Detroit couple discover WWII soldier’s love letters in their basement

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good NewsJanuary 7, 2013

This past summer, a couple in northwest Detroit, Michigan, discovered a bag of WWII-era love letters and memories in their basement.

"My dearest Stan, Sweetheart, it was hard to see you go this morning, knowing that it may the last time I shall see you for a time, which we don't know how long it is going to be before we see each other again," one letter, mailed more than 60 years ago, read.

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Hubert Sawyers III and his wife, Eliza Sorise-Sawyers, were remodeling their kitchen when they found a bundle of letters and photos on the top of a heating conduit in their basement.

"When we saw this we were hoping it would be a bag of bonds or bag of money. But honestly it was just really cool," he told WDIV.

The couple quickly learned the mementos belonged to Stanley Gargas, a WWII vet who lived in the home decades earlier. With the photos and love letters were his honourable-discharge papers from the U.S. Army.

At the age of 19, Gargas drove an ambulance in Europe in 1944 and 1945.

The photos he left stashed in the Sawyers' basement captured his life story: Gargas posing at the beach, Gargas with a British woman whose love letters were also found, Gargas celebrating milestones with family in the U.S.

"I just thought it was really sweet and mysterious at the same time," said Sorise-Sawyers, 31, a financial analyst. "Detroit has such a cool history, and this is part of that history."

The Sawyers' did some amateur detective work, hoping to track down Gargas or his family. They soon learned that Gargas and his wife, Sadie, had no children, and that Gargas died in 2004. At the time, Sadie moved into a nursing home.

"There's this sense of honoring the people who lived here before us," Sorise-Sawyers said. "If someone had found a package of things belonging to my grandmother, I'd hope they'd look for me."

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With the help of the Detroit Free Press, the couple contacted Sadie's sister, Susan Cleva. She confirmed that Sadie is alive, suffering from Alzheimer's and living in a nursing home.

Cleva shared the Gargas' love story with Sawyers and Sorise-Sawyers, revealing that the couple met after the war in Detroit and married in 1956.

"He was a great person. He worked hard," Cleva said of her brother-in-law. "He was a terrific dancer."

She added that the couple loved traveling and led an adventurous life.

When the family sold the house to Sawyers and Sorise-Sawyers, they found all sorts of memorabilia in the house. The stash of love letters and photos, however, were never found.

A local museum has shown interest in some of the photos, but the Sawyers will let the Gargas' family make the donation decision.

Sorise-Sawyers told the Free Press that she and her husband decided against searching the walls for more love letters.

"Everybody has a little treasure box. He just hid his," she said.