If you have been following Letters From and Iowa Farm Boy in the Army, Part I and Part II, you will be a bit familiar with my Dad, Elmer Berns. Dad was in the Army from 1945-1947, having entered right after Victory Japan Day. Dad served during the time Korea was divided into North and South areas and before the Korean Conflict.
Part I introduces you to my Dad through letters he wrote his sister, Marie and her husband Francis. Part II is comprised of letters Dad wrote home to his parents, Carl and Margaret, while on the ship Stetson Victory to Korea. Today’s post, Part III are letters mostly written home to his sister, Marie but also a few to his parents. These letters are from the time Dad was in Korea and follows along how conditions improved while he was there from being pretty rough to not so bad! This is a lengthy post as Dad wrote often! As with my other posts on this, I have just included excerpts that I have found interesting and hope you do as well and parts of the letters that were still readable.
Since this is Memorial Day, I included a clip at the end of this post of my brother playing military taps in my home town cemetery at my parents grave. My brother started playing taps on Memorial Day over 40 years ago for the local VFW. He used to play at many of our small Iowa cemeteries and has played for many funerals, including my Grandfather’s funeral in 1985.
March 8, 1946, Jinsen, Korea
Dear Marie and Francis
Well, we arrived at Jinsen, Korea today but won’t land until tomorrow. They haven’t any docks here so will have to go ashore in landing barges…..We go ashore at 8 o’clock in the morning.
So long til next time. Your Brother,
Mappo, Korea, 16 March 1946
Dear Marie and Francis-
At last they got me assigned to a division, and in a little town near the southern coast of Korea. I’m about 300 miles from Bob B. He got assigned to the Quarter Master Corps. Don’t know where they station Ray, but he is in the First Infantry of the Sixth Division. Sure wish they would have put him with the 20th Infantry cause I’m in the sixth division too and I guess we do the same thing. Unless he isn’t in the M.P. company like I am. But I don’t like to be an M.P. myself but have to be satisfied to do as they say.
It is a very pretty country. It is just about all mountains and in the valleys they have their rice fields.
The people dress something like they do in Japan. The wear big baggy pants, tied at the bottoms, just above their ankles….a pair of white stockings and little rubber soles that fit around the toe and heel…..most of them wear what they can get a hold of. Japanese shoes and most of their clothes are made of Japanese army blankets.
Sure wish I had my camera to take pictures of the people and the places they live in. They make their homes out of wood and mud and for the roof they have some kind of long grass. They sure don’t have any good buildings down here.
Went to church this morning. It was the first time I went to Mass here or any place in the army that it really felt like you were in a church. The reason why? Well it was a church! There is a mission on the top of the hill. It is quite old but it is a pretty church. The Korean children sang the songs in latin and a couple of hymns in their own language. They are good singers. It sure reminded me of being home for the first time since Ive been here in Korea.
They have dirt streets in the town’s and country roads….believe it or not, when you walk through the town you would swear you were walking in some muddy barn yard.
How is everything in Edgewood? Did you get a new rug? And what color did you decide to get, the blue or that pink?…
How is the weather back in old Iowa? It is quite warm here and they have a rainy season around this time of year so I can look forward on pulling M.P. duty in the rain.
Hope you and Frances are feeling fine. I feel swell except for a little lonely feeling. Sure miss all of you....
All my Love,
Mappo, Korea, 11 April 1946
Guess what? I got my first letter yesterday! It was a letter from mom addressed the 21 Feb. Guess the way Mom wrote you were down there. You was going to start moving Joe T. and a gasket blew out of the Ford. They had to fix that first. I know that was a long time ago put it was really on the spot with me after not hearing from home for two whole months!
I started this later this morning and had to quit and go on a 6 mile hike. Boy sure was tired when I got back. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t so darn muddy. Take one step ahead and slide back about a half a step…..
…..It is getting quite warm here in Korea. Some of the apple and pear trees are in bloom. All the flowers and trees in blossom. Boy, I can just almost feel how nice it would be and how beautiful it would be if I were back in the states…..to talk about it seems that things like that are only dreams after living in Korea for a month….I can’t begin to tell you how different this country is. There isn’t any dances, theaters or anything to go to here and I don’t think the other cities are any better. Don’t have any cars or trucks. I have seen a 1932 Chevy here and then I seen the General’s 42 Chrysler but that’s all I have seen in the line of cars since I have been here.
