HER HANDS were full, and her life was overwhelming. Jane Wagnar Feist and her four young children carried on as best they could while her husband, Herbert Feist, served in the United States Marine Corp. On April 1, 1945, American military forces moved into Okinawa, Japan, and launched an assault that would continue until June 22, 1945. It was one of the war’s bloodiest battles, taking 12,520 American lives. On May 9, 1945, Herbert’s life was among them.
Lynn Dropka Womack had an ideal childhood in Texas. Her parents loved and supported her and were honest with her. She knew she was adopted. As an adult, she knew that she wanted to find her birth mother. After several failed attempts, at age 27, she made the right connection and located Diana Feist Peck.
“When I first met my birth mother (‘Mom’), she would tell me little tidbits about her family. Her dad was Herbert Feist, and she was only 18 months old when he died. He carried a picture of her in his pocket and written on the back was “my baby girl.” Growing up, she dreamed that he would show up one day in her life; that he wasn’t really dead,” Lynn said. “Mom holds onto the joy of knowing [that] her dad said she was the little girl he always wanted.”
While it’s known that he died in the Okinawa campaign, specifics as to what happened that day are lost. A fire in the building that housed military records, in St. Louis, in the 70s, destroyed all his records. The letter transmitting the purple heart certificate, dated July 30, 1945, is one of the few pieces left to document his sacrifice. Herbert’s story, like his life, suddenly ended. Even his body was not returned until four years after he died. On March 9, 1949, he was buried in Hawaii but his family knew no other details.
Lynn said, “I lost my grandfather. I’ll never know him. My mother will never know him.”
Herbert’s silent legacy impacted those he left behind.
You can see him in Lynn’s face. Their strong resemblance is found in Herbert’s military photograph, a likeness that she shares with her mother. Lynn’s photograph confirmed that the questions asked by the private investigator were legitimate when he located Lynn’s aunt. The resemblance doesn’t end there. Herbert’s father was a barber. Lynn is a cosmetologist/aesthetician, another interesting connection.
Lynn is close to her birth mother and her half-sister, Brenda. They stay in touch and visit, although they live in different states. Lynn said, “Mom would sometimes say when we were talking, ‘I’d like to go to Hawaii and see my father’s grave.’”
So naturally when Lynn and her husband, David, took a vacation to Hawaii in January, it was not far from her thoughts.
Moved by her visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Lynn searched online for information on her grandfather’s burial information. The cemetery, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and the location of his plot came up. Lynn knew she had to go.
Lynn said, “When I got there I video-called my mom, and I walked her to the grave. That’s the first time that she ever got to be with him. In a way, it felt like he had been alone over there, away from everybody that ever knew him or had a connection to him; that there was no one to personally appreciate him or get to pay respect to him when they buried him. I felt better about it for him.”
“It’s always been real to me. I’ve always been very respectful of our country and the sacrifices made for the freedoms we have today. And while I was there, I felt him. I want my grandfather’s story to be told. I feel like he got lost in the whole shuffle. He lost his life for our country and our freedom,” she said.
Finding her grandfather’s grave created an even stronger bond with her birth family. Lynn recognizes the double blessings in her life, as a result of being adopted.
“It’s really amazing. I look at my life, and I just see so many ways that God put me in different situations, my path, and my story. Mom’s sure he’s smiling down on us right now.”
And while parts of Lynn’s story appeared lost to her, bits and pieces were found and put back together. It’s a story still being written.