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World War II Letters to Chincoteague

By Ennis Barbery, Executive Director

The Museum’s World War II exhibit is re-opening this spring and expanding beyond the Museum’s walls as part of an island-wide Heritage Weekend (March 27-29, 2015). One heritage weekend event that I am already looking forward to is a reading of World War II love letters from Floyd (Gilly) W. Clark to his wife Pansy Clark, both of Chincoteague. The Chincoteague Island Theatre Company (CITC) is collaborating with the Museum and Chincoteague Island Arts Organization (CIAO) to offer these readings as part of a larger event happening at the Island Theatre on the evening of March 28, 2015.

The process of reading and cataloging these letters has made me reflect on what it must have been like for a young couple from Chincoteague separated by the War. Pansy Clark was back on the Island, praying for her husband Floyd, who signs his letters with the nickname “Gilly.” Gilly thanks Pansy in each letter for praying for him. This underscores a point that came up many times in oral history interviews with Chincoteaguers about WWII: the islanders were very faithful.

“It makes me feel proud of you and your family to have someone to pray for me. Pansy I think of you every minute of the day and night and pray to God that this war will soon be over so I can come back home to my family for you’re the only one in the world for me.” -- Gilly to Pansy, dated March 17, 1944

The wait between sending and receiving letters must have been excruciating. On several occasions, Gilly reassures Pansy that he is receiving her letters, but he also writes that he has just received letters dated two weeks before. One line that stood out to me was this one from a March 19, 1944 letter:

“Honey, I read your letters over and over for you know how much I love to hear from you.”

These letters show not only the couple’s love and worries but also their attempts to plan for after the War. “What will life be like on Chincoteague when this is all over?” they must have wondered. Thinking ahead, Gilly wrote this on April 19, 1944:

“Honey I have sent a money order to you today, the amount is $100 and as soon as you receive it please let me know and if you need it for something use it. If not, please put a little in the bank for when I come home because it may be a little trouble to get a job. Honey, there’s not much news in Italy, except of military affairs so this letter will leave me well and hope that it will find you the same."

    

Denise Bowden loaned these letters to the Museum for the World War II exhibit, and she will be a part of Heritage Weekend by serving as a panelist on Saturday March 28th at the Museum. She will speak about how these letters and photos were passed down through her family and what they mean to her.

One thing that Denise noticed in the letters is that Gilly often signs with the phrase, “with oceans of love and a kiss on every wave.” Denise also explained that Pansy was deaf and did not speak. She pointed out that Gilly sent Pansy a photo in which he makes the sign for “I love you.”

These details continue to remind me that World War II was personal for Chincoteaguers. It touched everyone on the Island in different ways, and one of the most trying hardships must have been the separation that couples like Gilly and Pansy experienced.

At the Museum, we are so very grateful to Denise Bowden for sharing these family letters with us and with the larger Chincoteague community.

The updated World War II exhibit will be up for a limited time only this spring, from March 28 to April 26, 2015 on weekends.

For ticket information about the love letter readings organized by CITC and more information about other Heritage Weekend Events, please check the Museum’s website. Check back often for updates about specific event times and more. 

 
 
 

Note from a Museum Board Member

By Terre Mears, Museum of Chincoteague Island Board Member

Is it possible for a person to live in a place for forty years and then discover that they actually know very little about their community's history and attractions?  Unfortunately, and embarrassingly, it is!  How do I know?  I am that person!
 
Born and raised on "The Mainland," I became a resident of Chincoteague in 1975, when my husband and I married.  I like to say that even though I wasn't born here, I got here as fast as I could!
 
Forty years later, my husband and I have raised two wonderful sons and welcomed into our family a loving daughter-in-law and an amazing grandson.  I retired from a career as a teacher at Chincoteague Elementary School in 2010 and found that I had some extra time to pursue other interests.
 
In 2014, I was asked to serve as a volunteer at The Museum of Chincoteague Island.  Little did I realize that joining the museum family would lead to the epiphany of my ignorance concerning the wonders of the place I have called home since 1975!
 
From the very beginning, I have thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at the museum.  Everyone affiliated with the museum has been wonderful.  The people who visit come from such a variety of places and backgrounds, yet are all similar in their love for our islands.  Not only have I benefited from some fascinating conversations, I have also been embarrassed to realize that some who live far from Chincoteague actually know more about my home than I do!
 
Oh, sure -- I know about Misty and Stormy. I even saw the movie when I was younger.  My family and I have attended the Pony Swim numerous times, always on our boat, never on land.  I even know a little about seafood, mostly how to cook and eat it!

 
But who is this James Alone person?  What is that huge lens in the front lobby of the museum?  What did Chincoteague have to do with World War II?  What is a SeaBee?  How does that eel catcher basket thing work?  Deep Hole?  Chicken City?  Where are these places and how in the world did they get those names?
 
For the answers to these and many more questions, please join us at the Museum of Chincoteague Island.  I've learned so much about this wonderful place.  But perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that I have so much more to learn!
 
But the good news is, there is hope for me!  As a result of my volunteer experience, I have become one of the new members of the museum's board of directors.  I am very excited to join this group and lend my support.  As a retired elementary teacher, my passion is to expand the museum's field trip program.  What a wonderful opportunity for students and teachers!  I am excited to be involved in the planning and implementation of fun learning experiences.  Please stay tuned for more information in the near future.
 
So, join me at the Museum of Chincoteague Island.  We'll discover the identity of James Alone, "ooh" and "aah" over a beautiful World War II silk parachute creation, and learn where Deep Hole is and how it got its name.  We may even discover why "Will" Shakespeare wrote about Chincoteague!  See you this spring!
- Terre