Fort Scott, Kan. -- On March 30, 1944, George Frederick, a captain in the 5th U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, was killed by a Japanese sniper while leading a group of Australian and British forces on a patrol mission on the Admiralty Islands in the South Pacific theater.
His death came just days before he was set to return home to his wife Cleo and his son George Clinton in Hiattville. George Clinton, who goes by Clinton and is called Clint by his mother, was just four months old when his father died. Though the elder George knew he was to be a father before he went overseas "to get this war over with," he never got the chance to see or hold his son. And his son never got the chance to see or know his father.
"I always grieved for the father I never knew," Clinton said.
However, though he never met his father, Clinton now has a better understanding of who he was thanks to a three-year project that culminated with the publishing of his first book, "A Legacy of Letters: One Soldier's Journey." In the book, Clinton follows along with his father during his early days in the military, through the events that led to his marriage to Cleo and through his campaigns in the South Pacific, all the way up to his untimely death.
He's able to do all that because of a collection of letters George wrote home to Cleo, his mother and other family members that were stored in an old trunk in the attic of Clinton's grandparents' house in Pennsylvania. He found the letters in 2002 while in Pennsylvania for a family wedding.
"I always knew there was stuff up in that attic," Clinton said, "but I never got a chance to get in there and look at it."
Many of those letters, along with information about his father's life and death he obtained from various sources, are included in the book, and through it all, Clinton said he "met" his father.
"Then I grieved for the father I came to know," he said.
Cleo, who lives in Fort Scott with second husband Woody Strader -- they wed in 1985 -- said the book brought back many memories, both happy and sad.
"It's like living my life back over during that span of my life," she said.
Local historian and Cleo's first cousin, Fred Campbell Jr., said the book is rare in its style, and one that anybody with an interest in history should read. Campbell said its style is unique in that, through all the letters, it gives a very personal history of George's military career. At the same time, however, he said Clinton did a good job of providing a scholarly background of the war in the South Pacific theater.
"It's a book that is not like ones I've read before," Campbell said. "I was very pleased with it. The guy really did, in my opinion, a scholarly job on this. If you're a World War II buff, this really should hold a special place with you."
Clinton said the goal of the book, besides getting to know his late father, was to provide some history of his family that future generations could look at and learn from.
"I actually wrote the book for the daughters and for the future generations of the family," he said. "It was a story that needed to be told, and I enjoyed writing the book."
He said that his impressions of his father, based on his letters home, were all positive.
"He truly was an officer and a gentleman," he said. "He had extremely high moral character and he always wanted to please his mother. He wanted everybody to be proud of him."
Cleo said her son's feelings about George are right on the money.
"George had a gift of making people feel comfortable in his presence," she said.
The tragedy and irony of George's death makes the story an interesting read, Campbell said, the irony being in the fact that George was to take his leave from military action just days after he was killed.
"I can remember my mother telling me that George had been killed," Campbell said. "It was so horrible because we knew he was about to come home."
The day Cleo received the telegram telling her of her husband's death -- she immediately burned it in the stove -- she said she received around 12 letters that George had sent prior to March 30.
"One of them said, 'When we take this island, it will be the last island we'll need to take in the Pacific, and then I can come home before too long'," she said.
Though more than 60 years have passed since George's death and though the book helped him learn about his father, Clinton said the sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one remains.
"If you ask us if there's closure from this loss," he said, "there's never closure."
Clinton, a retired certified public accountant who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said "A Legacy of Letters" can be purchased on the Internet at www.fivestarpublications.com/onesoldier/.... Any book purchased through this site will be autographed by the author, Clinton said.
The book can also be purchased through various other online booksellers such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble's Web site, www.bn.com, among others.