The “Tim Box”; A Love Story, A Marine and the Ultimate Sacrifice
by Robert Winter
On February 28, 1945, Pfc. Meredith DeRoy Winter was killed during the battle of Iwo Jima at the age of 26. That was 76 years ago today, yet his light continues to shine, and his memory and name lives on!
A good friend of Meredith’s wrote this hand-written letter to his parents.
“Tim was killed on his seventh day ashore (Iwo Jima) as a result of Jap mortar fire. The round killed five marines, including Tim. He was killed instantly, and never knew what hit him. It was told that Tim was a wonderful man in combat – calm, cool and collected all the way.” Lt. John Monroe Jr. USMCR
On the 5th of September, 1942, Meredith enlisted in Marine Corps commissioning program while attending Iowa State University. In February 1943, Meredith was ordered to active duty. Meredith Deroy Winter of Dysart Iowa asked Betty Ewing of Batavia, Illinois to marry him. Both were students at Iowa State University. However, due to the war raging in the Pacific, marriage would have to wait until Meredith returned from service.
This love story would lay dormant for 73 years, hidden away in a box. No doubt at the time of Meredith’s death, the pain of losing their first-born son and fiancé brought unbearable pain and sorrow.
In October of 2018, I received a message on Findagrave.com.
"When my parents passed, there were two WW2 foot lockers full of their memorabilia. I'm guessing the lockers were packed when they moved from St Louis to LA in 1951. My mom had smaller boxes with various collections and there is a "Tim box". We always knew about him and how much they were in love. Our family visited the memorial at Arlington and on our one cross country drive, we detoured to Ames to view the memorial wall at ISU. My mom exchanged Xmas cards with your grandmother for a number of years." Vicky Canning, daughter of Betty Ewing
Meredith, or as I learned Tim as he was called, has always held a special place in my heart. I was an impressionable eight-year-old when I heard the tragic story for the first time, of an uncle I would never meet, who lost his life in WWII. I remember it vividly. I was in the upstairs bedroom looking at old family photos in the family home Meredith, along with my father and five other siblings, all grew up. That home, on Tilford Street in the town of Dysart, Iowa was only 900 square feet. Barely enough space for the seven children and two adults who all lived there. I remember it as a magical place because of the special love my grandmother, Meredith’s mother, showered on us grandkids each time we visited. That was in 1966.
As I became older, my dad shared with me the story of how his mom, Lenora Ford Winter, received the news. It was a tragic time. An official looking car drove up and delivered the news. Soon after they received the attached letter.
At one time, she had one gold star and four blue stars in her front window. That was how families displayed their patriotism during that time. Grandma Winter had such a strong faith, having deep roots in the Seventh Day Baptist movement. It was that faith that carried her during that time.
From records and letters I have since discovered, her grief was shared through many letters and post cards with Meredith’s fiancé, Betty Ewing. They were there for each other during the painful weeks and months ahead. Soon after receiving the news from the U.S. Marine Corps, my grandfather, Thomas D. Winter, sent the following telegram to Betty Ewing.
Grandma Winter was such a warm and caring person. Wherever she went, the light inside her radiated to all. So kind and gentle and with such a positive spirit. She would return letters to me when I was a young boy. I loved getting her letters. When she passed away in 1987, I was moved to put together a family reunion at the Community Center in Dysart.
One of the events of that reunion weekend was to walk over to Grandma’s house on Tilford Street and pick out an item or two that we remembered from our childhood. I was 29 years old then, but I remembered where she kept her photos. They were stored in an upstairs closet that was hard to find. Actually, as it was built into the wall and floor with a small door only a child could enter.
I found my way right upstairs and into the crawl space only a child could remember or squeeze through. Low and behold, there they were. No one else even remembered this was where Grandma stored her treasures. I pulled boxes of them out and realized I had hit the motherload. They were old but very well preserved, black and white photos of all her children, wives, husbands and their families. I packaged them all up and took them over to the Community Center. There I laid them out on three long rows of tables for everyone to peruse and take home.
To my surprise, there among the photos was the only document or photo of any kind of Meredith. That same uncle that left an indelible impression on me 21 years earlier.
