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Remembering One of the Brave

It was a shoebox that Sandra Bailey had tucked away in a spare room. A box handed down to her after her mother, Inez Allen, died in July of 1998.

“When the nursing home called me to get my mother’s stuff, there was this little box,” the Ironton resident recalled.

Bailey knew what was in the box, but really didn’t think much about it for many years. That is until last month when she pulled it off the shelf as she was getting rid of odds and ends in that back room.

“When I read these I was sitting in the middle of all my junk and downsizing and trying to decide what I wanted to keep,” Bailey said. “When I read them, it was kind of chilling. A melancholy that didn’t pass.”

What she found inside were three postcards and three letters, all on fragile scraps of yellowed paper covered with the faded handwriting of a man fighting for his life because he had chosen to fight for the freedom of his country.

They were the handful of letters her uncle, Howard Derifield, was able to send out to family back home as he languished in one of the dankest Nazi prisoner of war camps.

Feb. 13, 1944

Dear Brothers: Just a few lines in answer to your letter that received and also that package you sent me. Thanks kid. I appreciate it very much. Perhaps I can do you a favor some day. … This probably will be my last letter to you. I hope you will receive them soon.

Sept. 10, 1944

“I had given up hope of ever hearing from you all as it has been almost a year since you wrote to me. … Well, kid, I hope you can get in the service. The kind you like, but navy and marines are good. I love both of them. … Hope to see you some day.

Undated

Dear Brothers: Was glad to hear from you and know that you are all OK. I am well as could be expected. …. I could use those cigarettes that you said you were sending and I appreciate it very much, more than words can expressed. If you send me package, just send candy, and gum, cocoa and sugar and I will make it up to you when I come home.”

Derifield grew up outside Hanging Rock, one of 10 brothers and sisters and the son of Sylvester Edward and Navada Murphy Derifield.

He went into the Army on June 25, 1941, just a little under six months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor galvanized the U.S. into action. He was 32 years old.

Soon he was in the North African Theater, fighting the build up of German and Italian forces in Tunisia that had followed after the withdrawal of Vichy troops.

For months the strength of the six Axis divisions were superior to the Allied forces, who were far from their airfields.

There are no records on how long Derifield was part on this campaign. All is known today is that on Feb. 17, 1943, he was captured and sent to Stalag IIB Hammerstein work camp in what was then known as West Prussia.

He struggled to survive in the camp for more than two years until he was liberated in the spring of 1945.

He came back to Lawrence County to marry Martha Louise Gannon on May 8, 1946, and run a tavern in Haverhill. He died six years later in 1951 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery.

Bailey doesn’t remember her uncle talking much about his ordeal as a prisoner of war, only that to stay alive he often had to subsist on potato peelings.

Now she is on a quest to find the appropriate repository for these letters, one where they will be preserved and available for others across the country to study, review and cherish.

“They need to be placed somewhere in honor,” she said. “But I haven’t a clue. It would make my mom very proud to know I kept this. My mom was extremely poor, but she left me a treasure. The sacrifice these military men make.”