A WWII Cinderella Tale

Joy Neal Kidney joins us today with her new book called Leora’s Letters. This story of love and loss during WWII features Joy’s mother, a young woman with dreams disrupted by huge loss. Yet she continued on to live a meaningful life–lessons for us as we face our own challenges.

Joy will give away one signed paperback copy of Leora’s Letters to a commenter. I’m finding treasures within–there’s nothing like letters straight out of the World War II era. Thank you, Joy!

An Iowa Waitress Became an Officer’s Wife–in Texas, by Joy Neal Kidney

It was the only formal gown my mother ever owned. She bought it for the opening of the officers’ club at the Marfa Army Air Base in Texas. Doris had just become an officer’s wife by marrying Warren Neal, an Iowa farmer who’d earned his pilot’s wings. 

Doris Wilson had been a waitress in Perry, Iowa, at the McDonald Drug Store, which had a soda fountain and a restaurant area. In fact, she was serving Sunday dinner there when the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted the background music playing on WHO-Radio. 

She remembered thinking that all her brothers were liable to be drafted. One by one the five Wilson brothers left to serve – two in the Navy, three in the Army Air Force.

Dale Wilson and Warren Neal, both Iowa farmers, had enlisted as air cadets in 1942. They were awarded their silver “wings” and became officers on the same day a year later – Dale at Roswell, New Mexico. Warren at Marfa, Texas. 

Warren was retained at Marfa as an instructor for advanced cadets. With calls for women to enlist to help with “the cause,” Doris had begun the process to apply for the WAVES. Warren was afraid they’d get separated forever so he asked her to get married instead. 

Doris, wearing an aqua suit, and Warren in uniform were married in May 1943 in Dexter, Iowa, then headed for Marfa, Texas.

They’d just gotten settled when they were to attend the formal opening of the new officers’ club. Doris’s first formal gown for the dance was nearly the color of the suit she’d been married in a few months earlier – aqua, short-sleeved, accented with lots of small ruffles.

She wrote home that she had fun at the dance and felt like Cinderella.

That fall, she wrote her brother Dale, then in combat in New Guinea, “I’m going to let you in on a secret. We haven’t told anyone yet, but we are going to have a boy (we hope) next May.” Dale never got her message. The V-Mail letter was returned, still sealed, marked “Missing in Action.” 

Decades later, I – the boy she’d hoped for – was the first person to open the little V-Letter and read it. 


There’s no photo of her wearing the aqua gown. I remember seeing it as a child only a couple of times among her keepsakes in the storeroom of our old farmhouse.

But now it’s been passed on tome, Doris’s firstborn, who eventually became the keeper of poignant family stories and letters and terrible telegrams. 

Treasures, like the aqua gown, to wonder about. Did she ever get to wear it again?

To feel like Cinderella once more? 

Connect with Joy online:



History Note

This generation had been born during and after the Spanish Flu Epidemic.

Now, the world had come through the Great War and the Great Depression. Hitler had taken control of the Sudetenland and Austria. When he invaded Poland, France and England declared war on Germany.

In May 1940, King George VI declared Winston Churchill England’s new Prime Minister. On May 10, Mr. Churchill addressed his new government.

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival… But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

August 5–transatlantic flights from London are suspended for September.

August 15- Government Quote and Cypher School personnel move to Bletchley Park

August 23 – most National Gallery paintings are evacuated to Wales

August 24 – Parliament recalled, Army Reservists called up, Civil Defense workers alerted

August 30 – the Royal Navy proceeds to war stations

In retrospect, the markers are clear, but many thought, surely the world will not engage in another horror like the Great War–surely humankind has learned its lesson!

Too late to turn back, the British people went forward. Soon afterward, the Blitzkrieg began, with tens of thousands of bombs dropped on their homeland. As with the Great War and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, there was but one way to go–through.

Beauty Then and Now

A short distance from our place, I heard hooves on the road. An elk peered at me from the intersection. I peered back, and then she proceeded on her way, followed by her offspring.

Obviously, this isn’t one of Lance’s photos, since he would have the animals show up better.

At any rate, there they were, doing what elk do around here. The thought of parades came naturally, since I’ve been reading through the memoir of a man who spent decades designing and creating incredibly complicated floats for the really big time venues. Think Rose Parade.