That was it and I kept the original. I cherished that single memory over 31 years. It was all I had to remember him by. The only remnant of his life and service to our country I could hold onto. That war hero, my Uncle Pfc. Meredith Deroy Winter, USMC.
Now, all these years later, on October 6th, 2018, came that message to me from Vicky Canning on findagrave.com. To realize that I have serendipitously come into a treasure trove of information on this special man is beyond words. Only God.
Soon, the “Tim Box” full of letters, photographs, documents and memorabilia arrived at my home. That emotional connection I felt toward my uncle all those years ago in 1966 felt like destiny as I began opening the package.
First the photographs.
Here is a photo of Meredith "Tim" Deroy Winter and his beautiful fiancé Betty Ewing of Batavia, Illinois. What a beautiful couple they made. On the back of the photo Betty had written "BJE and Tim Feb 1943"
This photo of Meredith and Betty together was taken with the engagement ring Tim gave her. She was 22 years old.
The next document I opened was the last known letter from Meredith to his lovely fiancé. Written on February 26, 1945, his 26th birthday. Two days later, Pfc. Meredith Deroy Winter was taken by mortar round.
Finally, came the newspaper clipping Betty had held onto all these years in her “Tim Box”.
How wonderful to know that someone he loved so very much kept the memory of him in her heart all those years later and even shared his memory with her family. A true love story.
Over the ensuing months, I corresponded with Vicky Canning. I felt deeply connected to her for sharing this precious gift. This abiding sense of longing I felt toward this uncle I never knew came to life with these photos, letters and documents. My promise to her was to use them to perpetuate his legacy.
Pfc. Meredith Deroy Winter never got to experience the joy of becoming a father; never had the opportunity to pursue his dreams after the war; never got to meet his nieces and nephews or attend any family reunions and missed out on sharing his life with the women he loved.
The sacrifice he and so many others made in pursuit of a free and a sovereign country for those who came after should never be forgotten. He is a man to be honored.
In her first email to me, Vicky noted “we detoured to Ames to view the memorial wall at ISU”. Because I had so little information on Uncle Meredith, I didn’t even know Iowa State University had a Memorial on campus. I soon found the web site of all the graduates of Iowa State that fought and died in war beginning with WWI. After searching on Winter, I found a brief sketch of his life but no photo’s.
I reached out to the Iowa State University and was warmly greeted by John Lindsay Ph.D. Candidate – History. Upon learning of the photo’s and documents I would soon have in my possession, he told me about an annual celebration of Iowa State students who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
This event is held to honor three to four different honorees each year. Pfc. Meredith Deroy Winter who graduated in 1943 had yet to be honored.
Soon after, interviews with the four living siblings began. Documents and photos were passed along to John in preparation for the memorial. Phone calls, emails, text messages, Facebook and Instagram postings began among the many family members. We were all going to converge on Iowa State Gold Star Hall on November 11,2019.
From the interviews, John prepared a draft that would be presented. Here is the text in its entirety.
“Imagine for a moment the year is 1940. You are driving west on Highway 30 through Tama County. As you approach a stretch of road south of Dysart, Iowa, you see an athletic young man standing along the side of the road. He is holding a suitcase with his thumb extended, trying to catch a lift. You stop to pick him up and discover he is on his way to Ames. His name is Meredith DeRoy Winter, and he is a chemistry major at Iowa State College who needs to get back to campus. He tells you that his family drove him to the highway from their home in Dysart so he could try to hitch a ride.
He is the oldest of seven children born to Thomas and Lennora Winter. Once in the vehicle, Meredith may have asked you to call him “Merd,” as his family affectionally did. Or he may have requested that you call him “Tim,” which was the nickname he acquired from his college buddies. Regardless, along the way you discover more about the young man you are chauffeuring.
You ask Meredith how long he has lived in Dysart. He tells you pretty much his whole life, with the exception of four years when the Winter family moved to New York after their father lost his job as a result of the Great Depression. They tried their luck as dairy farmers before moving back to Dysart after Meredith graduated as valedictorian of his high school class.