…..but there are always sports to play. That’s about all I do now that I don’t have to pull guard anymore. Just eat, sleep and play ball. Sure is an easy life but I am tired of it. I know this much though, if I would start working on the farm like I used to I couldn’t stand up to it because I am softer than the dickens. No calluses on my hands and they are just as white as snow.
.…but a letter from home, in fact from anybody is tops with this soldier. Anyway, a letter from home is extra super, there isn’t anything better.
With all my Love,
Kwangju, Korea, 29 April 1946
Dear Marie & Francis,
…..You asked if we ever heard from Eisenhower. Well they got as far as regiment and the letters were sent back to our company commander. And he had orders to open them, put them in his office and they played around for about two weeks. General Herdis cane down and made hm open them and then they both read them. After it was all over and the big brass went home, I mean back to regiment. Lt. White said if anyone wanted to sign their names for the return address he’d help us put it through. But we were all scared so none of these letters went through. Since then, a couple of the boys wrote home and sent the letters with them to have their parents send them the rest of the way. There’s more than one way to beat the army, but to be perfectly honest there aren’t very many! [I have no idea what this is about and none of Dad’s other letters mentioned this.]
You asked where Korea was located on the map. Well, I don’t know if I can explain it very well…….right to the left of Japan you will find a little arm of land that looks something like Florida extending off of the U.S., only this arm of land is extending from Russia. I wish I would have got up on Northern Korea so I could have got a look at some of the Russian girls to see what they look like! Haha. It is a lot more civilized in Northern Korea than it is in the Southern part where we are at. The Russians are occupying the northern half of Korea and the Americans the southern half. Up at Seoul they have it pretty nice, that’s where Bob B is at. They can go to public shows and dances. About Korea, I’ll try to find a map and send one….
Kwangju Korea, 5 May 1946
Dear Marie and Frances,
Man it sure is hot and lonely this Sunday afternoon. I suppose it is nice and warm this beautiful May Day back in Iowa.
We were out site seeing today but it was to hot so we turned around before we got to far. We managed to go through a couple of caves that the Japanese dug. If there would have been any fighting here it sure would have been hard getting the Japanese . Boy were they dug in. I suppose they were dug in worse……on the Philippine Islands where the fighting really went on.
Did you find Korea on the map? I couldn’t find a map so I drew a map of Korea for you and will send it home in this letter……
Kwangju, Korea, 12 May 1946
Dear Marie and Francis,
I haven’t had much time to tell if I liked my job or not because we moved and now we’re helping build, Camp Sykes. We have our Company just about finished. Have to build the day room and put the roof on the fourth platoon building yet. Then we have to put in lawns and rock gardens and plant a couple of trees.
They had a piece in the paper (The 20th Inf. paper) that this camp would look like (I can’t recall the name of the park) but anyway, it would look like some big park. Men would enlist in the army just to come over to see Camp Sykies. It will be a pretty place but if anybody enlists in the army just to se it, well, I’d say he hasn’t any brains.
…..Well today is the 12th of May. Mother’s Day. Did Mom get my radio gram I sent her for Mothers Day? I happened to think after I had sent it that she maybe would be scared when she got it and maybe she would think something had happened to me.
You said the flowers were all in bloom. Bet the yard at home is sure pretty. Wish I could be there and see it.
…..Is it still so dry? Should have some of the rain we are getting.
All my Love,
Kwangju, Korea, May 1946
Dear Marie and Francis,
Received the letter you wrote the 24th of April today, and yesterday I got the letter you wrote the first of May and mailed in Manchester the next day!
So Billy B is in Germany! Boy he sure is lucky. They say that it is just like the states. Can go into a cafe and order a nice big meal. Can go to dances and go roller skating. Over here they have cafes and they serve meals but they are all off limits. Because the food isn’t safe to eat. It is a wonder there isn’t more people getting sick.
