In 1946 an 18-year-old girl left her home country of Iceland to pursue her own American Dream as many have before her .Sadly,this turned out to be an American Nightmare for this young woman, and also ended up a 60-year-old mystery/tragedy that even had its own name “The War Bride”.
Ragnah Esther (Sigurdardottir) Gavin was 18 years old when she met her knight in shining armour,who also happened to be an American Soldier PVT. Emerson Lawrence Gavin(Larry) who was 22 years old. On January 4 ,1946 Ragnah and Larry eloped, as many young couples were doing in Europe at the time, because the country was so war ravaged,that most people were doing their very best to try and rebuild their lives post Hitler. Ragnah was a blonde hair blue-eyed beauty and her husband was not bad for the eyes either,from their picture they looked like a couple whom was destined for success.They met while Larry was stationed in Iceland not far from the capital city of Reykjavik,they left Iceland and ended up living in Portland,Oregon.
Even though Ragnah had married on the sly her father did what he could do after he found out and threw her their customary Icelandic post marriage celebration. Ragnah’s mother had died when she was 13-years old and her father promptly remarried and started another family.However,nothing I have read leads me to believe that he was in any way abusive to his daughter to make her want to escape her life at home by getting married so young.Her father did worry very much about her because she was so young and had carelessly gotten married.He sensed something was just not right about Larry even though he seemed stoic and very quiet and polite.He and other family members tried to persuade Ragnah not to leave the country so soon after marrying this man who was no more than a virtual stranger, who was from another country at that.But,for what ever reasons she was going to follow him to the land of dreams, America.On their day of departure Ragnah assured her family she would write them as soon as she reached her new home country.
The Games Begin
Ragnah’s family impatiently waited for the letters she promised she would send.However, none came for a few months and when one did arrive her words were shocking, or maybe confusing is a better word to use to describe how the letter’s made her father feel after reading them.Here are the words of the very first letter her father finally received from her.
Dear father, I am wondering why I don’t get letters from you. I have written you 6 letters and 2 wires.
Maybe you have forgotten me, or I have done something wrong, so you have to be angry?
If I have done something wrong, can you please forgive me?
I am so far away from you and want so sorely to get some news from you and my brothers and sister.
Dear father, I am your daughter and will always be, maybe I have been a bad daughter.
I will never forget you while I am alive, I am so sorry; I never get a letter from you.
Ragnah’s father did not hear another peep from his firstborn daughter again for 17 months, and was extremely relieved when he read the envelope that was addressed to him from the Americas.However, the contents of this letter was even more troubling than the first.Here are the content of it.There was a photograph of Ragnah holding her newborn son who she had named Raymond Leslie outside of a house.
My dearest father,I am so happy to get a letter from you, but I don’t understand why I don’t get more letters from you, you tell me you have sent 6 letters, I have only received two.
This is my address. It is the new house Larry gave to me after the birth of our son. I told you in the last letter I had a son.
You asked me in the last letter, how things are going between me and Larry, we have been separated for 4 months now, he came and asked me to forgive him, he said he didn’t understand why he does such things. I love Larry a lot and that will be better for the baby to stay together, we are happy now, you don’t have to be afraid.
Larry asked you to forgive him, and says such things should not happen again.
Larry has always wanted to have a beautiful home and beautiful boy; you don’t have to be afraid that he will do “it” again. He asked me to ask you if you can read English, if he writes to you.
Dear father, do you think I have done the right thing to forgive Larry and let him come back? I am so happy with Larry and there is no man who can take Larry’s place.
I hope you are well, and could take a holiday and come over and visit us, we have a big house and there is always a place for you.
Dad, it will be great if you could come and see how good a housewife and mother I am.
You are a grandfather in America; it will be great if you could meet your grandson.
I send you some photos; I hope you have got those I send you before.
Be in the safe hands of God,
It is your loving daughter Esther
Unfortunately this is the very last time he ever heard from his beloved daughter again.He eventually died, heart broken in a house fire in 1970.He did ask his surviving family to keep up the search for her if by some chance he did die before he had found her. Her loving father died without ever having one single question answered about what had happened to his daughter. All the letters he wrote her came back to him in the mail unopened and marked “Does not live here”.
I can imagine what questions he did have that were never answered about this situation.The first being “Is she alive”, if not what happened to her?Did her husband do something to her?Where is the baby if she is dead?Why did my letter get returned unopened?Was she mad at me for something I did not realize I did?Why hasn’t her husband contacted me if something happened to her? I am sure these questions and many more went through his head daily for the rest of his life.
Answers 60 years later