Kim Henderson: The rest of a Pearl Harbor story

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, December 9th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last week Susan Olasky and Kim Henderson brought you the story of John Allen Price. He was a young Army soldier killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Saturday marked 78 years since what FDR called the “date which will live in infamy.”

REICHARD: Kim Henderson originally wrote about the John Price story for WORLD and her local newspaper in 2017. But the story didn’t end there. Here’s the rest of it.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: Writers get ideas for stories in a variety of ways. A few years ago a source contacted me about a stack of soldier’s letters her family had uncovered. I thought, “eh, maybe” and filed it away.    

Little did I know what a story it was.

The stack of yellowed, brittle correspondence held unique resurrection power, the kind that could bring to life one of those we memorialize on patriotic holidays. A sort of accidental autobiography.

And while the letters taught important history lessons, they were a hard read, especially those that referenced the future. In one, John Allen Price told his brother that when he got out of the army, they could move to Kansas City and seek work. 

He was making plans, but I had seen another stack in the trunk. Condolence telegrams. I knew the end of the story.

Or maybe I didn’t.

That’s because Price’s influence didn’t end when he became one of the first casualties of World War II. Neither did the interesting letters. I got this one not long after a local paper published my piece online. 

“Dear Kim, my sister read your story with emotional interest. She and I are nieces of John Allen Price. We have always wondered what happened to Uncle John Allen’s letters… ”

It seems a relative in California had spotted the headline. So I made a call to the “Little Leonora” in Price’s letters, who was now 84 and eager to share what she remembered.

Throughout our conversation she spoke fondly of her “6-2, black-eyed, black-haired, very handsome” uncle, occasionally pausing to cry, or to laugh. “Little Leonora” described a man who made time to take her to the zoo the week before he left for boot camp. One whose absence was the forever-felt kind in the home where Price’s mother raised her.

The idea of touching those hand-written letters compelled “Little Leonora” to board a plane and fly 1,600 miles. She eventually landed at my dining room table. Over strawberry cake and coffee, she brought Price into the present.   

“I remember the morning he left,” she said. “I was 5. We were all living downtown where my grandmother ran a boarding house. I crawled out of her bed and we hugged him there in the doorway.”

She also remembered the December day in 1941 when the Red Cross called. 

She said: “Pop went and got the telegram. They tried to shield me from what was going on, but I remember my grandmother went to bed. She was devastated.”   

Another relative told me of a John Allen memorial table in the family home. She said, “We children were only allowed to look at the items. It was a sacred spot.”

So how did a trunk of equally treasured letters wind up forgotten in a smokehouse for 50 years? That remains a mystery, but the family’s desire to honor Price’s memory never waned. A great-great nephew born in 1984 —John Allen Pannel—provides living proof.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.

(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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