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'That is a piece of history': Lost WWII letters discovered at Tennessee Goodwill

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Lost WWII letters discovered at Tennessee Goodwill{ }(Photo: Gayle Skelton)

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WCYB) – No donation is ever quite the same at one Tennessee Goodwill store.

"There's been a lot of strange, there's been a lot of good things, a lot of weird things," said employee Holly Saylor.

One of those donations earlier this month at the Kingsport location fit all three categories when a man brought in some items to donate. It was a jewelry box that caught the eye of another employee, Melinda Brummitt.

"It’s old but the leg is broken, but maybe somebody will buy it," said Brummitt.

Brummitt asked Saylor to look it over, and little did Saylor know, she was going to be in for a surprise.

"It was kind of heavy, so I picked it up, opened it, took the letters out, took the first one out and read it, and I was like 'This is a mistaken donation,'" said Saylor.

Saylor told her co-worker Isabella Hilton what she had found.

“I said, 'Do you know when these were written?' They were like, 'No, what are you talking about?' I said, 'These are dated 1944 in Germany,'" said Hilton.

The letters belonged to childhood sweethearts Betty and Gene Herron, who grew up in the Tri-Cities, the region comprising of the cities of Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol and the surrounding smaller towns/communities in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

They're letters Gene wrote to Betty while he served in the US military during World War II. The workers knew they needed to get those letters back to their rightful owners.

"It just so happened the day he came back, I was working donations again, and I was like 'We've got something for you,'" said Brummitt.

Workers learned from the family that Gene and Betty both recently passed away. When family members were cleaning out their old house, one of the grandchildren took something in the keepsake pile to Goodwill by mistake. Gene and Betty's daughter Gayle Skelton says it means so much to have the letters back.

"We didn’t know they really existed. To have someone find them and return them, it was amazing. Just listening to something we didn’t even know we had," said Skelton.

"That is a piece of history," said Saylor. "It’s like our customers say, they find treasure here all the time. To me that’s a piece of treasure."

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