RACINE, Wis. — A California couple recently found the World War II diary of a Wisconsin veteran, but officials in the man's hometown are having trouble tracking down his relatives to return it to them.
Evelyn Dar was cleaning out the San Jose, Calif., home of her recently deceased mother when she found the diary of Cpl. Ralph C. Duncan in a sealed box. She had no idea how the book ended up with her family, the Journal Times of Racine reported (http://bit.ly/13R4Oej ).
After reading portions of the diary she and her husband knew they had to return it to Duncan's family. Internet searches came up empty, but since Duncan had listed his address as Racine the Dars asked the Racine City Council for help.
Alderman Eddie Diehl fielded the request and tried to find Duncan or his relatives. He too was stymied. He had the Dars send him the diary in the hopes that if it couldn't be returned to Duncan's family, it could be donated to the Racine Heritage Museum or an archivist.
The book contains nearly 100 pages written in neat cursive. Duncan, a soldier in the Southwest Pacific Theater, wrote about a seemingly endless parade of bombs, boredom and homesickness.
On June 14, 1943, he wrote about infantry troops in the New Guinea area fighting their way into Japanese-held territory.
"But it's costing an enormous loss of lives and casualties," he wrote. "... Kinda hellish spot to be in."
He described soldiers going fishing with grenades and he wrote of bombings and planes lost. He also sketched drawings of base camps and barracks, and he attached a number of black-and-white photos — a picture of his mother shoveling snow, another of his sweetheart Rose and one of his German shepherd named Prince.
It's not clear how the book ended up with Evelyn Dar's mother. Dar noted that her parents both worked for many years at Clark Air Base in their native Philippines, but she doesn't know whether her parents ever met Duncan.
The only clue about Duncan's later whereabouts came from a Journal Times story on May 26, 1945, that said Duncan had been honorably discharged after serving 39 months in the Pacific combat zone.
Duncan's mother sent him the diary on Sept. 9, 1942, for his 23rd birthday when he was stationed in Australia. But his opening entries start with his enlistment in the U.S. Army in 1941, seven months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into the war. That bombing, he wrote, "surprised and shocked" him so much that he "hardly knew if (he) was coming or going."
His accounts alternate between lighthearted anecdotes and harrowing accounts of war. He wrote of a pleasant life in Australia, forging deep friendships over baseball games, but then he'd describe challenging fights against the forces of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
On Dec. 17, 1942, he wrote that the men in his unit "had hardly hit the slit trenches when the bombs lighted up the ground with their flashes as they exploded." He also mourned the loss of his fellow troops, saying the American media wasn't reporting the full scope of the tragedy on the ground: "To read the papers we lose very few planes. That's a damn lie. ... One should see the acres of wrecked American planes."
He also wrote tender entries reflecting his desire to come home. He recalled the difficulties of a Christmas without letters and described how hard it was to be far from his loved ones.
"I'd rather take a chance on a bullet in the body somewhere and being sent home than much more of this slow madness," he wrote on Feb. 7, 1943. "Nothing to do but sit and think of home and what you'd give to be there ... They have movies someplace about every night but a person gets kinda blue when the picture reminds him of something at home."