Wagoner World War II Correspondence, 1935-1946

Collection Overview

Title: Wagoner World War II Correspondence, 1935-1946

Record Series: MsC-84

Record Group:


Creator: Wagoner, Cecil and Esther

Date: 1935-1946

Extent: 6 boxes (2.502 linear feet)

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Northern Iowa

Language: Materials entirely in English.

Information for Users

Accessing the Collection:

No restrictions. Materials are open for research.

Custodial History:

These letters were donated to Special Collections & University Archives in October 2014 by Stacia Greve Eggers, who received them from her aunt, Patricia Lucas Swanson, a niece of Esther Wagoner.

Sensitive Materials Statement: Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy or similar laws, and the Iowa Open Records Law (see Iowa Code § 22.7). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Northern Iowa assumes no responsibility.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], in the [Series Title] #[series number], [folder number or title when applicable], [Collection Name], Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

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Historical Note

Cecil Ralph Wagoner was born on February 17, 1911, in Waterloo, Iowa, son of Orean F. and Bernice Wagoner. He had one brother, Harry, two stepbrothers, Gordon and William Sampson, and one stepsister, Gladys Sampson.

Mr. Wagoner worked for Iowa Public Service Company from 1929-1974, except during his military service from 1943-1946.

He married Esther Lamborn of Cedar Rapids on November 22, 1936. In July 1943 Mr. Wagoner enlisted in the United States Army. He began his service at Camp Dodge, Iowa, with the rank of private. That fall he was sent to Camp Adair, Oregon, where he joined the 882nd Battalion, 70th infantry division. He was promoted to corporal in December 1943, a rank he retained throughout the war. In the summer of 1944 he moved to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and in December to an unspecified camp on the East Coast. From there he was deployed overseas from late December 1944 through mid-June 1945, serving in France and Germany. Upon his return from Europe he was assigned to Camp Bowie in Texas. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on February 1, 1946.

Mr. and Mrs. Wagoner lived in Waterloo until his death of a heart attack on February 5, 1975. The couple had no children.

Esther M. Lamborn was born on May 18, 1912, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, daughter of James W. and Olive Shaw Lamborn. Esther had one sister, Fern Lucas, and a brother, Earl.

She was employed for a time as a switchboard operator for Northwestern Bell in Cedar Rapids, and later worked at Iowa Public Service Company in Waterloo. In 1974 she retired from IPS, along with her husband. Reports conflict regarding the number of years she worked at IPS. Her obituary states that she had been there for more than forty years. His obituary states it was twenty-six years, 1948-1974. However, it is clear from their letters that she was employed there during the War years. It was Mr. Wagoner's wish that she no longer work after he returned from the service, so it is possible that she quit in 1946 and then went back to work in 1948.

Some years after her husband's death, Mrs. Wagoner moved to Manchester, Iowa. She later returned to Waterloo, where she resided at the Ravenwood Nursing and Rehabilitation facility until her death of natural causes on October 6, 2009.

Mr. and Mrs. Wagoner are buried together in Waterloo Cemetery.                             

Brief Genealogy of the Wagoner and Lamborn Families

Orean F. Wagoner (1883-1967) married Bernice Gilbert (1888-1919) around 1906. They had two sons, Harry (1907-1994) and Cecil. Bernice died in 1919. Around 1920 Orean married widow Vera Lillibridge Sampson (1887-1949). She had three children by her first husband, Arlington Sampson:  Gladys (1910-1941), Gordon (1911-1947), and William Sampson (1915-1968). Harry Wagoner married Garnett Carrothers (1913-1992), but there is no record of children. Gladys Sampson married Claude Ransom (1908-1997). Again, there is no record of children. Gordon married Joyce Powers (1917-1976), and they had two daughters. William married Donna Hoffman (1918-1961). They had three children.

James W. "Will" Lamborn (1878-1959) married Olive Lamborn (1887-1942) sometime before 1910. They had two daughters, Fern (1910-1977) and Esther, and one son, Earl (1915-1993). Fern married Joseph Lucas (1904-1974). They had one daughter, Patricia. Earl married Bertha Hass (1914-2004). They had two daughters, Linda and Judy.


Scope and Content

This collection consists of nearly a thousand letters, written primarily during Mr. Wagoner's years in the service, 1943-1946. Most of the correspondence is between Cecil and Esther Wagoner, although there are a few letters from Mr. Wagoner's father and stepmother and Mrs. Wagoner's father, as well as some friends and other relatives.

Their correspondence represents a fascinating, personal portrait of life during World War II, domestic and abroad, military and civilian.

