"This is just a miracle that I got this.”
Kerinda Kaye Chaudoin-Turner, on a collection of her grandparents' World War II letters - found in a Lampasas attic by a stranger
Letters written between a soldier and his wife in the midst of World War II finally were returned to their granddaughter on Monday, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Almost exactly a year had passed since the letters between Sgt. Donald Homer Bordner and his wife, Ora Dell Bordner, had been discovered in the attic of a Lampasas house.
On Monday, at the Lampasas Dispatch Record office, they were returned to the hands of Kerinda Kaye Chaudoin-Turner, the Bordners’ eldest granddaughter, after a reporter tracked the family lineage.
Justin Milam said he discovered the letters while cleaning the house in preparation for renovation.
“I bought the house at a property tax auction, and I found piles and piles of old letters laying around [in the attic],” he said. “I filled up a whole five-gallon bucket with them.”
Milam turned the letters over to his grandmother, Dorothy Hayner.
“My grandparents like antique stuff,” he said. “I thought they’d get a kick out of reading them… It was their whole lives mapped out across time through those letters.”
Hayner spent the next year reading and appreciating the letters.
“I read and read and cried and laughed,” she said. “Those letters told the story of their life – with him [Bordner] going away. It was just beautiful.”
The letters documented a part of the couple’s courtship, as well as their early years of marriage during Bordner’s time stationed in New York and deployed to England and France.
Bordner was born in Iowa in September 1918. After joining the U.S. Army, he initially was assigned to a tank destroyer unit. Later, he was a member of the 464th Ordnance Evacuation Company, serving as a cook. According to TankDestroyer.net, an independent military research site, the 464th Ordnance Evacuation Company was tasked with retrieving damaged and broken-down U.S. and German armored vehicles from the battlefield for repair and, in the case of German vehicles, bring them back for evaluation.
In August 1944, Donald and Ora Bordner welcomed a daughter, Donna Kaye Bordner – later Donna Stewart – into the world. Letters between Donald Bordner and his mother talked of Ora’s pregnancy and Donald’s eagerness for the birth of their child.
As the war went on, Donald Bordner suffered from an illness which was exacerbated by the 18- to 19-hour days the soldiers worked, records stated.
He wrote to his wife nearly daily, sometimes even to tell her of his discouragement. But, Bordner consistently opened his letters with “Hello, my darling,” and “Hello, my honey.”
Hayner isn’t a stranger to the tribulations of the 1940s. She remembers the later years of the war.
“I was born in 1938,” she said. “I clearly remember the value of thin paper. It brought back a lot of memories.”
Milam said he recognized the significance of the airmail letters because of his own experience as a professional private pilot.
The United States got “very involved” in the war in 1941, Hayner said.
“I was a boisterous child, and I knew I had to be very quiet when the news came on the radio,” she said. “I remember the rationing of sugar and chocolate.”
Hayner was born in Mineola – near Tyler – but the war took her family to Shreveport, Louisiana, where her father worked at a defense plant, she added.
Hayner served in the United States Army National Guard in her later years, so she knows the significance of the Bordners’ wartime letters.
“It was a delightful thing that the Lord made me a recipient of those letters,” she said, adding that if Milam hadn’t been the one to find them, they might have been discarded.
For Chaudoin-Turner, receiving the letters was made more significant by the fact that she never met her biological grandfather. He died of cancer on Dec. 8, 1946 at the Veteran’s Hospital in Temple shortly after returning from Europe. He was 28 years old.
Chaudoin-Turner added that her grandfather died when her mother was 2 years old.
Chaudoin-Turner said her family remained in the Lampasas area long after the time that Donald Bordner was stationed at Camp Hood in Coryell County.
“I’m very excited to go through all this [correspondence]. I just thank y’all for keeping it and not trashing it,” she said to Milam and Hayner.
Hayner told Chaudoin-Turner the letters reveal the true character of the Bordners and the love they shared.
“He [Donald Bordner] was so thoughtful, so considerate,” Hayner said. “What I read was a great amount of love – hard times, too – but real maturity. And, they were so young.”
Chaudoin-Turner said she would share the letters soon with her daughter and other family members.
Holding the box of letters – all that is left of what recorded her grandparents’ marriage – Chaudoin-Turner said, “this is just a miracle that I got this.”