© 2023 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

John O'Donnell

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Many of the Mississippi Valley's finest young men answered the draft call during World War II, but only one, so far as I know, accidentally drafted himself.

John O'Donnell was a popular sports columnist for the Davenport Democrat, when World War II arrived and diminished the number of sporting events. One day early in the War, O'Donnell filled one of his columns with a letter to "Dear Joe," a fictional Davenport soldier on the front lines. When he got letters back from real Rock Island area soldiers overseas, he published them, and replied with his own letters. A long correspondence developed.

Soldiers began using the column to keep in touch with buddies serving in other theaters. Soon, Dear Joe correspondence back and forth filled two pages of the paper each Sunday. O'Donnell managed to capture the moods not only of the lonely and homesick soldiers far away, but the longings and worries of those waiting back home.

By the end of the War, there was a Dear Joe Club and a Dear Joe Auxiliary, with membership in the hundreds. In June of 1946, a welcome home for all the Dear Joes became a central part of Davenport's first annual State of Scott celebration. "Dear Joes: Welcome!" read the headlines of a special edition of the Democrat. There were parades, an air show, and a Dear Joe dance, during which returning soldiers presented John O'Donnell with the keys to a new Hudson automobile.

John O'Donnell continued to be popular as a sports columnist, but it was his war record—serving his tour of duty in front of an old manual typewriter in a newspaper office—that helped put his name on the Davenport Municipal Stadium following his death.

Few spectators who sit watching baseball along the Mississippi River near the Centennial Bridge realize that their seats are in a stadium named after a World War II veteran who never left Davenport, a veteran with no rank and no company, but one armed with that weapon that is mightier than the sword.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.