MINBURN, Iowa — On the Dallas County Freedom Rock you will find the stories of some local heroes who served their country during WWII.
That includes Nile Kinnick, who won the Heisman Trophy as an Iowa Hawkeye football player, and then joined the Navy and was killed in a training flight, as a Naval Aviator. There is also the story of Bob Feller, ” the Heater from Van Meter,” who pitched in the Major Leagues for Cleveland while still in high school. His major league career was interrupted by four years of service in the Navy.
But another story on the rock is less familiar. That of the five Wilson brothers from Minburn.
“Five brothers served and only two came home,” said Joy Neal Kidney, of Des Moines, who has written a book called Leora’s Letters, which is a collection of letters from the Wilson brothers in that era. “I knew it in my head, but you don’t ask your mother questions that are going to bring tears.”
Kidney’s mother was Doris, a sister to the five Wilson brothers. Dale and Danny Wilson were both killed in action, and Junior was killed when his plane exploded in Texas just as WWII was ending.
“When the mailman came at an odd time, they knew they’d be getting a telegram, my mother Doris went to the door and the poor mailman had to give her the telegram she opened it,” recounted Kidney. “The first telegram was missing in action, the next one was missing in action, the next one was Junior’s that he’d been killed in Texas.”
“Dale was a co-pilot on the B-25, that went down with five other crew members in New Guinea and they’ve never been found,” said Kidney. “Danny Wilson got the P-38 and he went down in Austria just a few months before the end of the war in Europe is now buried in France.”
Only Junior was given an Iowa burial. He was laid to rest in a cemetery in Perry.
The book came about after years of not knowing much about what happened to her uncles. Joy Neal Kidney got access to the family collection of letters from the war. She was so impressed with all the rich stories told there, she even took writing classes, so she could do a book about this family. She wrote the story in a narrative and even got her mother’s approval on how some of the story was told.
“There’s a scene where she’s working at McDonald’s drugstore and Perry and the radio stops playing music to announce Pearl Harbor had been attacked,” said Kidney. “She said people would say where is Pearl Harbor, she made the comment to somebody that Pearl Harbor in the territory of Hawaii and all my brothers are the wrong ages.”
The book was written to show the incredible sacrifice made by this one Dallas County family. Dexter Museum houses an exhibit about the Wilson Brothers. The family was originally from there, before moving to a farm near Minburn.
“I wish people would remember what more Memorial Day is for it was set up nationally to remember and honor war dead,” said Kidney. “Most people now don’t even know anybody who has died in the war but it’s a good thing to take your children to a service at the cemetery or to the Freedom Rock.”
For more on the writings of Joy Neal Kidney, click here.