Soldier’s gift to mom, lost for 73 years, returns home

In this photo taken, Tuesday, May 5, 2015, a detail of a World War II era pillow cover rests on a counter at a senior center in Millville, Mass. Millville resident Don Lamoureux purchased the World War II era pillow sham from an online auction site that Dominic O’Gara had mailed from his U.S. Army base in California to his mother in Millville in 1942. Carroll and Lamoureux tried to find the soldier’s relatives to give it to them, but came up empty. The plan now is to put the sham on display in the town’s senior center, just yards from the house where the O’Gara family once lived. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

This is the story of a loving tribute from a soldier preparing for war to his mother on the other side of the continent, who didn’t know if she would ever see her boy again.

The elaborate pillow sham he sent her, lost for more than 70 years, has finally come home, just in time for Mother’s Day.

The sham, emblazoned with the word “Mother” and sent in 1942 by Dominic O’Gara from his Army base in California to his mother in the small Massachusetts town of Millville, was discovered last month by a town native on eBay.

The hope now is to put the sham on display in the town’s senior center, just yards from the house where the O’Gara family once lived.

“To me, it’s come back to where it belongs,” said Margaret Carroll, chairwoman of the town Historical Commission. “It’s as close to Mrs. O’Gara as it can get.”

Donald Lamoureux, who lives in Cumberland, Rhode Island, but who grew up in Millville, spotted an envelope for sale on eBay, and even though he had no idea what was inside, he knew he had to have it when he saw the date and the Millville address. He paid $5 for it.

He was stunned when he looked inside.

“There was this pillow sham that had been sealed away for 73 years, and it looked brand new,” he said.

Although it had deep creases from being folded for decades, it wasn’t frayed, stained or faded.

The white pillow cover has a blue fringe, and in addition to the word “Mother” in blue, is decorated with red roses with green stems, and the words “Camp McQuaide, Calif.,” where O’Gara was stationed.

It also has this famous poem, written by lyricist Howard Johnson:

M is for the million things she gave me

O means only that she’s growing old

T is for the tears she shed to save me

H is for her heart of purest gold

E is for her eyes with love light shining

R means right and right she’ll always be

Put them all together they spell mother

A word that means the world to me

“It was very touching,” Lamoureux said.

Millville, about 40 miles southwest of Boston, had a population of about 1,800 in the 1940s. Even these days, it holds only about 3,200 people.

“My grandfather (Rodrique “Pete” Lamoureux) was a World War II veteran, and Millville is such a small town, I just knew they had to have known each other,” he said. “I felt this instant connection.”

Where the pillow sham has been the past 70-plus years is a mystery. The 6-cent airmail stamp on the envelope was canceled, indicating it had been delivered. But the cover appeared pristine. O’Gara’s mother, Catherine, died in 1956.

Lamoureux bought it from a Rhode Island man who runs a collectibles shop and found the envelope in a box of junk acquired from an anonymous seller.

Of course, Lamoureux wanted to return the pillow cover to O’Gara’s family, but he couldn’t find any living relatives.

He found that O’Gara, the son of Irish immigrants, was an artilleryman who served in Italy in World War II, then lived for years in the nearby town of Milford before dying in 1998. His wife died in 1974.

Lamoureux turned to his own parents, Donald and Diane Lamoureux, and their friends in Millville, including Carroll and Council on Aging member Ellen Ethier Bowen, who both remembered the O’Gara family. But even Carroll, who has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of town history, came up empty.

The group discussed it and came up with the idea of framing the pillow sham and envelope and hanging them in the senior center.

Bowen hopes to bring the proposal to the full Council on Aging. It would be perfect if the pillow sham could be hung by Memorial Day, she said.

“This whole story just tugs at your heartstrings,” she said.