Not Forgotten: A Pacific Northwest Family Brings Their Soldier Home

Not Forgotten: A Pacific Northwest Family Brings Their Soldier Home is the story of Lester LaVerne “Verne” Zornes, a Spokane native with deep family roots in the Palouse Region of Eastern Washington. Like hundreds of thousands of other young men and women of the time, this 1942 graduate of Lewis & Clark High School stepped up to serve his country in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Verne died just 11 days into his first overseas mission. The circumstances surrounding his death were kept in the shadows.

This is the story of his family’s decades-long search for answers. Through de-classified records, interviews with those who knew him, Internet archives and other documents, they sorted through stories of organized crime, international espionage, and paranormal visions to discover the part he was trained to play in the largest secret mission in military history.

Along the way, they found 67 hand-written letters, one postcard and one Government Issue Mother’s Day Card that he mailed home to his mother, father, and younger siblings during his service. Through those letters, they got to know the uncle most of them had never met.

They learned about Verne’s sense of humor: “The weather forecast is a military secret,” he wrote from Sioux Falls, South Dakota in July 1943, “but a rumor has been going around that the Devil has been seen in a real estate office looking for some land near here. (I can’t figure out what they mean.)”

His love of gardening and home-cooked food: “When I get home, that’s all I’m going to do is eat and sleep, mostly eat,” he wrote in early October 1943, “so can up lots and lots of tomatoes and strawberries and raspberries and rhubarb and beans and peas and how about some good old sourkraut, huh? By the way, how is the cabbage and lettuce this year? Oh yes, I nearly forgot! I want several sacks spuds all ready and waiting for you to ‘fry’ for me, cause we never get any fried foods, I sure miss them. So, when your stocking up on winter goods and canning stuff, etc., make a BIG allowance for me.”

His longing to be back at his rural home in the inland Pacific Northwest: “New York is a nice village.” he wrote after his one-day visit to the Big Apple in February, 1944. “It has a main street called Broadway, and is considerable larger than 9 Mile Falls. . . Listen you country folks, from now on call me the ‘Big City Boy’ direct from Times Square, almost!! New York is okay, but Spokane’s just as good, as far as I’m concerned.”

His sense of adventure: “No fooling, we are having a nice trip,” he wrote in his last letter, mailed from Brazil on March 18, 1944. “I never thought I’d get a chance to make a trip like this, especially by air. I’ll have lots to tell you when I get back.”

Yes, Mom, it’s quite a thrilling adventure, but farming is just as much fun,” he closed. “Say, I’d send you a little monkey if I could send it V-mail.”

This is the story of how this family — on the 70th anniversary of his tragic death — was able to bring Verne back home in their own way, to celebrate his life, honor his service and sacrifice, grieve for their loss, and heal generational wounds.

Verne was our uncle. We would like to share these stories and his letters with you.

To get your soft cover copy, send a check or money order for $30.00 (includes US shipping and sales tax) to:

Dave Reynolds
3231 W. Boone Ave., #711
Spokane, WA 99201
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