So I’ve been pondering the importance of beauty, one essential element in a hand-crafted float replete with tens of thousands of flowers, flower petals, leaves, seeds, and other harvested materials. Of course, many other elements integrate to leave a float’s lasting impression, but it’s tough to outrank beauty.

We all share the desire to express ourselves through creating something of beauty. We do this through song, painting, cooking, sculpture, dance, story and ritual, and parades, for starters. In these endeavors, we attempt to make make sense of the world and of our own lives.

Where would we be without beauty to appreciate, to comprehend, to embrace? Entering into beauty in its many forms enhances our journey here.

Writing seems to be my way of beauty-making, and I like integrate these ramblings with what’s occurring with my written work. So here we go.

My publisher just sent a first look at the book cover for my next release, about two young World War women who sought beauty in the rapid changes of that era. . . the world at war. One of them, on an Iowa farm, spends every spare minute facilitating beauty on what some might label a humble stage, her garden.

Her best friend seeks her downed RAF pilot husband in the devastation of post-Blitz London. At the same time, she seeks beauty–in the people she mets, in the still-blooming laburnum trees of the city, and in her office work.

Through the only correspondence tool available at the time, Addie and Kate create another kind of beauty. Their letters back and forth across the Atlantic encourage, inspire, instruct and provide laughter in the midst of such a frightening period.

During the war’s first months, with bad news at every turn, how much could one letter from a friend or loved one mean? It’s difficult to overestimate!

We can count on letters being included on this new cover, which I’ll post as soon as it arrives in my e-mail. Meanwhile, I hope you’re finding beauty in your everyday world.

Celebrating 2019 . . . on to 2020

New Year’s Eve, and the Amaryllis blossomed days ago. It’s looking a little worn out.

What a year it’s been! Sharing  All For the Cause with the folks at Camp Algona in April warmed my heart. What a great job they’ve done with the museum there. If you have a chance, you won’t regret paying them a visit in 2020.

The Until Then book launch at the Romeoville, IL public library allowed me to meet the rest of my heroine Dorothy’s family—I had no idea how much they’d wanted Dorothy’s incredible story published. I had met her son and daughter, but now I know everyone!

The second printing revised the SPECIAL THANKS page, so for those who bought books at that launch, it now reads: 

    A heartfelt thank-you to Sandra and Mark Worst, Dorothy’s daughter and son, who introduced me to their amazing mother and supplied me with more information than I could possibly use.

    Thank you to the faithful readers who spent countless hours ferreting out errors—you know who you are. Thank you, thank you.

    I’m also so very grateful to WordCrafts Press and to those who follow my work and encourage me with their reviews.

I’m delighted that Cindy and her husband are creating an audiobook—can’t wait to hear Dorothy in action!

What a legacy she left: a true World War II heroine with fortitude, tenacity, faith, and the capacity to find JOY in the midst her vocation, even in dire times. Thank you for sharing your intriguing mother/grandmother with me! 

As I mentioned, those who carefully pre-read manuscripts make an author’s life so much easier. Thank you Leslie, Irene, Nancy, Holly, Jean, Jill, Sonia, and J.D. . . . I’m pretty sure I’ve left someone out, which is why I don’t list names in the books. Please know that your kindness means so much. An author simply cannot rely solely on her own “editing eye.” 

Thanks also to the many library directors who allow me to share with their patrons. I love spreading the word about WWII heroes and heroines, many of them ordinary folks who sacrificed for the cause and made a quiet, but significant difference

There’s no way to thank these members of the Greatest Generation enough, but we can still do our best. Historical fiction provides one way to learn about and appreciate their careful attention to duty—and this is why the stories keep coming.

Most of all, I’m grateful for readers who encourage me all year long. Your reviews and personal notes help make the labor of writing worthwhile.

I’ll close with a quote from K.M. Weiland, an author I’ve met online. 

 “I don’t think there has been a moment in my entire life when I have not known in my heart that telling a story was vital, but the older I get, the more I consciously believe that telling a story—and telling it well—is one of the most tremendous contributions any human can make to the world.” 

How encouraging! Reading has been dear to me from childhood on, and I’ve always wanted to make a difference. It’s such a joy to be able to contribute.

