If you read Part I of Letters From an Iowa Farm Boy you were introduced to my dad, Elmer, who served the US Army from September 1945-1947. Dad was born in 1926 and grew up on farms in Iowa near the Mississippi River. As a matter of fact, this is really a beautiful area in Iowa. He lived near the towns of Garnavillo, Gutenburg and Elkader. Since this was during the Great Depression era, there wasn’t money for much, especially not for traveling, but he grew up happy and loved. There were 8 children in his family, of which he was the second oldest and he was the oldest boy. Like many men of his generation, his first major trip anywhere was courtesy of the US Army.
Part I covered dad’s time in the States, right after boot camp and before being stationed in Korea. Those letters were written to his oldest sister Marie and her husband Francis. Dad’s sister, Marie, was a very family oriented person and it was so insightful of her to save all these letters over the years. Although Dad is considered a WWII veteran, he was drafted and entered the army around V-J day. He was stationed in Korea during the time when the North and South divisions were made. He had really wanted to be in the Air Force but was discovered to be color blind so he couldn’t enlist, Navy was his next choice and he had the same problem there. Because of this, Dad used to joke that the Army would draft anyone!
Today’s post covers the time Dad was on a ship headed for Korea. The ship was the SS Stetson Victory. For the most part, Dad, wrote about his life on the ship, from seasickness to storms and to boredom. These letters were written to his folks, Carl and Margaret Berns, who lived on a farm in Winthrop, Iowa during this time. I have only included excerpts of what may be of interest. Mostly because there are too many to include all. In addition, some of the writing has faded and has become hard to read. Dad wrote these daily and then mailed them all together after he was off of the ship.
Dear Mom, Dad and All,
I know I will not be able to mail this letter, but thought I would write a little each day and tell you what goes on aboard the SS Stetson Victory (name of ship). Another reason I am writing is because it makes me feel better.
We boarded the ship at 8:15. Stayed in the harbor until that evening around 3:45. Was on top deck when we pulled out. I thought I was pretty smart to be going across the Pacific Ocean! But that evening around 12:00 I woke up and was sicker then a dog. And it wasn’t long until I wished I had never seen a ship.
Boy was I sick. Every time the boat would go down, I would get sick. I was in the latrine (the toilet) until 8:00 that morning. Didn’t eat breakfast because by that time my sides, head and stomach were so sore. I didn’t care about anything. Didn’t know if I was dead or alive. I just wanted to lay down.
I wouldn’t have ate any dinner if it wasn’t for Ray. He went up and got me some soup and crackers. That reminds me to tell you about Bob B. He was just as sick as me. But it didn’t seem to bother Ray at all….. Bob and I don’t know what we would have done without him. He got dinner and drink to us for 2 days. Sure was glad he was here.) Well back to the dinner Ray brought us, it stayed with me for about 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer…..little while after, Bob came up to join me feeding the fish….
…..Ray got the dinner for us. We ate it and stayed in bed and we succeeded in keeping it down. By this time we were getting pretty weak and thin after not having anything stay in our stomachs for 2 days!…
24th Sunday Morning
……I woke up and was feeling fine. There wasn’t a Catholic Priest on board. We didn’t have mass but us boys said the rosary and sang a hymn. You know, the hymn that they always sing after benediction. I can’t think of the name of it now.
Ran into a storm last night. A snow storm. But it doesn’t seem to bother me any more guess I’m getting used to it! But I sure had a headache this morning when I woke up and still have it. Maybe that seasickness went from my stomach and up to my head during the night. Could be. Haha!
I eat every meal now and try to get more if I can! But we have a ration card and they punch it every time we eat so we can’t go back after seconds.
It was snowing again this morning and the top deck was white with snow. Can hardly stand up on the snow and ice. The ship rocks so much. Slide from one side to another.
Can’t seem to get over my headache. It really isn’t a headache but sort of a dizzy feeling. Had a fire drill this afternoon and had to go through the acts of abandon ship. After that we went to the show. I stayed there until a tennis table fell on my legs and skinned them all up. I didn’t want to get killed so I left.