The drive to Ames from eastern Iowa is long, so you have time to ask Meredith about his childhood. You discover he loved sports, especially golf, and that he hated losing! He also tells you about the time he built a pole-vaulting station in the front yard. He set the bar set so high that he often hit his head on the ground attempting to clear it and would knock himself unconscious in the process. You find out that his passion for knowledge was instilled in him at a young age from his mom who was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.
As you approach campus, Meredith mentions that he works as a janitor, and use to work in a campus cafeteria so he could earn money to pay for college. But his face really lights up when you ask if he is escorting anyone. He glows with joy when tells you about the love of his life: Betty Ewing. He met her at Iowa State, and was so head-over-heels for her, that he asked his sister, Helen, if she could teach him how to dance so he could impress Betty. He tells you that he plans to marry her someday.
After you drop Meredith off at his destination and drive away, you have no idea that you just spent the last few hours in the company of a war hero. You would not realize that you just gave a ride to a man who died fighting for the very freedoms you enjoy.
After he proposed to Betty, Meredith did not marry her. Instead, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in September of 1943. He also turned down a civil service position in Washington D.C. to serve his country during the Second World War. He surely made his mother proud when he received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Iowa State on 18 December 1943.
However, he was not present at the ceremony since he was at already in San Diego training for service. In fact, all of Meredith’s younger brothers served the United States. James joined the Navy in 1939 and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor; Paul served in the Army Air Corps; Robert was a drill sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base; and Don was a USAF weatherman in Japan and Korea. The Winter family proudly displayed four Blue Star flags in their front window, but they also had to add one Gold Star flag for Meredith.
On 6 November 1943, Private First Class Meredith Winter was ordered to active duty. He arrived in Guam as part of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He was tasked with patrolling against Japanese forces while stationed there. Although the United States had Japan on the defensive by the fall of 1944, the Japanese army still held strategic areas that prevented U.S. B-29’s from completing bombing missions over mainland Japan.
Japanese fighters taking off from Iwo Jima island kept intercepting the bombers. The United States knew Iwo Jima had to be captured. On 19 February 1945, after two months of naval bombardment, approximately 70,000 Marines led the invasion of Iwo Jima. On 21 February 1945, the 3rd Marine Division landed on Yellow Beach where Pfc. Winter participated in combat operations.
On 26 February, Winter penned a letter to Betty. He had just turned twenty-six, and he wanted to let his fiancée know that he was “still in one piece.” He went on, “It’s been really rough the last few days to be truthful. I feel fifty-six instead of twenty-six.” He also had a request for Betty, “Drop the folks a card and tell them where I am and that I’m all right. Will you please?” He closed the letter with “I think I will say good-bye for now.”
This was the last letter Pfc. Winter would send. Two days later, while involved in heavy fighting, a Japanese mortar killed him and five other Marines. Fighting remained fierce until the island was declared secured on 16 March 1945. The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest in Marine Corps history claiming 7,000 American lives. Meredith’s ultimate sacrifice in the mission to take Iwo Jima helped save the lives of an estimated 24,000 U.S. airmen. The island served as an emergency landing site for over 2,000 B-29 bombers that were crucial to bringing the war in the Pacific to an end.
Pfc. Meredith Winter was initially buried in the 3rd Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima. On 5 May 1948, Meredith hitched his last ride home. His body was returned to Dysart, Iowa for permanent burial.
Would all those who are here today for Meredith DeRoy Winter please rise and be recognized.
Here is the link to the YouTube video. Meredith’s presentation begins at time stamp: 33:04
Here are all the items found in the "Tim Box" that lay dormant for 73 years. Locked away in storage, yet discovered and passed along by Vicky Canning, daughter of Betty Ewing.
Family members who attended the November 11, 2019 Gold Star Hall Memorial at Iowa State University.
Meredith's two living siblings. His sister Helen Logan, 100 years young and younger brother Don Winter, 89.
This is the photo wallet Betty Ewing carried with her. It too was discovered in the "Tim Box". No doubt these photos brought both pain and comforted during the long road ahead.
Pfc. Meredith Deroy Winter earned;
Presidential Unit Citation
World War II Victory Medal
Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal 1 BS
To learn more about the Gold Star Hall. https://www.mu.iastate.edu/gold-star-hall/
- Robert Winter