Although coming from a broken home, I’ve encountered several genealogies complied by distant cousins and been able to piece together several of my own from cemetery websites, genealogy websites, and shared stories with my siblings. The surprising stories of pioneers, heroes, and yes scoundrels, add meaning to our personal history.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you, Liz, for this compelling review, which I recognize as my favorite anonymous review on Amazon.

    I “met” Liz through her book, Telling Sonny, and her genealogy. Another interesting aspect is that I’m 75 and this is my very first book. Working on Leora’s Depression Era stories right now, and have her early years mapped out.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You’re welcome, Joy! I had no idea my review had posted anonymously. I thought I’d posted it as myself. I’ve rectified that.

      I’ve enjoyed reading about Leora’s Depression Era stories on your blog. I’m very to hear that they will become a book!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This book sounds amazing. I love stories like this and admire people like Loy who take on such a project. Thanks for the great review. The subject of soldiers declared missing in action is touched upon in my latest book, Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. People are always fascinating to write about, and we of course should, in particular, always remember those who laid down their lives for us. All credit to the patience of the writer and in keeping the young men’s memories fresh. I lived through World War 11 in the UK, mostly as an evacuee and my father and uncle served in the Royal Air Force. Fortunately my Dad made it through the war, whereas my dear uncle, aged 22, didn’t So many young men gave their lives, and such books are a valuable testament to their bravery.. Thank you Liz and Joy Neal Kidney. x

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks for this great story of a great story. I wish I had more letters and other papers from my father’s time in the Navy during World War II. Alas, his records were lost in the 1970 fire at the records storage facility in Overland, Missouri.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Letters can be so poignant. I have a letter my uncle who died wrote to one of his brothers (my uncle) just before he went missing. He said (he was a navigator in the Air Force) “Exercising today, we went into a steep dive and I wondered what it would be like if we hadn’t stopped and went beneath the waves…” There are no words. x

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You always review the most fascinating books, Liz, and my wish list happily piles up because of you. You’ve done it again; I’m fascinated by WWI I history, and for several years I lived in Iowa farm country, at a time when the family farm was still a thing. You’ve piqued my interest on several levels, and I’m off to add another one to the queue. Much gratitude for the heads-up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Robbie. I’m glad that there has been a change in the US in how veterans of the Vietnam War are viewed. At the time the conflict was happening, servicemen were reviled by many who were against the war. Again, I’m glad that has changed.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. So glad to read your review, Liz. I enjoyed the photographs you included. How wonderful that Lenora’s letters and family photographs were preserved so that this moving family story could be told.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Beautiful review of this heart-rending book. I love the photos that the author shared with you to share with us. Thank you! My dad was a paratrooper in WWII and never wanted to talk about his time in France/Italy. But as a child, I always woke up hearing his nightmares. He saw Saving Private Ryan with me and cried through most of it. So many stories, so important for us to know them.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You did a truly lovely job with this review, Liz. You made me care about this family that is so far removed from mine. Yet, it reminded me of how wat hurts families. 4 members of my own close family serve in the US military and though they serve with distinction, commitment and skill, I wish there were no need for war. Excellent review.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Cynthia! Leora’s Letters is a very special book about a loving family who touched my heart. My dad served in WWII, and the damage he saw in the aftermath prompted him to become an Episcopal priest. The fact that we’re still fighting wars today is truly disheartening.

      Liked by 1 person

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