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A World War II Diary and Lost Love

In 1943, a Marine pilot kept a diary during his service in World War II. Lt. Charles C. Winnia chronicled his missions flying against the Japanese in the Pacific, and his love for a girl back in Nashville, Tenn. Winnia was shot down, and never came home. His diary -- nearly forgotten for over 60 years -- was recently discovered and read by his sweetheart, Violet Jane Watkins, for the first time.

V.J. Watkins tells NPR's Bob Edwards that she and Winnia, who had met in college, wrote each other a couple of times a week. Winnia was flying "a lot of missions -- sometimes two and three missions a day," she says. "Sometimes he was so tired when he wrote that his handwriting was shaky."

"I do think that our friendship, our relationship was, of course, deepened by the letters," Watkins says.

Winnia's diary was kept by a Marine friend and pilot. It was discovered in the now-deceased man's garage five years ago behind his drill press. Diary hobbyists quickly started looking for Winnia's "V.J." In an impossible coincidence, Watkins was identified by Internet-savvy researchers at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Ga. They made the connection when processing Watkins' donation to the school. Soon, Watkins read Winnia's diary for the first time.

"The diary of course naturally did revive a lot of memories -- not that they ever departed," Watkins says. "But [reading it] was an emotional experience."

Below are selected entries mentioning Watkins from Lt. Winnia's diary:

Jan. 7: Heard from V.J. Watkins written on 9 Nov 42, while I was between Miami & San Diego. 6 addresses. Won't allow communications to so lapse again. I hope some day to make her Mrs. C.C.W.

Feb. 12: Aloha dance tonight in our honor. A big drunk as usual. No interest in the wahinies tonight - haven't had since I heard from V.J. in Jan. Late mail brought 3rd letter from V.J. Though we haven't seen each other since Dec '40 we seem to have strong natural interest. Anxiously awaiting further developments.

Feb. 26: Wrote a long letter to V.J. If I have any luck when she comes through on this one I'll know she is on my side of the fence.

March 15: No flight today. Weather closed down and it really rained. The wet, the ever-present mud and the flies make this place quite a hole. That is not to mention the sun and mosquitoes. Working is OK early & late but it's hell between 0900 and 1700. Letter from V.J. and Mother. V.J.'s snapshot arrived. It really set me to wondering. Either it is a lousy picture (I hope) or she is quite changed and getting dumpy. Let's hope not. Her letter was lacking in expected warmth, but I hope for better.

March 22: ...Letter from V.J. Don't know what to think now. Seems to want to see me, but doesn't actually warm up in the general tone of the letter.

April 14: Retired to ordnance tent with Stewart & a bottle of Bacardi Rum & two letters, both written 17 March. One happily from V.J....

April 29: Started the day with air raid at 0415. Didn't get close to us this time. Went to local movie after inactive day. After show listened to Radio Tokyo tonight - the biggest entertainment and pack of lies in the Pacific. VMF 221 leaving so they are throwing a big one tonight. 2 letters from Mother praising V.J. highly. Says "marrying is up to you, but will go further and fare worse." The plot thickens.

May 3: Strike came off this AM perfectly. I got one AA position. Col. Moore stated: "The best coordinated attack we delivered in this area."... Went to local show, cooked some chow & retired dreaming of V.J.

May 17: ...Strange letter from V.J., I wonder if I really know her?

May 18: Another day of waiting. I wish we would get to rest or get action. Word passed today that half leave tomorrow and rest of us leave next day. Two letters from V.J. in last few days. Will attempt an answer.

May 23: ...The Hotel Australia Lobby is full of the largest number of pretty girls looking for dates with marines. They are out for all they can get, but most of us are also so what the hell? Don't have the interest in running around I expected.

May 27: ...Squadron party tonight at Princess... The gal I took was best looking there but she got drunk and we left just before the steak. I drank over 1 qt champagne at one setting but hardly knew it. Took her home stupid and then hit the sack myself. Quite disgusted with her performance.

May 28: After six days here it finally hit me. Seeing these fair complexions & blue eyes under dark hair bothered me & now I know why. V.J.. I suddenly realize just how much I want to see that girl again. She takes up where these girls leave off on looks, personality and morals. Lord if I ever catch her and she is as I think, I'll not let her go...

June 2: ...Sat in cool breeze watching sunset and dreamed a little of Violet Jane. Lord how I want to come home to that girl.

June 10: ...2 letters from Mother. 1 wonderful one from V.J. I sure hope and pray we are really in love.

June 11: ...Wrote V.J. a good letter. She is certainly the one to come home to.

July 10: ...Swell letter from Mother. Subject V.J.. No letter from V.J. in a long time. Would feel less discouraged if I could only hear from her.

July 11: Missed mass this AM. Rendova patrol. Feeling badly with bad head. Doc grounded me as I was preparing for an escort this afternoon. Rec'd letter from V.J. written 28 June. Answered tonight though confined to bunk. First I have heard in over two weeks...

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