Guess you’re wondering what happened to the 27th? Well on Wednesday nite we crossed the international date line and so we lost a day. It is now 5:15 in the morning and back home in Winthrop it is 1:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, and here it is Friday morning!….
…..Boy the water was rougher than heck this morning, or rather yesterday. When we went to chow, or breakfast, we were standing in line so nice and all at once a big wave came up and rocked the ship so bad that we all fell down! The trays we eat off of fell down off the shelf, a couple of garbage cans tipped over and a couple of other things happened which are too numerous to mention.
Had quite a snow yesterday…there was enough to have a good snowball fight. Some of them really battled it out.
.….Boy, we’re having a regular blizzard out and it sure is getting rough.
The storm we had yesterday lasted until this morning. It’s been the roughest the water’s been since I’ve been on the ship. The water was so high it came clear on the deck. From the top deck to the water is about 30 ft. It came up so often that they had to close the water tight doors to keep the water from coming into the lower decks of the ship.
The front end of the boat would come out of the water and a big wave would come and hit it right on either side and just toss it around. Like if it were a tiny little cork in a little bitty stream. You just couldn’t walk around. If you tried, it would throw you in some corner….It was kind of fun trying to walk, but there were times it didn’t care how hard it would throw you.
You could hardly sleep. Some times it would almost roll you out of the, whatever the Navy calls these darn things we have to sleep in. Besides that, all the noise that was going on. Dish pans, trays, boxes, garbage cans…..they came rolling down the stairs into the compartment above us.
Jeepers, you should have seen the mess hall this morning, it sure was a mess! The jelly and jam, catsup, salt and sugar were spilled over the floor……Was I glad I wasn’t on K.P.!
Well, it is Sunday again and not a thing to do…..Things on this boat are really getting scarce. They pay as high as 30 cents for a candy bar. Yesterday a fellow was looking for some ink so he could fill his pen. Me being the only one that had any….charged him a nickel just to have it filled! Sounds crazy but that’s what is going on aboard the Stetson Victory. Guess you would call int inflation….never though I would see the day when a fellow would pay 30 cents for a candy bar. $1.00 for a little meat sandwich which somebody stole out of the mess hall….as high as 50 cents for an apple or orange…..
Had the rosary service again today. We only have one Chaplain on board and he is a Jewish Rabbi.
We are along the coast of Japan, but not close enough to see land. We are heading south and it is getting quite warm again.
Seen another ship today, the only one we have seen…..and I also saw a flying fish! I had heard of there being such a thing but thought it was sort of a fairy tale. But now I believe it too….I didn’t see any big fish as of yet, but wish I would.
Boy am I glad I didn’t get in the Navy when I wanted to. Why this is the dullest place out here, nothing to do. Nothing to see but water. Don’t see how anybody could like the Navy….I like the land. Don’t care much to see the land over here. The land I want to see is the good old U.S and one particular state and that is Iowa, and a little town by the name of Winthrop. I wonder how long before I will see it again?
This afternoon they got me for guard. Have to walk around in the rain for no reason at all. So I went and sent a fellow down to tell Ray to bring me my book I had been reading. Can you imagine reading a book while standing guard? Well, Dad, what do you think of that? Do you think I walk my post in a military manner. I do. Don’t you Dad? [Note: My Grandfather was in WWI, Army Corps of Engineers, I believe over in France or Italy].
Boy, things are really happening today. I got off guard at 5 a.m. and at six o’clock I went up on deck and, Guess What? Land, Yep for the first time in 13 days. But WOW was it rough…..all mountains and the ruggedest ones I have seen. They almost went straight up and down on both sides. Some of them did. Gosh, seen two ships and one airplane too……besides, all this water is so rough that we can only travel 5 knots, and that ain’t fast!
…..I had to go on guard again today. I’m on first relief.. I just went out on deck and stayed out of the way…..had to go on but for only 20 minutes one of the fellows got sick and I had to take his place…..I drew pictures. Started one of the farm but didn’t get it finished but I’ll be sending it home to see what you folks think of it…..Was supposed to land at Jinsen, Korea today but had to slow up too much so I guess tomorrow.