And it’s time to regroup so this plant can blossom again. (:

Dorothy, Rupert, Twila and Stan, characters all, take their places in my Women of the Heartland stories:


Winter’s Hidden Beauty

Some thoughtful Iowa photographs straight from my husband’s camera. The interplay of white on color, the patterns of windswept snow after a storm–winter beauty. along with its cold.

Today I’ll try to tie together a few straggly ends–it’s been that kind of season.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “…before you quit, try.”

Sometimes we feel defeated before we even begin and ask “How could this possibly succeed?” But inspiration may come in peculiar ways . . . I’m experiencing this right now.

Over the past four months, we’ve observed an extremely independent, accomplished loved one’s thought processes decline. What beauty could we possibly find in this?

Along the way it has struck me that, like snow’s patterns on natural objects, unexpected balance and perspective may appear at peculiar times in our journeys. Even what we normally classify as negative experiences may contain bright spots.

Last week we learned that our local nursing home had an opening for my husband’s mother. As her weakness escalates, this news comes as a clear blessing, znd her willing attitude gives us such a lovely example..

Most people hate the thought of leaving their homes for such a facility. But my mother-in-law has accepted her situation with grace.

She realizes she can no longer live alone, and as she said yesterday, “I’ve been waiting for an opening.” You can imagine how her positivity eases this transition. On her first morning in her new room, she said, “This is my home now–I don’t even want to go back at all.”

So we move ahead, with eyes open for surprises, glimpses of loveliness along the way–ready to try as we begin.

This week also reminds us of the beginning of the Battle of The Bulge on December 14, 1944. On December 7, I spoke with a man whose father fought through that horrendous winter at the Bulge and never spoke of his service (he won the Purple Heart.)

Those soldiers and their medical support teams certainly took Hemingway’s advice. Quitting was not an option . . . they had to try. The whole world depended on the outcome. One Iowan taken captive at the bulge was trudging through northern Germany to a POW camp in the cold, and on a nearby wall one day, he spied a loaf of bread. No one else in the long line of prisoners noticed it, so he grabbed it and ate the whole thing.

There it was…what he most longed for, right along the way. A beauteous discovery, and one that sustained his faith.

In the final month of this year, realizing my writing will come to an end some day, I reflect on why I write World War II stories. It’s really quite simple: I want to do all I can to honor those who sacrificed so much for our freedom. I want future generations to remember them.

December Seventh

Local Iowa temps provide a recent example of the roller-coaster, up and down ride life can give us at times.

But can you imagine living through the attack on Pearl Harbor? I just heard a survivor interviewed on a news program. A typical Sunday morning at Hickam Field…breakfast as usual . . . and then the attack.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a Zero Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

It’s good to recall that day, wise to consider how the world changed for so many in such a brief amount of time. A “sleeping giant” had been rudely awakened.

Puts things in perspective . . .

The Beauty of This Moment

Victor Hugo, the great French author who gave us Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, wrote: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” 

Pastoral scenes remind us of the serenity that time in nature offers, but sometimes we feel as though we’ve been knackered by life.


Knackered comes from a slang term meaning “to kill,” as well as “to tire, exhaust, or wear out.” The origins of the verb remain uncertain, but the word may relatesto an older noun which originally referred to a harness-maker or saddlemaker, and later referred to a buyer of animals nolonger able to do farm labor, or a buyer of old buildings. Knackered is used on both sides of the Atlantic but is more common with British speakers.

When we feel worn out and “done in,” it’s good to remember Victor Hugo’s words. We can only do our best. Controlling all the outcomes lies beyond our powers. I can’t help but think how the WWII nurses of the Eleventh Evacuation Hospitalmust have grappled with this concept–they did their utmost to relieve suffering and sustain life.

But sometimes their efforts led to lesser outcomes–the undesirable natural consequences of war. They arrived in French Morocco with the best of intentions to use their training to the utmost.

They labored under impossible conditions:

And when they finally got a break from their backbreaking work, they fell asleep. That’s all a human being can do. But along the way, they found beauty…in a simple wildflower, in the laughter of their comrades, in letters from home.

And so it is with us. Whatever we’re facing, we fund little joys tucked into our days . . . we simply must look for them.

