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Mystery of Aunt Pete's message in a bottle solved by soldier's grandson
When "Aunt Pete" wrote to her soldier nephew in France in 1918, she had no idea what she was starting. Her letter began life inside a US mail bag, spent almost 90 years as a message in a bottle and ended up generating an avalanche of transatlantic emails.
Earlier this month, The Independent published an article reporting that Aunt Pete's letter, sent from Oklahoma City in July 1918, had been found by French archaeologists in a spring-topped beer bottle near old trench lines in Lorraine.
The letter – almost perfectly preserved – gave a jaunty account of the mood in the midwest of the United States four months from the end of the First World War. But who was Aunt Pete? And who was her nephew soldier, Sgt Morres Vickers Liepman, of D Battery of the 130th Field Artillery?
It was known that Sgt Liepman survived the war but little else emerged from US government records.
The story, spotted by an American reader of The Independent in France, produced a flurry of emails and calls to the French government archeological agency, L'Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Preventives (INRAP). One of the calls came from Sgt Liepman's grandson, Cecil Liepman, 56, an investment manager in Houston,Texas.
"My first thought was that granddad had had his five minutes of fame at last," he said. "I knew him very well. He died in 1980 but he never spoke to us much about the First World War.
"The finding of this letter has brought distant parts of the family together and it has made us all think, and read, about that war so long ago. If a German shell had fallen on granddad, none of us would have existed."