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Grandmother's letter about WWII gives Memorial Day special meaning for Edna woman

By JR Ortega
May 25, 2014 at 12:25 a.m.
Updated May 26, 2014 at 12:26 a.m.

Lena Sanders' three sons left Yoakum for the Army during World War II, and all returned but one. Sgt. Eugene John Sanders died when the bus he was traveling home in was struck by a train. Joan Dees found a letter written by her late grandmother, Lena Sanders, that honored her son on Memorial Day.

Lena Sanders' three sons left Yoakum for the Army during World War II, and all returned but one. Sgt. Eugene John Sanders died when the bus he was traveling home in was struck by a train. Joan Dees found a letter written by her late grandmother, Lena Sanders, that honored her son on Memorial Day.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

EDNA - Sgt. Eugene John Sanders walked aboard the crowded bus of military men, made his way to the back and looked straight ahead, his sights set on home.

It was February 1942, and Sanders, 26, was on his way home to Yoakum from the war.

The bus crested a slight hill as a train came through. The bus driver, thinking he could beat the train, continued over the tracks, and that's how Sanders died.

This is the story as Joan Dees knows it: the story of her uncle, a man she never knew, never coming back home.

"It was so sad," said Dees, 70, of Edna.

She'd heard the story passed down from her mother before, but when she discovered a letter to the editor her grandmother wrote in a May 1955 Yoakum Herald Times paper, she nearly cried.

Her grandmother, Lena Mary Sanders - Sanders' mother - never talked about the pain associated with his death. Her grandmother also had two other sons fight in World War II.

Dees found the letter in a box that another relative who had died left for her.

What her grandmother wrote in honor of Memorial Day encapsulated American pride in just a few paragraphs, Dees said.

"May this Memorial Day bring back to our minds and hearts the sacrifices made by our boys in every line of duty, in the air, on the land, or sea," she wrote. "May their memories be kept fresh and their graves kept green, by all who are reaping the benefits of the giving of their lives."

Dees has always been a proud American, working for those who fought on the front lines in some way, shape or form.

Reading that her grandmother was the same way is heartwarming.

"I was very impressed with it," she said. "She was trying to take a stand for what she believed in."

What makes the letter to the editor so meaningful was that Dees' grandmother taught herself everything she knew.

She read her dictionary to learn to speak, read and write more fluently.

"She was very big in her church, her family and country," she said. "I'm just a proud American just like Grandma was."

Though she never met her uncle and knows little about his personality, what Eugene John Sanders embodies to her is the American spirit - the willingness to give his life for his country, even though his death was not the direct result of war.

She owes how she feels for this country to a man she never met, she said.

"When I see a soldier, I think about what he's given up," Dees said.


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