Mr. Wagoner speaks of the everyday grind of Army life in his journey from camp to camp in the United States and finally to France and Germany. He also comments on the major events of the day, such as D-Day, the deaths of President Franklin Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, and the end of the war in Europe.  For instance, upon hearing a rumor of Hitler's death, in his letter of May 4, 1945, Mr. Wagoner states, "The radio and Stars and Stripes Forever say that the German people claim that Hitler is dead.  If it is the truth, which I doubt very much, that will be two people who are out of the way." [The first being Mussolini.] He then added, in a bit of an understatement, "They sure caused a lot of people a lot of trouble." 

His letters from the stateside camps were uncensored, but once he was sent to Europe, every letter was read by an Army censor. Few of his letters needed to be altered, but when they were, the offending passages were not blacked over, but cut out with scissors.

Mrs. Wagoner discusses the struggles of a young wife trying to survive on her own with little money and few close friends, all the while facing the very real possibility that her husband might never return.  She writes of daily life, such as movies, people whom she visited or communicated with, the prices of items such as groceries, stamps, gas and heat, war rationing, their parents, work, gossip, the travails of their dog Jiggers, and their plans for after the war, including their hope of starting a family.

There is humor and anger here, poignancy and drudgery, pep talks, optimism, fear and uncertainty. Yet the overwhelming sense expressed in these letters is one of loneliness, of two people separated by war, and their mutual longing for each other's emotional and physical presence. However, despite their deep love, their words also convey insecurity. Each letter closes not only with terms of endearment, but with reassurances that they will remain true to one another—a promise it appears they both kept.

Unfortunately, from June 1944-May 1945, the correspondence becomes one-sided, as only a single letter from Mrs. Wagoner has survived, from November 1944. Unable to find space to store and carry them, Mr. Wagoner was forced to discard many of the letters that she wrote to him. The reader must deduce the content of her letters by the responses in his letters. Her correspondence resumes in July 1945, only to disappear again after November. For the final two months of Mr. Wagoner's service in the Army, we have only his letters. There were no letters at all in June and September of 1945, but this is not surprising, because these times correspond with Mr. Wagoner's furloughs.

This collection provides wonderful insights into the most monumental event of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of two ordinary people. 



Notes on the letters and their arrangement

The letters are handwritten but quite legible. Both the letters and envelopes have been retained. In all cases the envelope is filed first, immediately followed by the letter that it contained. If an envelope had an enclosure other than the letter, such as a photo, the enclosure has been moved to the files marked "Enclosures," located in Box 6.  A note was left in the envelope referring the researcher to Box 6. The enclosures are filed chronologically according to the postmarks on the envelope. The postmarks were also especially helpful in putting the letters in order, because they note not only the date on which the letters were sent, but also the time of day.

With the exception of postcards, there were no letters without envelopes, but there were a few envelopes without letters. These, too, have been retained, with a note that there was no letter.  

For the most part, the letters are filed in chronological order by the date and time of the postmark, without regard to correspondent. Since a vast majority of the correspondence is between Mr. and Mrs. Wagoner, filing letters chronologically helps to give a sense of the back-and-forth conversation between them.

Many of the letters are numbered, and almost all are dated. However, the couple's numbering system was unreliable and inconsistently applied. Some letters were numbered and some were not. When letters were numbered, the couple often forgot where they'd left off. Also, neither the number nor the date was necessarily an indication of when a letter was received and read. Delivery time was not dependable. They might receive letters written a week apart on the same day, or letters written later before those written earlier. Thus, the postmarks were the primary source of chronology. That said, in the long intervals when Mrs. Wagoner's letters have not survived, Mr. Wagoner's letters are arranged in chronological order by the date written on the letter itself.

