A box of letters in Arizona led an Emporia school teacher to uncover the mystery of a long-lost relative in Humboldt – a World War II serviceman whose history deserves to be remembered.
Ronda Rivers-Stone, an Emporia elementary school teacher, received the letters from a complete stranger in Arizona who had found them in a box in an antique store. His efforts to return them to the family of Private First Class Virgil Henry introduced Rivers-Stone to a branch of her family that she didn’t know existed.
Recently, Edward Hennessy from Arizona gave Rivers-Stone the box of letters at the Humboldt cemetery where Henry is buried.
Hennessy said he saw the small wooden box in a shop in Chandler, Ariz.
“Originally, I passed on the box and I didn’t buy it, but I got home that night and I told my wife, ‘Somehow, I have to have that box,’” Hennessy told a Joplin TV station. “I don’t know why, but those letters would be incredibly special to somebody.”
Although he was not a member of Ancestry.com, Hennessy used the online genealogy website to contact any people who might have Henry in their family tree.
“No one had him in their tree,” Rivers-Stone said. Some of the letters were addressed to Henry’s mother, Edna Klingensmith, so Hennessy tried that name despite the difference.
“That kind of threw him for a loop,” Rivers-Stone said.
With no connection found for Edna, Hennessy tried Edna’s father, Martin Rivers, from a letter dated 1913.
“That’s how he found me,” Rivers-Stone said. Martin was her great-uncle, and Klingensmith was Edna’s husband from a second marriage.
Apparently Henry’s grandfather Martin had left his daughter, Edna, and another child in the Humboldt area while he looked for work.
“This is one of those mysteries that we’re trying to solve,” Rivers-Stone said. She was not aware of Edna or Virgil Henry, but Hennessy wanted the letters to go to a blood relative.
Henry served in World War II in the 17th Airborne Division of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment. The gliders, known as “flying coffins,” each carried 10 troopers who landed at the battle zone, instead of dropping in by parachute. The motor-less gliders were towed to the battle.
Henry fought in the Battle of the Bulge and then took part in Operation Varsity, the largest air drop in military history, on March 2, 1945. He died on his birthday in the battle and was buried in the Netherlands, but his mother brought him home for burial at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Humboldt.