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Friday, April 12, 2024

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Cape May Man Fulfills World War II Promise

Marshall Tees served in World War II. His son

By Collin Hall

CAPE MAY – What is $25 worth? For Stan Tees, it’s worth a whole lot more than the handful of groceries it might buy. It is a symbol of unfinished business, a mid-war promise never carried out.    

Stan Tees father, Marshall Tees, served in World War II and promised to deliver a $25 money order, what was then two weeks’ pay, to the surviving wife of a comrade in arms, William Harrell. Harrell and Marshall Tees served together in France, where Harrell trusted Marshall Tees to deliver money to Harrell’s wife, Lucy Harrell, were he to die.    

Though William Harrell survived the war, the money never reached Lucy Harrell, and over 70 years later, Marshall Tees’ son, Stan Tees, knew that the money on its face was not worth the trouble. Inflation has decimated the value of $25, and besides, he wasn’t sure that the post office would even honor the money order were he to track down Harrell’s surviving family.    

It wasn’t about the money. It was about his father’s legacy. Stan Tees’ father always intended to send the money to Lucy Harrell, but several mailing errors and life changes later, it sat locked away unsent in a wooden chest.    

Stan Tees said, “It took me several weeks of hunting all over the internet through ancestry.com, newspapers.com, to find any leads at all. I used Facebook a bit, and I tried military archives. Through this, I could zero in on the family… Little by little, through research, I was able to get within 5 yards of the goal. The reporter (Ali Sullivan) at ‘The Virginian Pilot’ brought it in for a touchdown.”    

After much to-do, the money order was honored, and that $25 was finally sent to William Harrell’s surviving family in North Carolina.  

“I was also shocked that the post office made good on it. The money order was considered invalid after a year. I didn’t know what they were going to do,” Stan Tees said.  

It was rewarding to finish this long-overdue errand, but much of the value for Stan Tees was the chance to revisit a visceral part of his father’s life.   

“Doing this errand was like living a day in my dad’s life,” he said. I felt the despair of never being able to contact somebody, never being able to find them… This whole project thrust me back in time and suddenly my dad came alive for that day.”    

Stan Tees’ father lived most of his life in Cape May County. Stan Tees remembered that his father, like many blue-collar workers in Cape May, was poor, but always did what was necessary to provide for his family.  

“My dad worked two jobs to keep us in a house with food,” Stan Tees said.    

One of those jobs was at Lund’s Fisheries on Ocean Drive in Lower Township.    

Stan Tees remembered his dad as one of the best workers at the entire fishery. He said that “nobody could beat him at what he did. One of Lund’s big catches was flounder, and he would fillet them. That was a tough job, but he was so skilled at it that he was their number one flounder filleter. That kept him busy the entire time he was at Lund’s.”   

Filleting, especially with larger fish, is a grueling process for most that requires a steady hand and quick reflexes. A skilled filleter can process an entire fish in under half a minute. Stan Tees father had mastered the art.     

Beyond this, Marshall Tees worked for the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for more than three decades, and in his spare time, was a budding novelist.  

He operated many of Cape May County’s oldest and most famous bridges as a day-to-day operative. He worked the bridge that now takes drivers from North Cape May to the other side of the canal. This bridge replaced the old “swing bridge,” a mighty and now seldom-used mechanism that rotated the entire middle section of the bridge, via a pivot point, to make way for oncoming boats. The bridge that replaced it is so large and sleek that it perhaps overshadows how maintenance-heavy and mechanically complex its predecessor was.    

Marshall Tees lived and breathed these complex bridges for over three decades. Before he passed, he operated nearly every bridge in the county.  

Much of the Tees family still calls Cape May home, and through the fulfillment of a grief-stricken, war-made promise, Stan Tees continues his father’s legacy. 

To contact Collin Hall, email chall@cmcherald.com. 

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