By MARTIN GRIFFITH
RENO, Nev. (AP) - A World War II soldier's heartfelt letter to his daughter has finally reached her, seven decades after it was written.
Peggy Eddington-Smith received the letter penned by her father, Pfc. John Eddington, as well as his Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, during an emotional ceremony Saturday in Dayton, Nev., about 40 miles southeast of Reno.
The father she never met wrote the three-page letter shortly after she was born and shortly before he died in Italy in June 1944. He sent it while stationed in Texas, just before he was sent overseas.
Getting his medals was nice, but the letter meant more because it made her feel closer to her father, Eddington-Smith said. She knew little about him since her mother could rarely bring herself to discuss the love of her life.
"The letter gave me more knowledge of who he was," she told The Associated Press. "He poured out his heart to me, and a lot of men don't put that kind of emotion in writing. I'm just overwhelmed by everything, trying to absorb everything."
Donna Gregory of St. Louis found the soldier's letter and other World War II memorabilia in a box 14 years ago while helping her then-husband clean out his grandparents' home in Arnold, Mo., a St. Louis suburb.
Gregory's voice cracked with emotion as she read the letter Saturday, bringing tears to Eddington-Smith and many in the crowd of about 150.
The soldier devoted the first page to his wife, saying he hoped she did not find it "silly" that he was writing a letter to a child who could not read.
Addressing the next two pages to his "darling" daughter, he wrote that while she may not see him "for some time," he wanted her to know that she was always on his mind.
"I love you so much," the letter says. "Your mother and daddy ... are going to give you everything we can. We will always give you all the love we have."
Eddington urged his daughter to "always treat your mother right. You have the sweetest mother on the Earth."
He closed the letter by writing, "I love you with all my heart and soul forever and forever. Your loving daddy."
Eddington-Smith and Gregory are unsure what connection the soldier had to the couple who owned the house where his memorabilia was found. Eddington was from Leadwood, Mo., about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Gregory tracked down Smith in June after a search that involved libraries and the Internet. Both women cried during their initial phone conversation that left the daughter shocked by the items' discovery.
Eddington-Smith knew her father died in the war. She was unaware of the letter and other contents of the box, including 16 letters from Eddington to his mother, his draft card and military dog tags, his high school diploma and newspaper clips.
An only child, she grew up in St. Louis and lived there until her mid-20s. She moved with her four children to Nevada in 1972 after a divorce. Her mother, Helen, never remarried and died in 1997.
"I would ask my mother why she didn't get remarried and her only comment was that she found the perfect man and will never again find the perfect man," Eddington-Smith said.
Associated Press Correspondent Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this story.