That reminds me to tell you about the funerals they have over here. They don’t weep over the dead. They feel that they are in a better place after they are dead. They celebrate the day of the burial. They get drunk, women and men alike, and then they go on a funeral march which they do by making two steps forward and one step backward. They keep this up until the reach the cemetery. They do not dig a hole in the ground but put the body on top of the ground and cover it with the ground. They believe if they bury them beneath the ground they will not go to heaven.
A C-47 just landed. Hope it brought some more mail for me! Thanks a lot for the stationary!…..
I got 17 pictures from Mom and I got the rosary too. I sure would like to have some pictures of home. Anything. Even the mainstream of Edgewood would look like a beautiful city to me…..Anything of home would make me feel good. Every night before bed I take the pictures out and look at them. Wish I had a picture of the farm, the car, the tractor, your truck, anything!
Will Close for now. Love,
Kwangju, Korea, 2 June, 1946
Dear Marie and Francis,
.….Boy, they really are getting strict over here. We have a personal inspection every time we go through the chow line. To see if our hands are clean, our hair combed, to see if our clothes are clean and that we have the proper uniform on. Without all of these in tip top condition you can’t eat chow until they are. The first Sarg. came out and told the platoon leaders that there would be an inspection of the barracks at 8:00 tomorrow morning. I also heard we are going to start training tomorrow and are going to have 8 hours of it every day. Just like we had it in basic training at Camp Robinson. That doesn’t sound so pleasant…..
Camp Sykes, June 9, 1946
Boy you and Mom keep me pretty busy writing letters, but I sure enjoy them an awful lot.
…..Well, this morning I got up at 4:00 and went on guard at 5:00. Sure was an awful day to pull guard as it was raining since two o’clock yesterday afternoon and it is still raining yet…..You just about need a boat and a couple of oars.
Got P.X. supplies in yesterday. I got, or rather was lucky enough to win 2 cans of tomato juice, three cans of mixed. planters nuts, a bottle of hair oil, a pack of writing paper, a bottle of ink, 1 package of orbit gum and another of dentyne and a tub of Molle shaving cream. This is the first that P. X. supplies came in such big quantities. Then there were 50 self winding watches, 10 radios, and a couple of cameras and film.
…..Oh! There is one thing I forgot to tell you, I got a roll of 620 film today too. Now all I have to do is find a camera that uses 620’s. Sure hope I get one of the cameras.
Will close for now, I have to write Mom a letter yet tonight.
Bye Now. All my Love,
Camp Sykes 23 July -46
Dear Marie and Frances,
.….I didn’t stop writing , we jus t had such heavy rain that it almost took all of the bridges out. The mail couldn’t get through. The Quarter Master was beginning to worry abut getting rations down. We did run out of gas, but it came in the next day. We are getting pretty good chow again since the roads are fixed up. They are flying fresh meat in to us now. First time we had fresh ham since March and it sure made a hit with us G.I.’s.
Yah, Mom told me about Irma F. going to marry Jimmy L. Yes, that was Dorothy F. that was in my grade…….I thought I did answer Betty H.’s letter but I guess I didn’t if she didn’t get it yet.
…..got a couple of pictures from Leona [Dad’s sister] today. They sure did build up my morale! Sure like to get pictures, can’t get enough of them!
Have to write to Mom yet tonight so will close.
(God Bless You)
Kwangju, Korea 23 June, 1946
Got the pictures you sent me of Dennis [Dad’s brother] and the little pups! Say, who were all the strangers in the picture? You know which one I am talking about , don’t you? The one you had taken at Forestville. Sure was glad to see the Chevy. What sand pit were you at when you took them pictures, sure looked like a big one.
We went over to the C-47 that crashed here at the air strip. I don’t believe I told you about it but maybe Mom told you. Anyway, to get back to the subject we climbed into the cockpit and acted like we were the pilot getting ready for the take off. Then we walked around the countryside taking pictures of the rice fields Korean people at work……I will send them home and have them developed, that is if you would care for this for me.
Boy, Dennis sure changed a lot.since I was home on delay. Bet he sue has fun with those little pups!…..