Far From Home For Christmas

I’m so excited to introduce a real-life World War II story – Barbara von der Oster’s father missed not just one Christmas with his family, but three. World War II stole him away, and I think you’ll enjoy Barbara’s tale of his three holidays as a lonely sailor. I learned so much from reading LST 388, the name of the vessel that took her father to several major war theaters and the title of Barbara’s book. She offers us yet another gift–a paperback copy of this book to a reader who leaves a comment. 


With the start of December comes planning for the holiday, including decorating, baking, shopping and making decisions on where to spend Christmas. Yet, even with all the commotion and must-dos, every year I pause and remind myself of those who can’t be home for Christmas. Our military men and women often find themselves far from home during this time of year.

My father, while serving in WWII, missed not one, not two, but three consecutive Christmas holidays with his family back home in New York. His first Christmas away, in 1942, he found himself in Norfolk, Virginia after receiving a few hours liberty from his new assignment on the amphibious force landing ship, USSLST-388.

At a bar in a seedy part of town, he writes in his journal about listening to songs on the jukebox, such as White Christmas, and thinking of home. As he leaves the bar with other sailors, Christmas carols blare from the loudspeaker above the Monticello Hotel. He joins in, singing along with sailors and civilians alike as he walks along the street.

By the time the next Christmas, 1943, arrived, he had sailed overseas to North Africa, participated in two hostile invasions (Sicily and Salerno) and sailed to England to begin preparations for a third (Normandy).

While on a short liberty in England, he runs into a woman who happens to have a sprig of mistletoe attached to her coat. He bets her she can’t raise it above her head, and, much to his delight, she does. He leans in and plants a kiss on her lips. Returning to the ship, he finds he has several letters waiting and settles in to read each one, treating them as special gifts. Soon, however, he and his shipmates are forced to spend the next several hours fighting off an attack by German planes and eboats in the English Channel. A subdued Christmas Day dinner follows after all but their nerves have quieted down.

Another year passed, which included the devastating invasion at Normandy, and Christmas found my father once again in the English Channel, this time carrying reinforcement troops and equipment from England to France. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the German navy had launched a last desperate offensive to stop the supply of more troops to the continent, sinking several ships directly ahead in his own ship’s path.

All throughout, my father sought out church services on Christmas, whether at the USO or American Red Cross, or even onboard his ship. He never lost his faith. Today’s military men and women no doubt are doing the same.

So amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, the planning, praising, gift-buying and decorating, I’ll be keeping not only my father in mind, but also present-day military men and women’s sacrifices. Let’s all keep them in our prayers this year, and hope they’ll be home soon.


Barbara co-authored the book LST 388: A World War II Journal with her father, who passed away in December 2016 at the age of 96. She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel, based loosely on her father’s experiences in WWII. She says, many times people will pick up a novel rather than a memoir or history book, so this is another way to share a bit of history, and keep the memories and sacrifices of WWII alive.

Barbara will also have her own memoir out in early 2019. In it, she shares her experiences as a fashion model in Europe during the mid-1980s.

You can reach Barbara through her book website, www.lst388.com.

Follow her on Amazon for future updates: https://www.amazon.com/Barbara-von-der-Osten/e/B079JZWVKG

Connect with her on Twitter, https://twitter.com/BarbvdO

“Johnny Come Lately”

I’m excited to welcome Linda Matchett to Dare To Bloom, because she loves the World War II era–a kindred spirit! By leaving a comment, you qualify for a free e-book copy of A Doctor In the House.

Linda, tell us about your new Christmas historical fiction. 

Countless books and articles have been written about the cozy relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt during WWII, however their troops didn’t always enjoy the same chummy feeling.

The two world leaders had known each other since Churchill was First Sea Lord at the Admiralty, and recognizing that Britain’s combined military strength was greater than America’s, Roosevelt cultivated relations with England by inviting the King and Queen for a U.S. visit in the late 1930s. After the war began and against the wishes of his isolationist-leaning citizens, Roosevelt continued to develop the friendship by creating the Lend-Lease program to provide supplies to his unofficial allies.

The desire for neutrality and not “getting involved in a war that isn’t ours” was strong. Then one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the U.S., and the country was forced into the conflict fighting on two fronts.

