Mark Shults of North Platte recently broke his son’s antique picture frame — and uncovered a hidden voice from World War II.
It belongs to a 21-year-old U.S. soldier from northern Minnesota, writing his uncle in Iowa from Europe on the back of a 1944 Christmas card to say he was all right.
Less than a month after Pfc. Russell Raymond Casper wrote his note, he and other members of his 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company were supporting the U.S. air effort to defeat Nazi Germany in the Battle of the Bulge.
Born near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on Dec. 8, 1922, Casper died in that city at age 41 on Jan. 13, 1964.
He’s buried there in Itasca Calvary Cemetery, according to Telegraph research based on the information Shults found.
Shults and his son, Bobby — who bought the framed card in an Omaha-area antique shop — hope word of their discovery might reach Casper’s relatives so they can return his letter and the rest of the picture frame’s contents.
“If I was someone’s great-grandson and found out this had happened, I’d think, ‘Yeah, I’d really like to have that back,’” Mark Shults said.
Bobby Shults, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, has long frequented antique shops and displayed his “knickknacks” in his parents’ garage, his father said.
Bobby bought the framed card while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha five or six years ago. He told Mark it came either from Jim’s Seek and Save Antiques in Omaha or the Egg Krate in nearby Elk Horn, Iowa.
Mark Shults said he “was cleaning the garage the other day when I knocked it off the wall and the glass broke.
“I was picking it up, peeling (the picture) off (and) seeing what was in there.”
The broken frame had displayed a drawing of a U.S. GI sitting on a brick ledge, a young boy and girl sitting on his lap with a doll in the girl’s arms and the soldier’s rifle resting against the ledge.
“MERRY XMAS 1944,” said the top of the drawing, which is signed and dated 1944 by the artist in its lower right-hand corner.
Other copies of the card can be seen for sale on eBay. Some were originally sent from Belgium and others from Germany, according to their sellers’ notes.
A separate picture of a sailing ship was in the frame behind the GI Christmas card, Mark Shults said.
Then he turned over the holiday card and found the brief letter on its back, dated Nov. 28, 1944.
In it, Pfc. Casper tells “Dear Al & all” he’s glad to hear they recently had a son. He assures them he’s fine, interrupting the note when “the work whistle” blew and finishing it after his duty shift and a viewing of the 1944 Jane Frazee film “Rosie the Riveter.”
The scene on the Christmas card “is typical of the soldiers here and of the surrounding country,” wrote Casper, who signed his note “Your nephew, Russ.”
He also included his full first and last names and the name of his unit. That, plus information on one more small sheet Shults found, opened online doors to more of Casper’s story.
He appears in the 1940 U.S. Census (the most recent one available online) as the 17-year-old second child of Alva and Margaret Casper.
The family lived in Taconite (then Taconite Junction), about 8½ miles northeast of Grand Rapids and 70 miles northwest of Duluth. It’s listed as Russell Casper’s birthplace in the national Find A Grave index.
Taconite also lies about 2 miles northeast of Bovey, a town sitting between there and Grand Rapids and listed as Casper’s hometown in the extra note Shults found.
Written after Casper’s death, that note listed Alva and Marge Casper as his parents and said he wrote the Nov. 28 note to “Albert” in Des Moines, Iowa.
Albert and Irene Davis lived at the address listed in the note, according to a 1944 city directory check by the Des Moines Public Library for The Telegraph.
The FamilySearch website says Harlan Alva Casper married Margaret Mae Davis on March 10, 1909, in Runnells, Iowa, near Des Moines. Both of Russell Casper’s parents outlived him, with Margaret dying in 1966 and Alva in 1972.
Finally, the note said Russell Casper was in the Battle of the Bulge — which was true in the behind-the-scenes sense.
The 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company serviced Martin B-26 Marauder bombers as part of the 99th Combat Wing of the U.S. 9th Air Force, according to available online World War II records.
Originally based in England, the 2004th supported aircraft from there during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion and its immediate aftermath.
It moved to France that September with 9th Air Force Service Command headquarters, supporting ground offensives by Gen. Omar Bradley’s U.S. 12th Army Group through V-E Day on May 8, 1945.
That period included the Battle of the Bulge, launched by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi German forces in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944.
Cloudy skies kept Allied aircraft grounded until Dec. 23, when the 9th Air Force — backed up by Casper’s unit — finally could take to the skies.
Its planes pounded German positions during the Allied counterattack, which drove Hitler’s forces back to their starting point by the battle’s end on Jan. 25, 1945.
Mark Shults said any of Casper’s relatives who might recognize his story may email him at email@example.com.
“I would just like to somehow trace who’s left in the family or who may be interested in this (material) and get this back to them,” he said.