Camp Sykes, 1 July
Dear Marie and Francis,
Haven’t wrote to you for quite some time. We don’t get much mail as of late. Guess it is because of the floods we had here in Korea or else of the testing of the atomic bomb in the Pacific. Any way, whatever it is, we don’t get any.
…..I was painting mosquito bars all day and took the best ones’ out and painted them exceptionally good and kept them for myself. Now I can sleep without them darn things bothering me through the night.
We don’t hear too much about the things tantalizer go on back there in the States. Can you tell me anything of the experiments of the atomic bomb?
…..Got our beer rations today…..Had to go and het my beer for Mike T, cause I don’t drink it except maybe for a couple out of two cases. Mike has a good time of it though, that’s my squad leader. He really is a good Joe! Can’t help but like him.
We got issued our tents, extra socks, tent pegs and steel helmet so I guess we will go on maneuvers…..
So Long for Now
Camp Sykes 1 Aug.-1946-
Dear Marie and Francis,
I am here at the CP guarding money and to keep awake I thought I’d write a letter, being I owe you one. It is now 3:30 in the morning and I say on guard until 8:00.
I am now in the sergeant major’s office. This is the place I could have been working if I would have taken the offer. But I didn’t think I would like it here around all the brass.. It is a lot of work here as a clerk. I maybe was foolish for not taking it, I knew there was a rating attached to it…..
How is everyone, all feeling fine I hope? I feel swell…..Guess threshing is in full swing by now or practically all over. Doesn’t seem that I’ve been in the army a year almost. But I guess I have. Just seven more months and twelve more days and I’ll be free. It has been so long since I’ve been free that I don’t know how it seems, no kidding.
There’s one of those big Korean dive bombers flying around my head waiting for a good chance to make an attack. There wing stand is bought four inches long, there fuselage about six inches long and their meters make the most beautiful humming sound. Guess you know what I mean, none other than the Korean mosquito! I did exaggerate a little, but he is wicked.
All my love, And God Bless you,
Camp Sykes, Kwangju, Korea, August 18th-1946-
Dear Sis and Brother,
Are you kidding me, we don’t even get a chance to see fresh vegetables let alone eating them…..They have watermelons and things like that but we aren’t aloud to eat them. If we’re caught eating any kind of Korean food it means a court martial.
We are not aloud to eat it for a number of reasons. They have found outa number of the fellows the have eaten it got dysentery or cholera. We have been vaccinated a couple of times for cholera. The Koreans get an epidemic of it every summer and the people die by the hundreds….. I never told Mom this because I knew she would worry. So don’t you tell her. Some of the fellows had it and they go pretty sick, although they didn’t die from it.
We got some fresh popped pop corn in this afternoon and it sure is good. They are getting quite a few different kind of things over here lately. I seen the the “Stars and Stripes” that they plan on sending pastries over. I don’t think we will see much of it as it will go to the civil defendants of the soldiers. They are surveying here on top of the hill at camp for houses for them. Guess this place will look pretty good at the end of the 5 years that the 6th division stays here in Korea…..Won’t be long until they start to build the theatre and the service club……
We get ice cream just about every other day for dinner and fresh meat and potatoes. At least you want to go to chow now. For awhile I didn’t care if I went or not!
Close for now! Love, your Brother,
Camp Sykes, Kwangju, Korea, August 24th -1946-
Dear Marie & Francis,
Guess what? I got a letter from Bill W today! (Dad’s cousin). He sent me a picture of himself. He look like the same old Bill yet. Didn’t change a bit in looks. He isn’t in the infantry any more and he said he sure was glad of it……He says it is a whole lot better there. Guess he will be going home some time in Oct. Lucky Guy!….
Well how was the Elkader fair? Any better than Manchester? Don’t suppose either amounted too much. Next hear I’ll be home to take in the fair. Sure sounds good…..
Boy I’m plum tuckered out. Went for a walk today. Walked over to a Korean Buddhist Temple and boy was it ever beautiful…..and it was so darn hot. I just about died of thirst before I got back.
Today, being Sunday, I went to mass and communion.
So Long, May God Bless you.
