When Rita Pauley was a little girl, she begged her father for a sister.
"He would always just smile without saying anything," Pauley said.
What Pauley didn't know was that, decades later and an ocean away, Sally Jaggard, with the help of a social worker, would finally find her American father.
"My mom never said anything about it. I used to ask my aunts, and one told me it was a one-night stand, and he went off and got killed," Jaggard said. "It was just to put me off the idea. Another aunt finally said she remembered him, that he went after my mom for quite a few months, and that he did know she was having me. Whether he asked my mom to go back with him to America and she didn't want to, or what happened, I don't know."
Jaggard, 69, whose step-father adopted her when she was 6, said she tried as a young woman to find her father but didn't get very far. After her mother died, she received her adoption papers and took them to a social worker, and six years ago, that social worker told her what she had found out — that Everett Godbey, her father, had died in 1994. She also told about a half-brother in America, who had passed away in 2001, and Pauley, her half-sister.
The social worker immediately emailed Pauley with the news that the sister she had always wanted now wanted to talk to her.
"She asked me if it was okay for Sally to write, and I said, 'Of course,'" Pauley said.
"And then I wrote you about my life and probably bored you to death," Jaggard joked.
"Not at all, because your life was totally different. Growing up in Raleigh County is nothing like growing up in the English countryside," Pauley said.
The two know little about what happened between Godbey and Jaggard's mother, Edith Sharman. Godbey was either drafted or enlisted in the Army in August 1941, and served as a member of the 9th Armored Division — nicknamed the "Phantom Division" — which was later honored for its heroism in rebuffing constant German attacks in Luxembourg in December 1944.
Godbey was transported to Texas, Nevada and California for training before being sent to Tidworth, a garrison town in Wiltshire, England. He eventually was moved to Braintree, where he met Sharman, and where Jaggard grew up. Godbey was transferred to the 9th Armored Division sometime in early 1944. Much of his service before then is a mystery; the sisters have only his discharge papers to go by. He married Pauley’s mother after returning to the United States.
Sharman was one of 12 siblings, and worked in a munitions factory during the war. Jaggard said trucks from American bases would come to take local girls to dances, and her mother would go with one of her sisters.
"That's where she must have met Everett," Jaggard said.
According to the assignment history for the 9th Armored Division, Godbey returned to England on July 31, 1944 — one day after Jaggard was born. She ran into a wall trying to find her original birth certificate, but she did find Red Cross papers from her delivery that listed Godbey as her father.
"I think it must have really hurt him because, as a small child, I begged and begged and begged for a sister. I had a brother, and I didn't want him; all I wanted was a sister,” Pauley said. “All of my cousins had sisters, and I had a brother. An older brother, at that."
Pauley, who serves as chief counsel to state Senate Majority Leader John Unger, first met her sister two years ago, when she spent a week in England with her husband. This time, their visit will be longer — Sally and her husband, Spencer, and their grandson, Shane Stockton, plan to spend three weeks in America. The families plan to visit Boomer, where Godbey was born, and will travel on to Harper's Ferry, where the Jaggards, who have been married for more than 50 years, will renew their wedding vows.
For Jaggard, who can remember when her step-father and mother married when she was 4 years old, finding her biological father was something she felt compelled to do.
"My Aunt Kit became pregnant by an American, too,” Jaggard said. “There's two days difference between me and my cousin, but he didn't want to know [about his father]. I've asked him, and he said, 'I feel as though he didn't want me.' I said, 'How can you know that? You don't know until you've found out.' I never felt like that. I always felt there was something missing in my life."
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.