BRUNSWICK — Louise Haggett flipped through the pages of her grandmother’s album, pausing and choking up as she re-read the words of an uncle she never knew.
Other pages of the album would mark Paul Gousse’s injury in New Guinea and his death in an Australian hospital. Western Union telegrams — both beginning with the words “deeply regret” — were pasted on later pages.
When Haggett saw a typewritten letter, decorated decades ago with stick-on green and gold stars, she felt the strongest tug.
It was dated Nov. 20, 1942. The U.S. had joined World War II, less than a year earlier. And Gousse, then 24, was writing from the island of Guadalcanal, just five days after a naval battle there ended in a U.S. victory.
“I had never exactly understood what liberty meant before coming here,” he wrote.
He described his willingness to die in the fight. He also talked of missing his mother, even writing her a poem.
“But soon when freedom’s cause is won / And all these cruel slayings done, / I’ll be returning never fear / Till then, God bless you and keep you dear,” he wrote.
He never returned home. He died 15 months later.
His death and the papers that followed, including condolence letters from military officers and Maine’s governor, fill much of the album.
Haggett, who grew up in Lewiston, never knew the album existed until recently, when she began sorting family possessions, some dating back to her grandparents’ home near the corner of East Avenue and Russell Street.
“It was in a box with other old family photos, which, if I hadn’t gone through it, would have never surfaced,” said Haggett, who is 73 and now lives in Brunswick.
Some of the album seemed routine to her when she first opened it. After all, Paul was one of four Gousse brothers who went into the military.
He and George were Marines who fought in the Pacific. Louis and Maurice entered the Army and went to England.
One of the other items in the book is a three-page letter from both brothers, written while they were together for a visit in England.
However, most of the book focuses on Paul.
In some ways, it feels almost too private, said Haggett, who imagined her mother pasting each item on the blank, black pages.
“I could feel my grandmother’s grief as she was putting the album together,” she said. “I almost felt like I had eavesdropped into her personal pain. I felt like I was in a holy place when I saw the personal letters Paul had written to his mother.”
She also felt pride.
“I was especially in awe of the articulation of this 22-year-old who wrote so well, even penning a poem,” she said. “Imagine what might have become of him, had he lived.”
Condolences came from Maine Gov. Sumner Sewell, who also invited Paul’s mother, Edwina, to a luncheon at the Blaine House. There was also a letter from the chaplain of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, Capt. Reuben Shrum.
“Your son lived nobly and died courageously for his fellow men, his country and his God,” Shrum wrote.
Each page made Haggett wish she had discovered the book sooner. She might have learned more about all of her uncles, and what they did in the war.
“I wish that I had gone through this 25 years ago,” she said. “Louis and Maurice were still alive. It would have been nice to share this with them. It also would have been nice to ask them questions.”
She must console herself with the album and one memory of the time. She worried for her Uncle George, who was also her godfather.
“I just remember that there was a lot of commotion in the house,” she said. “There had to have been some talk of danger.”
So, she found a picture of her Uncle George.
“I remember tucking it under my pillow at night because I was so afraid he was going to die,” she said. “I guess I must have learned about the death, but I was only 3 years old.”