Jeepers, it sure is getting cold…..I thought maybe it would be nice and warm at Korea. Darn it. It’s colder than the Dickens.
.….and before noon we reached Korea. The city or town, whatever it is doesn’t look very big from here. We don’t get off until 8 tomorrow morning. We get off and the other troops get on. The lucky fellows are going home. But I guess they deserve to go home after a couple of months over here in this full of mountain’s country. So this ends the trip on the ship. It has been 2 weeks now since we started and a month today that I left home. I sure hope there is some mail waiting for me….hear form you folks since then.
Will close for now. With All My Love,
Well, we got here and is it ever a mess! And it sure is cold. The Korean’s go around with out hardly any clothes at all. No shoes, just rags wrapped around their feet and a little rubber sole at the bottom. For the life of me I don’t know what keeps them from freezing…….The towns are really dirty. Made out of mud and straw. Just little huts is all they are. The clothes they wear are just rags. Guess they wear anything they get a hold of.
They pay as high as $1.00 for a candy bar now! Don’t you think that’s crazy?
You can Find Part 1 of Dad’s Letters at this link:
Letters From an Iowa Farm Boy in the Army Part 1
30 thoughts on “Letters From an Iowa Farm Boy in the Army, 1945-1946 Part II”
Keep ’em coming! These are fascinating letters, and we’re enjoying them so much!!
Thank you!! Glad you are enjoying them!! I’ll have the last one out next Monday. It is about Dads time in Korea!! Thanks for reading!!!
It’s really unique that you’re transcribing letters from your dad and sharing them with us! I think it’s a great way to reflect on your family’s roots, as well as reaffirm your passion for travel. I can definitely see where you got your love of travel from! Keep them coming. 🙂
Thanks!!! They have been fun to go through.
it is fun reading such personal insights into the day to day life of someone in the military. your dad is quite observant of what is going on around him and his environment!
Thanks, Jim! It was definitely a new experience for him!
Transcribing and sharing these letters – what a wonderful, meaningful project during the pandemic!
It has kept me busy!! In a good way!!
What an amazing treasure to have!! I have loved reading these two posts so much!
Oh thank you! It’s been fun!!
So very interesting!
Old is gold.
So incredible, such a treasure, Lori! Such great fortune to have this from your Dad, the history, his love, his sense of being in the moment in history – amazing! ❤️
I have been enjoying them!! Keeps me busy during these times!! Thanks!!
Enjoyed reading this. My dad was born around this time and served in WW II. He also wrote like your father, very straight forward, just the news and the facts.
I am colorblind and was allowed to join the Navy as they did not discover it evidently until almost a year and a half later. I was granted a honorable discharge.
I was a quartermaster on a ship. Thanks for sharing. This is a good thing to write about during this time and to keep you busy.
Thanks for your comments!!! Glad your father wrote home too!! Color blindness is too bad. I remember dad struggling with wearing matching socks!! Dark blues, blacks, dark greens! As we grew up we just learn to look down and checked out socks out before you left the house!! Again, thanks for your comments!
Yes, my father did not write home but years later in his retirement he wrote about being on a ship which blew up
Oh wow!! I bet that is an interesting read!
I am not that affected by color blindness but sometimes struggle with matching socks.
This is such a wonderful post Lori! I wonder if my mom kept any of my dads letters. He was stationed in Korea and Vietnam and used to tell us a few stories – he passed away a LONG time ago. I love how he was amazed by the prices of things – lol. This is a really cool project – you gave me some ideas to run with 🙂
Glad you got some great ideas!! I’ll be watching for them!!! My dad passed in 1996 and gave me these letters just shortly before! He was going to toss them but thought I might like to look them over!!
What a GIFT!!! My aunt interviewed my grandmother before she passed and put together a binder of handwritten notes. If I can find it, I should transcribe it all for the family!
That would be awesome!!! So much fun to go through these things!!!