After a period of training, many of the American troops assigned to stations around the world encountered condescension and hostility from the British. Nicknames such as “Johnny-come-lately” and comments such as “late to the last war and late to this one” greeted the new arrivals in 1942. British morale was low, and the soldiers were poorly paid and bedraggled. In contrast, the Americans were well-paid, wore brand-spanking new uniforms, and had access to goods and equipment unavailable to the English. The catch-phrase describing the “Yanks” was “overpaid, over sexed and over here.” The Americans didn’t help matters by complaining about the food, weather, and a country they considered old-fashioned.

However, nothing erases prejudice like exposure, and authorities embedded British and American troops into each other’s units, improving relations dramatically. According to one American soldier, “When you fight with them and next to them they are really all right.” The British agreed. One Tommy commented he worked with “a very nice set of fellows indeed.”

By Linda Shenton Matchett

The Hope of ChristmasA Doctor in the House (part of The Hope of Christmas collection): Emma O’Sullivan is one of the first female doctors to enlist after President Franklin Roosevelt signs the order allowing women in the Army and Navy medical corps. Within weeks, Emma is assigned to England to set up a convalescent hospital, and she leaves behind everything that is familiar. When the handsome widower of the requisitioned property claims she’s incompetent and tries to get her transferred, she must prove to her superiors she’s more than capable. But she’s soon drawn to the good-looking, grieving owner. Will she have to choose between her job and her heart?

Archibald “Archie” Heron is the last survivor of the Heron dynasty, his two older brothers having been lost at Dunkirk and Trondheim and his parents in the Blitz. After his wife is killed in a bombing raid while visiting Brighton, he begins to feel like a modern-day Job. To add insult to injury, the British government requisitions his country estate, Heron Hall, for the U.S. Army to use as a hospital. The last straw is when the hospital administrator turns out to be a fiery, ginger-haired American woman. She’s got to go. Or does she?

Buy Link: Available from www.amazon.com/dp/B077656725


Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, blogger, and history geek. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a trustee for her local public library.


A Wild Raccoon and Some Outstanding Hens


My husband snapped this photo during my Southwest Iowa book tour this past week. By the way, that area of our state is knock-down gorgeous! Rolling hills, serene towns, village squares, many restored turn-of-the century bulldings (like Ed and Eva’s in Greenfield- thanks again, Ken, for the tour. What an amazing building your community has to enjoy!)

Along the way, Lance sent me this photo, and when I arrived home after visiting several public libraries – Adair, Anita, Winterset, Creston, Red Oak, and La Vista in Nebraska – I asked how he ever managed to take this shot.


Turns out our little raccoon friend had gotten caught in a trap, so Lance spoke with our local policeman. Hopefully, they were able to help the frightened creature. Such remarkable coloring – you’d never know by looking that this animal was held prisoner. So much we don’t notice until we get the full story, eh?

Isn’t that the way it is with people? We interact with all sorts, and since I’m an inveterate “people person,” I really enjoy meeting new folks who attend my book talks. Sometimes we strike up a friendship and continue to communicate, and often, I learn more about the person’s background.

Maybe they’re caught in a trap of sorts, like Addie was seventy-five years ago as the Pearl Harbor attack thrust the U.S. into WWII . Maybe they’re just waiting for a new friend to show up, offering fresh ideas and alternatives they’ve never considered.

My cousin Carolyn allows me to stop and collapse in her spare bedroom on these trips, and she sent me a great photo a few minutes ago. Their pet hens, each with a distinct personality, produced something they’d been waiting for this morning. A blue egg amongst the brown …pretty cool!


Carolyn and her son creatively named the hens. The blue-egg layers (Ameraucana) answer to Mamie Eisenhenner and Martha Cluckington. What’s not to love about that?


No chance either of these ladies would ever get caught in a trap, unlike the thousand hens running loose on my grandparents’ farm in Addie’s era. Nope, these hens enjoy a fenced-in home, complete with a light to encourage more egg-laying as the cold sets in.



Back to my book tour.  My gratitude goes to all the library directors who advertised my visit and continue to promote my books, and those readers who’ve told me Addie’s story intrigued them and piqued their interest in World War II history.

We often discuss rationing at these talks, and the role various foods played. In England, each person enjoyed only ONE EGG every two weeks. Certainly a good time to live down on the farm.