Jane Matchey recently became better acquainted with her late father she never met after receiving a letter he wrote six decades ago.
And her thanks go to a curious Dutchman whose family kept the letter for 60 years and Ashwaubenon high school science teacher Mike Lyga, who wrote a book about the residents of their hometown of 1,200 people who fought in World War II.
It was Lyga who served as the intermediary connecting Matchey to the father she lost before she born. And while Lyga is modest about his contribution to the story, he admits that it is quite satisfying to have played a role in connecting Matchey to the letter from her father.
“I can’t describe the feeling I had the first time I held that letter,” Matchey, 59, said. “After 60 years, good grief, the man finally seems real to me.”
When Sgt. Henry Longmier left to fight in World War II, his new wife Teresa was pregnant with Jane, who was born about two months later.
But the 31-year-old was killed by a German sniper in Belgium in the waning days of the Battle of the Bulge on Jan. 25, 1945. Before that, in late 1944, he and three other soldiers lived for a time in the home of the Neederlants family in the Dutch village of Cadier en Keer.
It seems Longmier neglected to mail the letter to his wife in Independence.
When the soldiers moved on, a Neederlants family member discovered the letter while cleaning the room they stayed in. She wasn’t sure what to do with it, so she kept it.
Later, the family learned that Longmier had died in battle.
Jane’s mother tried to bring Jane’s father to life for her, keeping his photo displayed.
“This is what I grew up with,” she said recently, tapping the framed portrait of a bespectacled man in uniform.
Jane tried to love the picture as her mother had loved her father.
Every year, she and her mother visited his grave and his relatives in Highland, in southern Wisconsin.
“My mother tried to make him live for me,” she said.
But the letter remained with the Dutch family for nearly six decades.
Only recently did the Neederlants’ grandson, Lando Mulleneers, 38, become curious about its intended recipient, having heard stories of the soldiers.
“I hesitated a long time tracking down (the) family of Henry because I was afraid that I maybe would open old wounds,” he wrote later in an e-mail to Matchey.
Enter Lyga. Through an Internet search, Mulleneers discovered that the Independence Public Library had a book about local residents who served in World War II.
Lyga, an Independence native, had published, “A Small Town Goes to War,” in 2000.
In September, Mulleneers e-mailed the library, which forwarded the message to Lyga, who realized the person that Mulleneers was seeking was Longmier’s widow, Teresa, who died in 2002.
He also realized he had known Jane Matchey, the couple’s only child, for years.
“I was absolutely astounded,” Lyga said.
He called the retired third-grade teacher last month to pass on the news.
“I said, ‘Jane, I think you want to sit down,’” Lyga said.
After their phone conversation, Matchey quickly e-mailed Mulleneers, who provided details of the letter’s history and offered to send it to her.
On Nov. 26 — which would have been her mother’s 90th birthday — the package arrived.
For all its emotional significance, Longmier’s letter is simple and conversational.
He apologizes for not writing the previous night. Addressed from “somewhere in Holland,” he mostly writes about whether Longmier’s wife should get rid of his summer clothes.
“On second thought I may have use for the (clothes) when this is all over,” Longmier wrote. “If I have a tavern they’d be alright for tending bar.”
He ended it with, “Good night now, sweetness, I’ll always love you.”
Longmier’s dream of returning home was never realized, but the love he and his wife shared remained: She never remarried.
“My mother was a perfectionist in everything she did,” Matchey explained. “So if he measured up to her standards, he must have been pretty wonderful, at least in her eyes.”