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World War II vet receives letter from woman he last saw 71 years ago

This New Year's, Bob Capes got a letter from an old friend. "Dear Bob, I wonder if you remember me?" the letter began. It was a valid question -- Capes hasn't seen the woman who wrote it for more than 70 years. Capes, 94, served in Europe during ...

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Grand Forks Herald Staff Reporter, Garrett Richie, reads a letter to Bob Capes on Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015, at Valley Elder Care in Grand Forks, N.D. Capes received a letter last week from a an English woman whose family met Bob during the war. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

This New Year's, Bob Capes got a letter from an old friend.

"Dear Bob, I wonder if you remember me?" the letter began. It was a valid question -- Capes hasn't seen the woman who wrote it for more than 70 years.

Capes, 94, served in Europe during World War II as part of the North Dakota National Guard. In December 1943, he was given the chance to spend Christmas with an English family. One member of that family was only a child when Capes visited.

"Her name was Barbara and she was 6 years old," Capes said.

Barbara Corns, now in her 70s, still lives in England, in Staffordshire.

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She has been researching the American soldiers she met during the war and has compiled all the information she could find.

At the end of December, she sent Capes a letter, marked with a blue "Royal Mail" sticker, via airmail from England. Capes couldn't have been more surprised.

"Can you imagine? From 1943 to 2015," Capes said. "That letter made for the best New Year's I've had in a long time. How she got that address I don't know, but I've heard that's pretty easy."

Along with her letter, Corns sent along a few pages of her research typed in large print.

The letter and those pages now sit in front of Capes' chair on a small cart next to his printer. He frequently uses the printer's copier to duplicate newspaper articles and old war photographs.

Capes, who lives at Valley Eldercare Center, has trouble hearing and reading these days, so nurses, family or friends usually read things to him.

Whoever first read him Corns' printed pages did it a little quickly for him to catch, so he asked a reporter to read it to him again during an interview.

Going back

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Listening to Corns' words, Capes was like a small child enraptured by his favorite story: sitting on the edge of his seat, hands clasped between his knees, smiling.

He nodded his head, instructing the reporter to keep going.

Capes still remembers many of the moments Corns wrote of. He mentioned many of them during an interview with a Herald reporter last summer about his recollections of D-Day.

One of those memories was that 1943 Christmas with Barbara and her family, which Capes recalled with fondness.

Capes said he and another soldier who was selected to go loaded up a bag with oranges, apples, canned goods and other goodies for the family, as well as cigarettes from their rations to give to the parents.

Capes remembered Barbara and her sister running up the sidewalk when they showed up.

Corns wrote of this moment as well.

"I know my sister Jackie and I were dazzled by having a tall, handsome American to spoil us with candy!" Corns wrote in her letter.

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Capes remained in touch with the family after that Christmas. In 1944, he was burned in an explosion in France, but he recalled getting a chance to speak with Corns after that.

He returned to duty in Germany in 1945, shortly before the end of the war. But even after returning to the states, Capes kept up a correspondence with the family for more than 20 years.

"I kept in contact with those people even after I got home," Capes said.

Corns also remembered that.

In her typed pages, she wrote, "Bob and Carl wrote to my mother after the end of the war and we used to get Christmas cards with details of how their lives were developing."

However, once Corns' mother died in the 1960s, the correspondence between Capes and Barbara's parents ended.

"I never knew what happened to any of those people after that," Capes said.

But with Corns' letter, Capes was finally able to reconnect, and he wants to return the favor.

Although he has arthritis in his hands that prevents him from writing, the staff at Valley Eldercare Center is going to help him write his own letter back and ensure it makes it to England.

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