A letter written in 1942 led to a remarkable reunion 70 years later
Lockport, La. - Clifton Detillier joined the Army in 1941.
Just 20 years old at the time, he said goodbye to his wife, who was expecting their first child. He left Lafourche Parish for Camp Livingston in the northern part of the state.
"We happened to be the 785th Tank Battalion and I'd say about 50 to 60 percent of us were from down the bayou or from Mathews or Raceland," says Detillier.
Training for war meant grueling, hard days of drills and miles of marching. Long, lonely nights followed, far from home.
"It wasn't easy to write letters but we took time to write them," Detillier says.
He made friends with the other men in his battalion. One stood out, a soldier so homesick he couldn't sleep at night.
"I really mean this, he was miserable," says Detillier. "I'm the type of man that just can't take that. I went to see the captain about it and I told him how he was doing and I said, 'If y'all don't do something for him, I think he's going to pass away.'"
The soldier didn't know how to read or write but he had an envelope with his address. Detillier offered to write a letter home for him.
"I started off with "Dear Sweetheart' because he was drafted on the day they were supposed to get married," says Detillier.
Detillier wrote more letters to the soldier's sweetheart and family over the next couple of months. "He was looking better when I'd write those letters for him and he thanked me from the bottom of his heart," says Detillier.
After a few months of evaluations, the Army discharged the man for medical reasons. "Captain say, you got a medical discharge, you take him to the train," he says. "I did and that's the last I know of him."
Detillier stayed in the Army, going first to California, then out sea. He never saw combat and came home to Lafourche Parish in 1944.
Time passed, his sons grew up and his wife died in 1999. Detillier sometimes thought about the soldier he knew so long ago.
He tried to look him up but couldn't remember the man's name. "I kept wondering, I kept wondering how he had made out in life but I never could find out," he says.
Detillier moved to the Broadway Rehabilitation Center in Lockport a few months ago. He shared his war stories over lunch one day and a woman at a nearby table overheard.
"He said 1942, that's when he had to leave," says Beaulah Comardelle. "I said, that's when they took my boyfriend away, 1942 the same year. I said, he left from Des Allemands. Mr. Clifton says, I left from Lockport."
Beaulah Matherne's boyfriend was just 18 years old when he was drafted. Norris Comardelle dropped out of school in the first grade.
"The daddy died, their last one was a year and they was just teenagers then but they had to fish crab to make a living to feed the little ones," she says.
Comardelle left for the Army on the day he and Matherne were supposed to get married. He sent three letters home during his short time at basic training.
"He wrote, 'For his sweetheart' and he was saying how lonesome he was and everything, what they were doing to him and stuff like that," she says.
Comardelle married Matherne after his honorable discharge in 1942 and the two raised a family. He passed away in 1983.
Beaulah kept his letters from boot camp, one of them in a frame in her room at the nursing home.
She and Detillier began swapping stories. "All the stuff he told me what he was doing with the letter and all that, I said, well all that's on the letter I got," says Comardelle.
"She went to get it and brought it to me and, make no mistake, that's my writing because I didn't write too good," says Detillier.
After 70 years of wondering, Detillier found the letter he wrote. He could finally fill in the blanks.
The two families lived just 17 miles apart for nearly seven decades -- his in Mathews, hers in Cut Off.
"I understand that they made a very good living together," says Detillier. "He learned how to read and write enough to get a captain's license for a tugboat."
Now the two live just down the hall from each other and their two families share a remarkable bond.
"To know that this little town, this little community, they come in contact at the place over here, I mean it was amazing," says Clifton's son, Mark Detillier.
Comardelle's son is searching for two other letters Detillier wrote. His mother saved them all. Vincent Comardelle thinks the end isn't written yet. "I told her, I said, you need to marry him to finish the story," he says.
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