Camp Sykes, Kwangju, Korea, Sept 2nd -1946-
Dear Mom, Dad, and All-
Geepers, these days off we have are lonely. I don’t like to sleep during the day because I always feel worse when I get up. Everyone is laying in there sacks sleeping……
Received the letter you wrote the 21st of Aug. Did you and Dad go to the fair at West Union? If so, was it much better than the others?
Say Mom, Do you know how much money I have sent to home? That is, all the money I h ave sent home since I’ve been here in Korea? And how much was left to pay on the Art Course? Was there any left after you got it payed? I was trying to figure outlaw much money I had already and I forgot how much I have sent home….I wanted to see how much money I would have after my eighteen months were up. I am going to try and save 80 bucks a month from now on….
The way I hear it you don’t go to many dances or skating anymore do you, Leona [Dad’s sister]. How about Willie ?[Dad’s brother]
Well tomorrow I guess we go training. Training isn’t bad, only a half a day four hours, then you are through for the day to do anything you want.
You asked about our cousins. Well Billy is still in Japan….he is in the Quart Master Corp and Edwin is still in the states. He is down in Georgia or Alabama…..
May God Bless You All
Camp Sykes, Kwangju, Korea, Sept 6-1946-
Dear Bro & Sis,
Yesterday the fellows were on a recognizance mission, ( a military survey) down on the coast of Korea. The 24th Army Corp, in which we are under, got word that the Russians were smuggling rifles and ammunition to the Koreans. But all they found was two Japanese training rifles and a G.I (Government Issued) blanket. Thats what the officers told us. But seems like we can’t believe anything we hear anymore. So don’t make anything of it, but it might be true.
The Koreans are being pretty tough towards us. But I can’t blame them the way some of the fellows treat them. They throw stones at the little kids and make them cry. Throw stones through there windows breaking them, tearing down there doors……but there just isn’t any sense knocking the Korean people around, it does more harm than good. But I can’t tell them that, they just laugh at me and keep right on doing it. If someone threw rocks at me I sure would not stand for it. I would try to get even with them some time. The same with the Koreans, but they don’t care who they get ahold of, just so it is a G.I……
God Bless You, Love,
Camp Sykes, Kwangju, Korea, Sept 30, 1946
Should have written some time ago but are kept very busy. The company is so small. From the original four platoons, we are now only one and a half of another. They put a couple of acting gadgets in today, some I never expected to see as Sgts. Our First Sgt was always belly aching about the Non-Coms we had but wait until he finds out what they picked out for him now…..
Well this isn’t much I could ask for. That is for Christmas. But if you want me to tell you, just send me a couple of pairs of heavy wood socks and I would be very much pleased…..I can’t get them over here…..
Hey, Marie, would you get me a Christmas card for Mom and Dad and send it here so I can send the card to them from here. It is asking quite a bit, but would you do it please?
Camp Sykes, Korea, Oct 15th, 1946
…..We are kept pretty busy of late pulling guard every other night. The way it used to be is we pulled guard every ten days. But then the company was just about full strength. Our company dropped from 164 men to 62……
Now they are taking C. Co and K. Co. for M.P. in town. Don’t know when they are going to start this. Hope it doesn’t start for a long time…..
How is the weather back home. Must be about time when the leaves tart turning. Boy I can just picture the beauty of the woods at this time of year. I just loved to walk through the woods in the fall of the year to watch the squirrels playing in the trees. The different kinds of trees, The different shades of the colors the leaves have. To watch a little leaf come floating to the ground where it will spend the winter. The smell of dried leaves and acorns. All this little thinks I miss.
Can’t hardly wait to be home once again and get some good home baked bread, some of Mom’s cooking and be able to sit down in a nice comfortable chair. And one of the things I miss is being able to go to a dance. Never danced a step since I left home. Boy, wait till I get home!! Mmmmmm….home…that word I hardly know what it means. Haven’t been there for so long….Don’t get me wrong. I’ll never forget home-mu home as long as I live.
All My Love, Your Brother,
Military Taps played by my bother, Dave on Memorial Day Weekend, 2020 at my parents gravesite. Such a great tribute to our Dad.