Editor’s note: This is something that I put together a few years back about my wife’s Grandmother and Grandfather to tell their story to our family down the line. I tried to put together a time-line from letters and telegrams that we have. Helen, Lawrence, J.R. and Wayne have all long since passed, but I think the story shows what they went through and how terrible communications were back then. When you pay attention to dates, you can see that they received a letter stating that he might have died after they received a letter from him saying that he was waiting on a boat to come home!
I am 70 years old and a former Marine who served in Vietnam, but this story is not about me.
During the dark days of World War II, there were many heroes in many different countries and areas which were unknown to most until they became a household name that everyone recognized.
But during that time, there were many heroes at home that were unrecognized. Two of those heroes were Lawrence Yant Sr. and his wife Helen of Beaverdam.
Their son Lawrence Yant Jr., (known only as J.R. to most) went into the Army on March 21,1944. After training, he was on a ship in December 1944 heading to an unknown destination. On Dec. 19 he received his first mail from home. Dec. 21 they received a letter saying he was somewhere in France and doing fine. Please send some smoking tobacco for pipe.
No news until Jan. 31, 1945. They received a telegram from Western Union stating that J.R. has been missing in action since Jan 8 in France. If other details are received, you will be notified.
Feb. 2, 1945, a letter from the Adjutant General confirming that J.R. was missing in action since Jan. 8, 1945. It stated that his personal effects would be kept for a time and then dispersed as designated by the soldier.
February 1945, a letter written to J.R. from Helen is returned with Missing 1-26-45 written on the envelope.
Feb. 23, 1945, a letter from Dr. W.C. Lacock expressing his sorrow at the news about J.R. and that he would try to make contact with his company if he ever got in that area. (Dr. Lacock was a major in the medical corps serving at Omaha Beach. He later returned to family practice in Beaverdam and was close friends with the family.)
Lawrence and Helen were writing letters daily to anyone that they thought might help them get more information on what had happened to their son.
Feb. 24, 1945, a letter from Dick Mikesell expressing his sorrow at the news about J.R. He said he had just gotten the Christmas card they had sent that week.
March 26, 1945, a letter from Verona Nissan from Ridgeville Corners. Stated that her son had run into some soldiers that knew J.R. They said that he had gone with his company to try to contact another company and did not come back. They said that they were quite sure that he had been taken prisoner.
March 31, 1945, a letter from M.L. Wajtowiz (a soldier that J.R. trained with) stated that he was sorry to hear about J.R., but he was in the Philippines and couldn’t help much with information. He did give the address of someone who was with J.R. when they shipped out. He also said that J.R. knew most of the 15 soldiers who went to the Philippines with him, but there weren’t many of them left.
April 6, 1945, a letter from Chaplain M.F. McPhelin explained: They did not have a well defined line of battle. Small elements of our troops were constantly being cut off without communication to their headquarters. As the fight progressed, many small units were overrun by larger enemy forces. “B” Company was cut off and after four days of isolation, a patrol managed to filter through the enemy and report back that “B” Co. was still intact. That was the last word of “B” Co. at that time. Since then at least four men have written their families that they were Prisoners of War. All you can do at this time is wait for word.
April 15, 1945, A letter from Dr. Lacock saying that he had tried to get more information but had no luck. He said the going is tough but starting to look better.
April 26th, 1945, a letter from Chaplain Eugene Bell stated that on Jan 4, 1945 a patrol from “B” Co. started back to battalion command post. After two days of filtering through the enemy positions, they arrived. On Jan. 8, they tried to go back to no avail as the enemy had fully occupied the area where Co. “B” had been.
May 4, 1945, a letter from the Adjutant General: Still no word on J.R. being reported as a POW.
May 22, 1945, Western Union telegram notifying them that J.R. had been liberated!
May 22 , 1945, a letter from J.R. saying that he is in France waiting on a boat to come home.
June 6, 1945, a letter from the Red Cross saying that they were responding to a letter dated Feb. 22, which reached them after a long delay. “I regret to inform you that your son has not been reported as a prisoner of war. This discouraging fact may not mean that he is dead, but if you haven’t heard anything in two or three months, then I am afraid that you must recognize the fact that he has joined the large band of men who died in defense of their country.”
June 11, 1945 a letter from J.R. saying he is still in France. Supposed to leave tomorrow for U.S. He was home in around two weeks.
From the time that they received the telegram in January saying that J.R. was Missing in Action until May 22, they had no official word of what had happened to J.R. They had only rumors and hope to go on. J.R. had written 11 letters while a prisoner, but they never received them. The anguish they went through is unimaginable. You can only imagine the pain they felt when their other son, Wayne, was sent to Korea a few years later.
J.R. returned home and went to work at Ohio Power in 1948 and worked there until he retired. He never talked about being a POW. His oldest daughter never knew until her teacher told her in her sophomore year in high school.