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Lost Love Found: Lost military letters unveil a true love story

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BRISTOL, Va. - On Wednesday night, News 5 brought you the story of a local family who found a box of military letters dating back almost 70 years. Those letters were found in a car about to be salvaged. The family wanted to make sure the letters were preserved, and if possible, returned to the rightful owner. They reached out to News 5 for help and our own Olivia Bailey did some digging and uncovered a remarkable love story. These are the hundreds of letters back and forth between Airman 1st Class Don Hillman and his fiancee, Betty, illustrating their long-distance relationship. A Tri-Cities family found them in a long-lost treasure box and now hope to return them to the ones who wrote them. As News 5 read through dozens of letters, we tried to pinpoint clues about who Don and Betty were and where they might be. We looked for clues in locations, names, and events to find out about this couple. Finally, we found the key: a postmark from Berea College. Officials there confirmed that is where the couple met as students. We later determined that is where they eventually married. "I met his cousin from Dungannon, Virginia when I went to orientation at Berea," Betty Hillman told us. At the time, she was Betty Sheehy from Charleston, West Virginia. She enrolled at Berea College and met her future husband, Don Hillman. Betty told us, "We were friends. We stopped for coffee. We went to movies. We dated every now and then, but we really didn't get serious until our junior year." By then, the couple knew they were meant for each other. Before graduation, Don enlisted in the United States Air Force as a pilot. His training took him to Texas. We now know it was through these letters that the two wrote and planned their wedding. "It was sort of a long-distance wedding planning because he was in Texas, I think, finishing up his cadet training. I was in Oak Ridge, and we were planning the wedding in Berea," Betty said. Betty became a school teacher in Oak Ridge for a year. The couple married on April 18, 1953. "It was a very small wedding. I think I had one bridesmaid, and he had the best man," Betty said. Betty then resigned from her teaching position and followed her husband in his military career taking them all over the country. Betty now lives in Arizona. Although Don passed away six years ago, they leave behind a legacy of five children, seven grand-children, and eight great-grand children. Now, a box of letters details the history that brought them together as a family. Those letters once lost are now found and were never forgotten. News 5 has connected Betty with the family who found the letters. They will be sending them to her, and Betty says she can not wait to read them again. Betty told us she has no idea how the letters got to southwest Virginia. She said Don had family in Oakwood and Dungannon, but does not know who kept the letters all these years.

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