A box of old magazines and newspapers retrieved from a Joplin trash dumpster held a fortuitous find for the family of a World War II airman and local historians.
Beneath a stack of women’s magazines dating from the 1880s to the 1920s were about 50 letters written by a Joplin man when he served in the Army Air Forces as World War II wound down. The serviceman, Robert DeVaney, wrote the letters to his parents, Galen and Zella DeVaney, who lived at 2504 Empire Ave.
DeVaney reported to Fort Leonard Wood in February 1945. He then was moved to Keesler Field in Mississippi and Amarillo Air Field in Texas. He was eventually assigned to Borinquen Field in Aquadilla, on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, according to the information in the letters. He was discharged in late 1946 and had an engineering career in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in Texas until he died in 1970.
It is not known where the letters had been since the DeVaneys had them, but they made their way back just this week to Robert DeVaney’s nephew, Ken Wilder of Joplin. Wilder said he will send them to DeVaney’s daughter, Allison DeVaney, in Austin, Texas.
The box, which had been found in a dumpster some time ago at an estate sale, was given to Joplin resident Kelly Hallacy, who has an interest in history. She turned the box over to Mary Anne Phillips and Paula Callihan of the Murphysburg Residential Historic District. They are known for their research in local history. They tracked down the family from names mentioned in the letters, searching out the descendants of the DeVaney sisters and brothers.
“I’m glad to get them back in family hands,” Hallacy said. “I know how I’d feel if (the letters) were my uncle’s letters.”
Phillips researched the 63rd Air Service Squadron in which DeVaney served at the Puerto Rico air base, a supply station for military planes. “It was a very integral air base because it was a jumping off spot to get to Europe,” she said.
Ken Wilder said that he was so young when his uncle was alive he did not remember DeVaney talking about his military experiences.
The servicemen listened to radios a lot for U.S. political news on the status of the war, DeVaney wrote in the letters. When he was in basic training he wondered if he would “go across the pond,” he wrote, a reference to the war theaters in Europe.
“The letters are so neat,” Phillips said. “One of my favorites is when he gets upset that his mom keeps talking about making banana pies. He’s so homesick, and all he wants now is a banana pie and for her to stop writing about making banana pie. Then he told her how to pack it in popcorn” to send him one.
“He couldn’t write anything about combat or anything,” Phillips said. “But he was very concerned about his sisters’ boyfriends,” who were serving in Europe.
Phillips gave Ken Wilder and his wife, Nancy, a photo of DeVaney. It was taken by Hal Wilder, Ken Wilder’s father, who was a noted Joplin photographer. There also was a photo of Robert DeVaney’s parents.
She also found a Joplin Globe story from August 1946 that reported DeVaney had been discharged from the service. Ken Wilder said he did remember that his uncle obtained his engineering degree from the University of Missouri after coming home from the service. He then moved to Tulsa, where he worked for the Lockheed Martin Corp., and later moved to Texas, where he worked for Texas Instruments.