CLEAR SPRING, Md. (AP) — With white hair and a worn memory, 90-year-old Charlotte Eccard doesn’t remember the details of a somber letter that she wrote 69 years ago to her parents in Clear Spring.
But the words on the faded paper speak volumes about what she was thinking.
“They aren’t sending his body home are they?” she wrote on Dec. 9, 1941. “Don’t blame me if you can’t read this because my eyes are all blinded with tears.”
Eccard was writing about her friend and former Clear Spring resident Joseph C. Herbert. He was killed Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese naval forces attacked Pearl Harbor.
An Army staff sergeant, Herbert was the first Marylander to die in World War II. The American Legion post near Clear Spring bears his name.
This week, Eccard, her daughter, Kathy Mellott, and other family members donated the letter to the legion. They also contributed two Hawaiian carvings that Herbert sent to Eccard as Christmas presents just before his death.
“We’re all very grateful for the gesture,” said Ed Clopper, Eccard’s cousin and adjutant of the Clear Spring American Legion. “We know it’s difficult for the family to (part) with this. It certainly benefits our history. He’s our namesake.”
A 1938 graduate of Clear Spring High School, Eccard, who was then Charlotte Clopper, was working in Baltimore as an X-ray technician when she heard about Herbert’s death.
In the letter, Eccard said she received the bad news in a card from her cousin. Eccard then read about it in the newspaper.
“Save me all the clippings you can get on it,” she wrote to her parents.
Mellott said Eccard’s mother, Virginia Clopper, kept the letter until she died in 1976. It then passed through the hands of several family members until March, when it was given to Mellott during Eccard’s 90th birthday party.
“I was very excited about it,” Mellott said. “I knew about the gifts and the stories that mom had told, but this just confirms they were friends.”
Eccard and Herbert grew up a few blocks from each other and quickly began a friendship. Eccard smiled when she was asked whether their relationship blossomed into romance.
“He used to come to my house,” she said. “It’s so hard to remember back then. It was a long time ago.”
Eccard said the two often wrote to each other. She claimed in the letter that she considered writing Herbert on Dec. 7, but later decided against it.
“It seemed like something just told me the mail wouldn’t go through, so I thought I would wait a couple of days,” she wrote. “Poor Joe was dead when I was thinking that.”
She then tried to change the tone of the letter to something more pleasant, saying she planned to get a ride from Baltimore to Clear Spring to visit her parents.
“Maybe we can go into town (Saturday) night,” she wrote. “I don’t seem to be able to get any shopping done down here … Love Charlotte.”
Pearl Harbor touched Clear Spring several months after the attack.
According to a newspaper story that ran in The Daily Mail on April 27, 1942, Herbert’s father was so grief stricken over the loss of his son that he committed suicide.
“The (Japanese) attack on Pearl Harbor last December 7, is believed to have prompted the suicide early today of Walter Jacob Herbert, 60, well known farmer of near Clear (Spring),” the story said. “Mr. Herbert’s body was found in the kitchen of his farm home at 7 o’clock by Harvey Drury, a farm hand, who called at the house to ask Mr. Herbert’s assistance in repairing a plow. A shotgun was found along side the body.”
The Herberts are buried together in Rose Hill Cemetery east of Clear Spring.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)