An unexpected discovery uncovers long lost words from the battlefield

Street Stories

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Inside a crawl space at Mary Jo Larocco’s North Kingstown home is a piece of history she never expected to find.

Larocco said a recent home improvement project uncovered a more than 75-year-old pocketbook full of letters from Army-Airforce Pilot Lt. John Jack Bowen to his future in-laws, Walter and Lillian Allen.

“One letter is dated October 12, 1944,” Larocco explained prior to reading the letter. “‘I asked your charming daughter Nancy,’ which we know now is his fiancée, ‘to find out the process by which one goes in order to start a joint bank account in one of our local banks.'”

“‘Good night, good humor, many days of sunshine help us all out here to look up for brighter days,'” she continued. “‘The dark ones are passing by. Best wishes, Jack.'”

Bowen, a football star at Brown University, was shot down in the Pacific Ocean. He was declared dead in July 1945 and has a grave marker placed at the Rhode Island Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.

Larocco became determined to ensure the pocketbook was returned to Bowen’s family, and ultimately found Nancy Allen’s niece, Gina Hodgkin, on social media.

Hodgkin said it was a love story with a tragic ending. Nancy wore her engagement ring every day up until she died. Now it’s Hodgkin who has that ring.

“Reading his letters, how he said ‘I can’t wait to come home and marry you,’ and that was always in the back of my head,” Hodgkin said. “She never married. She never got over it.”

Larocco’s discovery had Hodgkin reminiscing of other letters she had previously read from Bowen.

“‘I am having one tough job of it out here trying to keep up with your letters and direct an allied campaign at the same time. I’ll master both if it takes all evening,'” she recalled from one letter.

Both women agree that Bowen’s words from the battlefield will resonate with them forever.

“This is war. Well kids, it’s time to get a letter off to the love of my life. So I’ll put a break to the pen for the time being and hope everything is fine and dandy and you enjoy a good number of laughs. Write when you can and have fun. My best wishes, Jack.  Kindest regards to all the family and friends,'” Larocco reads. “He was so sweet.”

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