My dad, Elmer, grew up an Iowa farm boy. He was the second oldest of eight children in his family and the oldest son. Born in 1926 he was raised on farms near the Mississippi River in beautiful Eastern Iowa around the towns of Guttenburg, Garnavillo and Elkader. It was during the depression era so there wasn’t money for much extras, much less traveling. Dad always wanted to travel and like so many of his generation, his first traveling experience was in the Army.
Dad was in the United States Army during 1945-1946. He entered the Army at the very end of WWII, in September of 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept 2, 1945 which many sources show as the end of WWII. He was considered a WWII veteran according to U.S. Veterans Affairs a WWII veteran served in the time period from September 16, 1940, through July 24, 1947. For the United States, WWII officially began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 and ended with the surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
The period that Dad was in the army was before the Korean Conflict. This time period was considered the Korean Division. This occurred right after WWII in 1945 and the division was complete in 1948. It was during this time frame that countries outside of Korea made the division between North Korea and South Korea. My dad always said he was sent to Korea to help rebuild it and keep peace. The Korean Conflict began in 1950. For more information this time period you can click here.
About the Letters
During the time my dad was in the army, he wrote letters back home to his parents and his sister Marie and her husband Frances. These letters tell a tale of a young man’s first time out of Iowa. Much of the letters are about daily life in the army from his days in the States, just out of boot camp, to his time aboard a ship to Korea, and finally of his time in Korea. Although these letters may be only of interest to me and my family, I felt they were worth sharing. In between the lines you can see some of my Dad’s personality as a young man emerge. In the beginning being eager for adventure and finally a lonesomeness for home.
As there are so many letters, I am just going to add excerpts that may be of interest from some of them. Also there are parts I have skipped that have faded and I cannot read. I plan on posting these letters in three parts over the next few Mondays. Part 1 is from his time in the States as a new soldier, Part 2 is from his adventures aboard the ship, and Part 3 is from his time in Korea. I have no military background so some of his letters make no sense to me, but I will be writing them in his own words. I am hoping they will be interesting to others too!
September 25, 1945, Camp J.T. Robinson
Dear Francis and Marie,
Just go off of K.P. sure had a hard day of it to. I washed pots and pans all day without stopping. Boy my hands sure are wrinkly.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to write to you sooner. I haven’t got much time now, have to get my personal things in order. You have to have your things just the way they want them because we’re having inspection tommorow and gosh darn it, I haven’t even started.
Had a little taste of marching yesterday….We got here Sunday morning at 1 o’clock…had to report at nine and they gave us our pillow and mattress…Then that afternoon they gave us our rifle which was covered with cosmoline oil about an inch thick. They called it cosmoline but I wouldn’t call it anything but plain old axil grease! After we fellows all had our rifles they told us to clean them. We started to clean them right after dinner and some of them weren’t through 7:00 that night, including me!
.…Boy it sure is warm down here. I run around in my undershirt all the time. And you are sweating when you are sitting under a shade tree….I am down here surrounded by trees and rocks. All you can see is trees, trees, trees….I am in the big state of Arkansas. Little Rock, the capital of Ark. is only 6 miles away. But Camp Robinson is sure behind the standards of Fort Snelling, sure do miss Fort Snelling, it was heaven compared to Camp Robinson. Guess I’ll close for now and don’t forget to write.
Oct 16, 1945, Camp Robinson
Dear Marie and Francis,
…Was quite surprised to hear that you were sick. But I am also pleased to hear you are almost well again.
Got through with one course of training last Friday, sure am glad that week is over with. Had to get up every morning at three o’clock and you know how much us Berns’ like the bed! Well, I did’t forget that yet. Every morning, Bill or Ray just about pulled me out of bed by one of my legs. If it weren’t for them some mornings I wouldn’t get to reveille. But this week ain’t so bad as we don’t have to get up until 5:30.
We started landscape firing on Monday. Had a little of combat training this morning. You know, how to form rifle squads and that sort of stuff. And this afternoon we had bayonet practice. Sure is tiresome…
Frances, did you go hunting much this year? Or wasn’t it very good?
Just got through eating dinner, had a pretty good one too. I’ll give you an idea of what we had. Well it went like this. Smashed potatoes with beef gravy and a nice juicy beef roast. Cooked carrots, not like the way mom makes them, these were sweet. I don’t like them as go that way. I like the way mom made them better. And fresh buns. Ain’t no extra but better than we usually have. Once in awhile we get cake or jello. Once in a great while we get ice cream. We never get anything to put on the bread though except butter and some times don’t even get that. But what we do get tastes good. The heck of it is we hardly ever get enough of it. But I should crow, I’ve gained 12 pounds since I got down here!
...we go to shooting the carbine which is another rifle only a lot smaller but it still shoots a 30mm cartridge. It feels like you’re carrying a BB gun compared to the M1 we have to carry around with us all of the time.
Will close for now, your brother,
Oct 28, 1945, Camp J. T. Robinson
Dear Marie and Francis
Gosh! Marie Did That Cake EVER make a hit with the fellows in our hut. There were only seven of my best friends who had the privilege to have a taste of such a wonderful cake. And I do mean it was good. Why I never had such a good piece of cake in such a long long time. It will be just about 2 months. Well, I don’t know the exact day but it was the Sunday I came home from Ft. Snelling. Ray and Bill told me to tell you it was good….
Guess what? We got payed Wednesday of this week. There are going to be a bunch of happy guys around here. But they day after will be broke after a whole month without any money at all.
Say, is it true, all the leaves are off the tree there? Boy, I sure was surprised when Mom told me that. Well down here they are just beginning to turn, just like the middle of summer. Never wore our coats but once down here and that was for the parade in honor of General Stanley Reinhart…
You asked if Betty wrote to me. If she did, I didn’t get it so I guess she didn’t write.
Yesterday, for the first time we had a full field inspection. That is an inspection of all filed equipment and clothing…..we were supposed to get the afternoon off. Boy, I tell you, I sure had the afternoon off alright. Just before dinner our top Sarg stopped at the first platoon and looked at it awhile. Then he stopped at the 2nd and 3rd and 4th squad. And guess what? He put us on detail! Cleaning Browning Automatics the rest of the afternoon. Know something? Guess I’ll become a gunsmith after I get out of the army.
This week we learn how to shoot the light machine gun and how to throw real hand grenades. We have been throwing dummy ones for quite sometime now. We were getting tired of throwing them and nothing ever happening.
Had our pictures taken in a group yesterday….and guess what? I didn’t have my tie on! I didn’t know it until I came back to my hut and seen both my ties lying on my bed. Felt around my neck to see if I had it there and nope! I tell you, I just about s________! .…..was sure scared. I hope they don’t notice or I will catch h___.
Will close for now. Your Brother,
21 November 1945
Dear Marie and Francis,
..…You are right, we were on something like maneuvers last week but it wasn’t what you call it. We were on bivouac. It was something like us kids used to play when we were going to school. You know, play war. Only here we had real guns and blank ammunition. Rather I should say rifles. If the captain heard me say that I’d get 15 push ups or something or another. Or may be put on detail cleaning weapons.
Boy, the way Mom writes, Dennis [My dad’s baby brother] must be getting quite big! I won’t know him when I get home. Of course the way they talk we are going to get about 6-7 more weeks of infantry training here….
...You ask about films we get here. All we get here are sun ray films and they aren’t worth the powder it would take to blow them to bits…
…You asked how I cut the cake. Why I used my bayonet of course!
So long for now. With loads of love, your brother,
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You Can Read Part II by Clicking the Link Below: