After his service to the U.S. Navy, S2 John Kanouff, Jr. made very persistent efforts to find his long lost wartime love. He tried for five long years to find Thelma Neal who he met in Melbourne, Australia where he was stationed as a gunner for the Armed Guard. They hoped to be married after the war.
“In March 1944, they sent me up to the front lines to fight, and I never made it back,” John said. From nine ships ordered to New Guinea, Kanouff’s, the USATS Norindies, was one of three to make it to the destination.
“I was told that his ship was gone, and all hands were lost,” said Thelma. But, she still didn’t give up. She also tried for five years to find him. She tried to reach John through the American Red Cross and continued to write letters to John. She wrote to let him know she was expecting their child. John was hospitalized and did receive her letters, but Thelma did not receive his return letters.
Both, after about five years, eventually met and married someone else. Both marriages had seven children. Both marriages also eventually resulted in divorce.
On April 2, 2002, John received a telephone call around midnight. The friendly voice inquired about his military service and asked him if he knew Thelma Neal. When John replied, “yes”, the caller said, “Well then, you are my grandfather.”
“I about passed out,” said John. The caller was Wayne Patrick, his 34 years young grandson! Wayne told John that Thelma and his son, Wayne, were both alive and well and living in Australia. Grandson Wayne’s persistence through the use of the Internet paid off. He initially located John’s cousin in Georgia who provided the address and telephone number that his grandmother, Thelma, had tried to find for years.
Thelma, who was repairing antique furniture at the time recalls, “I just went blank when I got the news.”
John said Wayne, his son, was 58 years old before he had ever laid eyes upon him. On October 29th, 2002, Thelma, Wayne Gilbert and his wife, Jill landed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a visit to meet with John. During their visit, the couple received an opportunity to discuss how desperately they tried to reach each other.
After many long distance calls and trips and long conversations about their ages and background, they eventually decided to marry and now live on Meadowbrook Road in Bridgeport, West Virginia.