I authored this book about my brother Dirk in 2003. The full title is "Never to be Forgotten - Biography of Dirk Berend Boonstra". It's a 128-page story of his life, told mainly through letters home to his mother after he enlisted in the US Navy in October 1941, two months before the start of WWII. His letters cover the time from when he first enlisted until just before he was killed in the South Pacific a little more than two years later while serving as a tail-gunner and radioman in a dive-bomber squadron. In 1942 he was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for service in the North African campaign for "extraordinary heroism in action against enemy forces in the air, ashore and afloat ....." I found the letters and citations in my mother’s personal belongings soon after she passed away in 1996 at age 100. She never really got over the tragic lost of her firstborn. I included a chapter about his home, his family and his early life, an appendix of consolation letters from friends and family and also an explanation of the tragedy and consolation letters from the Navy, all of which my mother kept for almost 60 years. The book contains about 40 photos and illustrations.
"So much is captured in these simple letters that Dirk wrote to his mother and family. It wasn't just an account of what was happening in the military, but he unknowingly documented how our times have changed within the family. Dirk's open affection for his mother seems so unlike what you see from young people today. These letters were written during a time of great poverty in our country, and Dirk selflessly sends home his pay to assist his family financially. His concern for each member of his family is unlike our selfish generation who only thinks of themselves.
"Piet Boonstra sets the scene in the beginning of the book that describes his Dutch immigrant parents and their home in Montrose, New York. He writes about the history of the area, which really helps to set up the story of this young man. I came to love Dirk and cried in the end when I saw the letter the Secretary of the Navy sent to his family informing them of his death. It was a small, easy-to-read book, but I will never forget it."
Two excerpts (letters) from the book::
13 November 1943
Right now I’m happy enough to hold me over for another few weeks, honey, until the mail comes again. Yesterday it came through and I had fourteen letters waiting for me. One was from you Mom, which I enjoyed very much, seven from Bev, four from Bette, one from Jeanne (Piet’s girl) and a card from Bob Lewis.
They were all very welcome and I was glad to hear the news from home, and that everything is going OK. Nancy must still be a little devil from your description of how she handles her ducks. I’m glad to hear that she’s beginning to like school. I’m also glad to hear that you belong to the parent’s club, Mom, but I agree with you for not going to the firehouse that night, although I hope they’ll have more interesting affairs that you can take part in.
You asked what Bette was like, honey, so I’ll try to describe her to you. She’s a beautiful, blonde-haired young lady, twenty years old next month, blue eyes, 5’ 5½" tall. She came from Ohio about a year and a half ago to work in Washington. She lives with her mother and works for Sir Clive of England in the English Embassy, I think. She has a charming personality, a good dancer, a good cook, and comes from a very nice family. She even knows a few congressmen who visit their place often.
I met her at the Stage Door Canteen in Washington the day I flew down and stayed overnight last April. I took her home, met her family, and spent most of the night there. (That’s when I found out she could cook!) I saw her one other time and from then on we’ve been writing regularly. We’re just very good friends, and that’s all there is to it. I know you’d like her if you ever met her, but that’s why I don’t want Bev to know about her. You see, Mom, she’s too pretty and too nice, that if Bev ever found out about her, she’d start imagining too many things, and as you say, "’ make a mountain out of a mole hill."
Bette told me she didn’t get a chance to go to New York after all, but in case she ever does, I hope she drops in so you can tell me what you think of her. You know Mom, it’s a bit late for amends now, but I’m darn glad I didn’t get married when I was home on leave, for more reasons than one. I’ve had some time to think it over out here and I think I’ll wait a while after I come home again. I hope Bev feels the same way about it, but I won’t approach her with it until I do get home again. I can talk better in person than I can through letters.
As for conditions out here, they’re about the same, and we’re making the most of it. It’s far from a sailor’s life, but we’ve adapted ourselves to it. I’m well and healthy, Mom, and I haven’t much to worry about, so I’m sure I’ll stay that way. Say Mom, I think I’ll wait to mail this letter until I get a money order. I wonder if you would start a bank account for me. I’ll send a $75 money order this time and if you don’t need the money, would you put it in the bank for me? Bev has banked $650 for me, but I think I’ll start another new account also. Do you think it’s a good idea?
Well honey, I must sign off now, but I’ll write again whenever I have a chance. I send my love to all, especially to you, and a big kiss for the females of the family. So long for now.
Loads of love,
Your loving son,
The letter below was written 3 weeks before Dirk was killed:
5 December 1943
I received two letters from you in the past three days, honey, so I decided that I must find time to write and here I am.
Regulations won’t permit me to answer all of your questions, Mom, but I’ll try to answer some of them:
First is the doctor question. Yes, we have a doctor with us all the time. As yet I haven’t caught any tropical diseases, but I don’t know what I’ll catch when we leave here and stop taking the pills.
The only radio I hear is the one we have in the plane and that’s only used for operations. We have a news bulletin, though, which is published every day so that we may know what the rest of the world is doing. We read books and magazines when we have a chance but with all the other things we have to do, we don’t have much time to read.
Yes, there are natives on the island, but we don’t see much of them. Once in a while a few of them come down to work and have a look around, but one could hardly tell them apart from the people of Harlem. They’re black and the only clothing they wear is a loincloth or a pair of shorts. Some of them can speak a little English.
I think that just about covers all of your questions, honey, but if there is anything else you’d like to know, just ask me.
I’m always glad to hear the news from home, and your last letter had a lot of it. Do you know the sailor that Ruthie Fulgum married – I mean his name? I wonder who it was. So Bill Halsey got married too, eh? It’s about time. He was going with her long enough. I haven’t heard from Piet in quite a while, but I’m expecting a letter soon. I wonder how he likes Trinidad. That’s a wild place, but I think he will make out OK.
I do hope Pop is feeling better and that he gets a little easier work for once. If that allotment comes through, it will be a lot easier on him.
By the way, Mom, I mailed a Jap rifle home about two weeks ago, so you ought to get it soon. Everything is there except the bolt, which I’ll send separately one of these days. It’s open for display, but please take good care of it, honey. Maybe Pop could sandpaper the stock, make it smooth and then varnish it. It would improve the appearance quite a bit. Well honey, I must sign off now, but I’ll write again soon. I send my love to all and a big kiss to the females of the family. So long for now.
Your loving son,