Lost WWII love letters uncovered during NYC home renovation

Their love stood the test of time — and home improvement.

After 80 years, a stack of World War II-era love letters pulled out of the walls during a Staten Island house renovation have been returned to the descendants of a prolific Navy man who wrote warmly — and frequently — to his wife.

Dottie Kearney, 51, uncovered the sheaf of correspondence between Brooklyn-born boatswain’s mate Claude Marsten Smythe and Wisconsin native Marie Borgal Smythe back in the mid-1990s, when Kearney and her husband bought the Eltingville fixer-upper — once home to the Smythes — and started tearing out the old walls.

“[Claude] was so polite. He always wrote ‘My dearest’ to her and said how hard the war was, how he was longing for her, wanted her to cook at home, and thought of her everyday,” Kearney, a retired beverage manager and bartender, told The Post.

The care Smythe showed in his writing moved Kearney, who found himself reading the love notes again and again throughout the years.


Love letters from a World War II sailor to his wife were found inside the walls of a Staten Island home.
Love letters from a World War II sailor to his wife were found inside the walls of a Staten Island home.
MyHeritage.com

“I couldn’t bear to throw [the letters] away because they were so beautiful. I told my husband that one day we’re going to find the owners,” Kearney said.

About six months ago, Kearney’s decades-long quest to reunite the romantic missives with the writers’ descendants finally ended when she saw heirloom investigator and TikTok star Chelsey Brown on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” She reached out to the social media personality and heard her back right away.

Recruiting the aid of MyHeritage.com, Brown, who focuses on lost-and-found WWII and Holocaust artifacts, managed to find 1940 census data on the Smythes almost instantly, which led her to daughter Carol Bohlin, 76, living in Tinmouth, Vt . “[The] family was so beyond grateful and excited,” Brown told The Post.

Although the exact courtship tale between Claude — an NYPD officer before and after WWII — and Marie might be lost to history, Bohlin was able to confirm that the couple’s romance was kindled right here in the Big Apple.

Bohlin believed that his parents wed and honeymooned in New Mexico, before Claude joined the Navy, which stationed him in the South Pacific from 1941 to 1945.

Dottie Kearney found the letters while doing demolition work on her Staten Island home.
Dottie Kearney found the letters while doing demolition work on her Staten Island home.
Kearney was so moved by the letters, she spent decades trying to return them to the family.
Kearney was so moved by the letters, she spent decades trying to return them to the family.
MyHeritage.com

During that time, Marie relocated to California to be closer to her husband, helping in the aerospace sector to boost the war effort, her daughter said.

In the letters, Claude would share mundane details of his life on the front, such as treating himself to five cent dinners and movies — but there was another, more significant reason he frequently connected with his wife, Bohlin explained.

Marie contracted rheumatic fever when she was 12, leaving her with a weak heart.

“He was always checking up on her in the letters to make sure she was okay,” she said of her mother, who passed in 1961.


Carol Bohlin said the return of her parents' World War II letters made it feel like they were with her again.
Carol Bohlin said the return of her parents’ World War II letters made it feel like they were with her again.
MyHeritage.com

By 1949, the love birds had returned to New York, moving into the Eltingville two-bedroom, where Claude’s letters were stuffed away in the attic. When her father passed away in 1974, Bohlin, who worked as a secretary in lower Manhattan, relocated to quiet Tinmouth — a small village north of tony Manchester — where she raised three sons.

After all these years, the letters have awakened memories of the great childhood her parents gave her, Bohlin said.

“It brought me back — I miss them and I cry a lot sometimes when I think about them,” she said. “It made me feel like they’re here again.”