Media Life: Mysteries of the bottled up message, unknown gravesite solved

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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All’s well that ends well. Thus quoth Shakespeare. And for Auburn’s Laurie Tyrrell, the recent return of a treasured bottle signals the end of a chapter that has taken on new meaning. Tyrrell and her family lost the bottle at sea before a ceremony that was meant to say goodbye on her parent’s 50th wedding anniversary to her father, William Franklin Harrell, who died in February 2004. The bottle floated away from the boat they were on near San Luis Obispo, carrying messages written by his family. Unbroken, with the messages still dry, it was found on a Vandenberg Air Force Base beach by Frank Presson. Presson contacted Media Life in April in an attempt to find its owner after seeing Harrell’s name inside and doing a Google search. Tyrrell eventually learned about the bottle and contacted Presson. The two, with family members in tow, recently met at the Ole Port Inn near Avila Beach – a favorite destination for Harrell. Presson passed along a photo of the exchange. Tyrrell’s husband, Dave, managed to remove all the other letters in the bottle and the group spent an emotional time reading each one aloud, he said. Just one of those things Media Life is able to do to make the world a better place. Resting place ID’d North Carolina reader Jana’s world was brightened by a Media Life reader blast that answered a question she had about the resting place of pioneer World War II WASP Betty Taylor Wood of Auburn. But the wait wasn’t nearly as long. The request for help from readers revealed that Wood, who died in what some consider a mysterious airplane crash in 1943, is interred at East Lawn Memorial Park in Sacramento. Taylor, who was 22 when she died, had left Auburn to serve her country and, in some ways, her nation let her down after the crash. Sean Ferguson, a son of a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), has done extensive research into the 38 WASPS who died during the short time they were allowed to fly during World War II. He also found and catalogued all grave sites, including Woods’ location at the East Lawn columbarium. He was able to provide Media Life with the section (JL), niche (3) and tier number (6) of the remains. Ferguson said that, unlike men serving in branches of the military, Woods’ family wasn’t eligible for the $10,000 death benefit. The government didn’t pay for transportation of Wood’s body back to Auburn or the funeral. That put a tremendous burden on families, he said. There were also no military honors. “Often, they broke open the Coke machine (at the air base) to help pay for transport back,” Ferguson said. “But a WASP always had a WASP escort to take her home.” As mentioned in last week’s column, WASPS were eventually recognized as part of the Air Force. Name now on monument Locally, the Auburn Cemetery war memorial had been absent Woods’ name among the dead from World War II. But after Media Life stated that it had yet to be carved onto the roll of names, members of the memorial committee Mike Holmes and Terry Crouson quickly pointed out that the work had been done before this past Memorial Day. That had followed an initial article in Media Life in February that pointed out the absence. Also, Wood and all the other women who have served in the military will be recognized at Veterans Day in Auburn this coming Nov. 11. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at (530) 852-0232 or