DETROIT— A trove of letters and other memorabilia shows that a 19-year-old U.S. Army ambulance driver had quite an adventure and an active love life while serving in Europe during World War II.
He apparently stashed a bag of love letters, photos and other items in the wall of his northwest Detroit home, where they went undiscovered until last summer, when the owners found them during renovations and decided to track down the previous owners.
Stanley Gargas and his wife lived in the North Rosedale Park house for decades before Hubert Sawyers III and Elise Sorise-Sawyers moved in. The couple were remodeling their kitchen when Gargas’ cache became dislodged from the top of a heating conduit.
“I just thought it was really sweet and mysterious at the same time,” Sorise-Sawyers, 31, a financial analyst for Compuware, told the Detroit Free Press for a story Tuesday. “Detroit has such a cool history, and this is part of that history.”
Inside a bag were Gargas's discharge papers from the Army and many photos. Gargas posed on a beach like a boxer and standing with a woman on each arm. Other photos showed him with a woman named Violet, whose cards from Gloucester, England, expressed her love. There also were letters from another woman in Britain named Pat.
The trove also included photos taken back in the U.S. with friends and family, marking weddings and daily life.
Sawyers and Sorise-Sawyers began a search for the Gargas family. Neighbors told them that Stanley and wife Sadie Gargas were nice people who had no children. Someone said that Stanley Gargas worked for the city of Detroit. They learned that Stanley Gargas died in 2004, and Sadie Gargas had gone to a nursing home.
“There's this sense of honoring the people who lived here before us,” Sorise-Sawyers said. “If someone had found a package of things belonging to my grandmother, I'd hope they'd look for me.”
Sadie Gargas’ sister, 83-year-old Susan Cleva, confirmed that her sister had Alzheimer's and was living in a nursing home.
Cleva said Stanley Gargas met Sadie Keteian in Detroit after the war, and they married in 1956.
“He was a great person. He worked hard,” Cleva said from her Seattle-area home. “He was a terrific dancer.”
Sawyers, 32, said he thinks Stanley Gargas wanted to keep the letters and photos to himself.
“These were cherished memories, but he didn't want to flaunt it,” Sawyers said.