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Bernstein Shirt Factory

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.