The storage unit’s corrugated metal door slid upward, revealing 100 square feet of mostly empty space. Not very promising, thought Joe Alosi, a businessman who bid on units, sight unseen, when tenants stopped paying the rent. Several plastic bins sat in the middle of the floor, and dust billowed as Alosi peeled off the first lid.
Inside, tightly packed, were rows of envelopes. Alosi opened one, and then another, and then another. The Marine Corps veteran felt a slight chill.
The mostly handwritten letters, on tissue-thin paper, dated to World War II and were penned mostly by the members of a single family — the Eydes of Rockford, Ill. Three brothers were in the military: one in the Marine Corps, one in the Army and one in the Army Air Forces.
There were hundreds of letters, stretching over four years of war and beyond. They captured the horrors of combat, offered warm reminiscences of childhood and exchanges about everything from the movie “Casablanca” to the brothers’ beloved Chicago Cubs. The brothers also used racist and pejorative language, including in their descriptions of Japanese and German forces.
Alosi wondered how such an intimate and gripping collection had ended up in a storage locker, whether any of the brothers had children, and if there was anyone left who would care to see them.
“I’ve seen multiple times the way people leave things, you know?” Alosi said. “And when they leave them in a certain way, it’s like they don’t plan on coming back.”
What remained was the story contained in the letters.