In 1968, Ida May Esmond donated the Army papers belonging to her stepfather, Col. Edmund C. Waddill, to the George C. Marshall Foundation. Waddill graduated from VMI in 1903, and served with the 2nd Division in World War I.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “exceptional bravery by advancing in the open under intense shell and machine-gun fire” at Chateau-Thierry, and for helping his troops to safety during a gas attack, “and refusing to be evacuated until he had been so badly burned by gas that his face was black,” according to War Department General Order 98, 1919.
In 1978, ten years after Esmond made her donation, 21-year-old Larry Sarosdy was working two jobs – one at an overnight shift at a psychiatric hospital; the other was at the apartment complex where he lived in Virginia Beach. Larry’s job “was to do just about anything asked, from apartment maintenance to mowing the lawns,” he reported.
One day, the apartment manager said that a tenant had passed away, and there was no contact information for family or friends. Larry and another employee were sent to clean out the apartment and make it ready for the next tenant. “I sadly went … to clean out a ‘lifetime’ of her possessions. Furniture, clothing, kitchen pots and pans … it all had to be thrown out,” Larry recalled.
“As we sifted through the volume of possessions I assume she had collected all her life, I came upon a collection of letters written to Ms. Esmond. I also came across a small Bible … with Ida May’s name embossed in gold leaf on the cover. Thinking that I might be able to somehow find the person the letters were written from, I set them aside with one or two other things that seemed just too precious to throw out.”
A visit to the local library didn’t help locate anyone. Some history books showed Larry that the letters were from Edmund C. Waddill, written while he was in the Army-Navy Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1940. Larry searched through local phone books from surrounding areas but found no family connections.
Ida May as a student at the Richmond Professional Institute (precursor of VCU) about the time the letters were written.
“Thinking that one day in the future I might be able to locate some distant relative, I carried the letters with me to every place I moved. The letters sat in a box of my ‘collectibles’ until one recent day when I again rediscovered the letters. Now I had the computer and its infinite resources! Still determined to get these letters to a dear family member who might appreciate them, maybe a granddaughter or even great granddaughter; I renewed my search.”
Larry found that Edmund Waddill had a collection at the George C. Marshall Foundation, and offered the letters to add to his existing collection. Larry thought “this might be the perfect place for these letters, not that they were terribly important documents, but rather a glimpse into the past of how life was. The letters, to me, represented a treasure of how we as humans communicated and shared our stories and ideas and worries and concerns and love.”
“After all these years, the letters and bible would find a home. Maybe not a relative’s home as I had hoped, but a place of reverence that connected my own personal history with that of a larger sense of history, albeit small.”
Thank you, Larry, for recognizing the value of the letters and saving them all these years. We are happy they are now with the rest of Edmund Waddill’s collection. I think Ida May would be happy.
Melissa has been at GCMF since fall 2019, and previously was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with three large rescue dogs. Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.