A chance discovery brought light to a wartime relationship held together by words.

By Hannah Nowack
October 16, 2019
Getty / malerapaso

When two friends, Lindsy Wolke and Megan Grant, set out for a weekend away in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, they never thought they would stumble upon a tale of wartime love. But at the end of their trip, The Washington Post reports, the friends came across a bundle of letters, browned with time. The notes quickly consumed both of them as they began to watch Elias Maxwell and Ilaine Murray's love story unfold. 

"We were sitting there for what felt like forever," Grant told the newspaper's reporters. "But we couldn't read them fast enough." The story was so enveloping that the friends purchased all the letters and continued to wade through the story of Elias, who was 18 at the time and stationed in Hawaii and Japan on the USS Rankin, and his long-distance sweetheart Ilaine, a then-19 year old living in their hometown of Blackwood, New Jersey. "The notes were just so beautifully written," Wolke explained. "Reading them just made your heart melt. It was like reading a book."

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"To my Sweetheart in the Navy," one letter began. "Hi ya honey. How are you? I received two letters today from you hon and you can just imagine how good I feel." Ilaine signed the missive with lines of X's for kisses and wrote: "All of these and millions more." Elias ended his notes just as sweetly: "Well, honey, I guess I'll close for now, this is your Navy Sweetheart saying: So long & God Bless. Yours Forever. P.S. Please think of me while I am away.

The couple's story, however, came to an abrupt halt once Wolke and Grant finished reading all 21 letters—and the duo was left wondering how their story ended. Was there a joyful reuniting and a life lived happily ever after, or did the resolution involve heartbreak? Thanks to a bit of determination, and a post to social media, the friends unearthed the story's conclusion. While Elias and Ilaine have since passed, they enjoyed a full and happy marriage after the war, leaving four children behind. 

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Wolke and Grant eventually made contact with one of Elias and Ilaine's daughters, 65-year-old Barbara Murray, and made a plan to get the notes back into the hands of family. "We had such an attachment to these letters. We just loved them so much," Wolke said. "I didn't trust the mail service to take them up there and keep them safe." So the Tennessee-based friends embarked on an 800-mile journey with their precious cargo to meet up with the couple's children and see the home where Ilaine penned so many of her heartfelt messages. "Standing on that land and knowing Elias and Ilaine walked there, together, we felt a connection, like we were there with them," Wolke added. "And being in the house they built and raised a family in, it was just incredible."

Elias and Ilaine's family expressed similar gratitude and awe at the course of events: "To have a piece of my parents—just to see what their life was like when they were young and in love," recounted Murray. "I think my mother would probably blush some. My dad would be like, 'Wow! This is great!' He might even do a little tap dance."

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