Decades-old love letters discovered at thrift shop |

Decades-old love letters discovered at thrift shop

He was her loving sailor, serving in the South-Pacific during World War II. She was his faithful wife, exchanging two, three, even four letters a day.

Then he came home and the letters were cached away for 60-odd years ” until recently.

This spring, the letters showed up in Nevada County, along with other items that were donated to the AnimalSave Thrift Store on East Main Street in Grass Valley. There, someone noticed the shoe box full of letters and felt they may have been included by mistake among other goods donated to the store. The letters might still have value to the descendants of the two lovers, Claude and Nadine Dawson.

We know a little bit about the couple. Claude was a Navy recruiter in the Fresno area in 1943. Then he was tapped to serve overseas himself, where he would stay until late 1945.

Nadine worked for the Social Security administration in San Francisco. Between the two, they exchanged hundreds of letters, though those of Nadine seem not to have survived. The letters were handwritten when Claude was on the move but became typed once he got to a duty station where typewriters were available.

The letters were largely mundane ” the movies he’d seen, when the food was good and when it was lousy. He talked of people he ran across from the states, included messages from himself to others, but apparently he didn’t get too close to the front. Most letters were simply marked “from the Philippines” or “from New Guinea.”

Claude griped about the heat, the food, made note of the “strange” dress and social customs of the natives, some of whom didn’t seem to be too far away from their head-hunting days (in New Guinea). He thanked Nadine for sending him towels ” which probably came in handy with the high humidity ” and other hard-to-find toiletries.

Claude was in his late 20s and Nadine into her 30s. Though they had their fifth wedding anniversary during this time, apparently they were childless, as Claude certainly would have mentioned them.

Both liked classical music, Claude often critiquing some rendering of a classical piece he had heard. And Claude must have been a bit on the stocky side ” several times mentioning breaking the 85-pound barrier and later the 80.

Claude never ended his letters with a simple “love.” It was always “Dearest Little Wife,” “Dearest Honeygirl,” “Sweet Little Girl,” or some derivative of the same.

Little war commentary

In the majority of letters from Claude to Nadine, there is an absence of military content. There is seldom mention of battles, troop movements or almost any military information beyond the general complaining about food, weather, and petty annoyances.

Each service maintained censors to read and delete any military information inadvertently divulged in letters home. It was felt that such letters with possible military information might be useful to the enemy should it fall into Japanese hands. The saying during the war years that “loose lips sink ships” was taken quite seriously and covered letters to home.

As the war wound down, Claude talked of getting a civilian job when the war was over. He heard about the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima ” two days after it occurred ” and hoped it would cause the Japanese to sue for peace.

The letters from Claude, and presumably those from Nadine, became fewer as 1945 came to an end. Often, his letters were in longhand, likely meaning Claude was moving from one duty station to another. The letters stopped altogether as the two undoubtedly reunited and picked up the threads of their lives.

But how did the letters end up in a Grass Valley thrift shop donation?

A cursory investigation at the various local historical libraries turned up nothing. Perhaps some reader of The Union might be related to Claude or Nadine or could shed some light on the fate of the two.

If you have any information, contact City Editor Trina Kleist at 477-4230 or

Brad Prowse is a local historian.

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