Box 1

April 1935-October 1943, folder 1

Box 2

October 1943, folder 2-December 1943, folder 1

Box 3

December 1943, folder 2-April 1944

Box 4

May 1944-December 1944

Box 5

January 1945-December 1945

Box 6

Folder 1: January 1946 letters

  • Postmarked from Des Moines, Iowa, August 18, 1943, 8:00 a.m.  Postcard advertisement to purchase photographs
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, August 31, 1943, 8:00 a.m.  Various newspaper clippings
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, September 4, 1943, 8:00 a.m.  Newspaper clipping
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, September 7, 1943, 8:00 a.m.  Newspaper clipping
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, September 9, 1943, 8:00 a.m.  Newspaper clipping
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, September 14, 1943, 9:30 a.m.  Brochure for post-war business outlook
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, October 5, 1943, 9:30 a.m.  Poor quality photographs of Mrs. Wagoner
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, October 12, 1943, 8:00 am.  Book club ads
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, October 17, 1943, 7;30 p.m.  Photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Wagoner and two unknown men, possibly Mr. Wagoner's father Orean and brother Harry
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, October 18, 1943 9:30 a.m.  Newspaper clipping
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, November 11, 1943, unknown time.  Photographs of Mrs. Wagoner, their niece Patricia Lucas, their dog Jiggers, their car, and flowers in their garden.
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, November 27, 1943, 9:00 a.m.  Address label for a business in Chicago
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, December 13, 1943, 10:00 a.m.  Book club ads
  • Postmarked from Corvallis, Oregon, December 23, 1943, 1:30 p.m.  Poor quality photograph, indistinguishable subject
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, January 4, 1944, 8:00 p.m.  Supplement to Waterloo Courier
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, March 15, 1944, 4:00 p.m.  Newspaper clipping
  • Postmarked from Waterloo, Iowa, April 7, 1944, 9:00 a.m.  Tickets from Woolworth and Montgomery Ward, indicating somebody's weight
  • Postmarked from Salem, Oregon, July 8, 1944, 9:00 p.m.  Small unsigned postcards of Oregon
  • Postmarked from Corvallis, Oregon, July 13, 1944, 1:30 p.m.  Postcard of the Golden Gate Bridge, sent to Mr. Wagoner by friend Delmar Winkles, then forwarded to Mrs. Wagoner in this envelope
  • Postmarked from Corvallis, Oregon, July 16, 1944, 1:30 p.m.  Pages from a church brochure
  • Postmarked from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, August 28, 1944, 11:30 a.m.  V-mail to Mr. Wagoner from his friend Harold "Monk" Robinson, plus a church program and a recipe
  • Postmarked from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, September 16, 1944, 11:30 a.m.  Newspaper clippings
  • Postmarked from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, October 2, 1944, 11:00 a.m.  Church service program and brochure
  • Postmarked from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, October 15, 1944, 11:00 a.m.  Church service program
  • Postmarked from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, November 20, 1944, 11:00 a.m.  Church service program
  • Postmarked from U.S. Army Postal Service, December 26, 1944, 11:30 a.m.  Photograph of Mr. Wagoner
  • Postmarked from U.S. Army Postal Service, January 8, 1945, 11:30 a.m.  Photographs of Mr. Wagoner

Folder 2: Obituaries for Cecil and Esther Wagoner.

Folder 3: Ephemeral material

  • Application for life insurance
  • Army Emergency Relief notice
  • ​Army Induction Station 3722, Special Orders calling Enlisted Reserve Men to active duty
  • ​Army pamphlet, sex hygiene and venereal disease
  • ​Assignment for Special Services, Corps of Engineers
  • Basic Field Manual, Soldier's Handbook , one page
  • ​Billet assignment for Cecil Wagoner at Camp Adair
  • Church program
  • Exam on care and display of equipment
  • Fall-In – American Legion booklet (2 copies)
  • Form letter to soldiers' families from Camp Adair chaplain
  • Gift card tags
  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Jokes in Esther Wagoner's possession
  • Marksmanship scores for Camp Adair (includes Cecil Wagoner)
  • Memorandum of receipt of truck and truck supplies and tools
  • Newspaper clippings (photocopies of three articles)
  • Newspaper photographs of IPS employees (includes Esther Wagoner)
  • Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company annual report for 1943
  • Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company booklet and pamphlet
  • Postcard photograph of military chapel, possibly Camp Adair, unsigned, undated
  • Postcard to volunteer for the Corps of Engineers, not filled out
  • Postcards from Sacramento, California, unsigned, undated
  • Printed music--melodies for Christmas carols
  • Receipt forms for Quartermaster laundry
  • Report cards for Esther Lamborn (Wagoner), 1917-1928
  • Receipts from Kennedy's City Cleaning Works from Salem, Oregon
  • SMCL Link, The--September and October 1943 issues
  • Supplemental price list for garrison rations at Camp Adair
  • Test answers, 4 sheets handwritten on the back of typed supplemental price lists, menu, and shipping order
  • Trail Blazers pamphlet for 70th Division, general instructions
  • Trailblazers pamphlet for 70th Division, September 11, 1943, Organization Day
  • Typed joke in envelope addressed to Cecil Wagoner
  • Unit Test #2 - Night Problem
  • V-mail envelope with instructions
  • War Department request that family members send Christmas presents to soldiers
  • War ration book
  • Woolworth ticket listing unknown person's weight

Processing Information

Collection processed by Library Associate David Hoing, October-December 2014; updated, January 30, 2015 (GP); last updated September 27, 2017 (dh). Linear feet count updated on August 7, 2017.