Jeraldine Hinesley and Clayton Daniel became friends in sixth grade in Millen, Ga., and continued their courtship in college despite a long distance between them. After graduating from Millen High School in 1939, Hinesley attended the University of Georgia, and Daniel was a member of the ROTC at Auburn University in Alabama.
“I dated her every chance I got in high school and college,” Daniel said. “I even hitchhiked from Auburn to Athens to see her.”
Eventually, the couple drifted apart.
Hinesley met her husband at UGA and married him in February 1944. They were married for 67 years.
In November 1944, Hinesley wrote a letter to Daniel and other classmates who had been called to duty in World War II. Daniel never received his.
Her former beau had entered the 13th Airborne Division and was trained as a paratrooper. He was sent into Belgium to fight in the Battle of the Bulge as part of the 101st Airborne Division.
He and paratrooper Doyle Roberts landed one night in Belgium, bumping into each other on the way down. Daniel said the two found an equipment drop shipment and slept under the tarp, becoming fast friends.
Daniel was hit by shrapnel during battle. Roberts, he said, helped load him in the ambulance. Ultimately, the wound in his elbow got him sent home.
Meanwhile, two letters arrived for Daniel in Europe. Roberts got the letters, planning to get them to Daniel, but he never did.
Daniel and Roberts would talk over the years and met at a 50-year reunion of their troop, but Roberts had long forgotten about the letters. After Roberts’ death this year, his daughter found the unopened letters – one from Hinesley and the other from Daniel’s then-fiancée, Evermond.
She searched for Daniel’s name online, found an article about him in a Florida newspaper and mailed the letters to him.
The letter from Evermond, who became his wife, was “heart-wrenching,” he said. They were married for 56 years, until she died in 2002.
Daniel, who never knew Hinesley’s married name, began searching for her and found her in Warrenton, Ga.
“This is Clayton Daniel … I got your letter,” he told her in a phone call.
“It was unbelievable,” Hinesley said. The two talked on the phone and planned a reunion in Warrenton.
Daniel arrived in Warrenton on Thursday night with his daughter and son-in-law.
The old sweethearts visited privately for a short time and introduced family members to each other. On Friday, they sat with Hinesley’s granddaughter, who interviewed and filmed them for a video blog.
The two 91-year-olds glowed with excitement, holding hands through the interview.
Asked whether they planned to keep in touch, Daniel said, with a smile and a wink: “Maybe once or twice a year, and not by mail.”