A WWII Marine’s diary has found its way to his high school sweetheart 70 years after his death, according to a Monday report from ABC News.
Cpl. Thomas “Cotton” Jones, age 22, was head over heels for his Laura Mae Davis shortly after meeting the girl at Winslow High School in 1941.
“He was a basketball player and I was a cheerleader,” said Laura, who now goes by the name of Laura Mae Davis Burlingame.
(Burlingame married an Army Air Corps member in 1945. She now lives in Mooresville, Indiana.)
It wasn’t long before the two would become a couple, dating throughout high school and attending prom together. When Jones became a Marine, one of the first things he did was begin a diary he would call “my life history of my days in the US Marine Corps … And most of all my love for Laura Mae for whom my heart is completely filled.”
The first entry in the WWII Marine’s diary was made at Camp Elliott in San Diego, but that’s not where it would be found. On September 17, 1944, during the third day of the US assault on Peleliu, an island in the Pacific region of Palau, Jones was struck between the eyes by a sniper’s bullet.
The 22-year-old machine gunner was aware he may not be coming home, and he always wanted Laura to know what she meant to him. “So if you all get a chance please return it to her. I (am) writing this as my last life request.”
Jones was one of 1,794 American casualties at Peleliu, according to the museum’s website. The assault lasted for two and a half months in spite of projections from Maj. Gen. William Rupertus that it would last only a few days.
By the end, 7,302 Americans were wounded and 10,900 Japanese soldiers were killed.
And while Burlingame knew of the fate of her high school sweetheart, she did not know he had written so much about her until an April 24, 2013, walk through the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Burlingame arrived in New Orleans looking for a commemorative display, but she did not expect to find the WWII Marine’s diary. “I figured I’d see pictures of him and the fellows he’d served with and articles about where he served,” she said.
Instead she discovered a tribute to her, which included a four-by-seven-inch back cover almost completely covered by her photograph, signed “Love, Laurie.”
She also had the chance to read his last entry from the USS Maui on December 1, 1943. Jones had won $200 in a craps game, bringing his total to $320. Burlingame never saw any of the money, but what she did see in that last entry was enough to bring tears to her eyes.
“Laura Mae & I would really have a wonderful Xmas,” Jones wrote, hoping he would be able to wire her the money as a Christmas present.
The WWII Marine’s diary and other memorabilia came from Robert Hunt, Jones’ nephew, who donated to the museum in 2001. He had withheld the diary, concerned about causing problems in Burlingame’s marriage.
Burlingame said that it wouldn’t have, adding “My husband and Tommy were good friends.”
The museum made photocopies of the WWII Marine’s diary as a gift to Burlingame.
Eric Rivet, museum curator, said it was the first time in his 17-year tenure that someone found themselves mentioned in a museum artifact.
The diary is one of two touching WWII finds that have come to national attention in the last six months or so. The first occurred in November 2012 when Hurricane Sandy washed 70-year-old love letters ashore. A second occurred in February when the family of a fallen soldier received their loved one’s Purple Heart several decades after the fact.
The WWII Marine’s diary is another touching reminder of the Greatest Generation. Which family members or friends are you celebrating this Memorial Day?