Monthly Archives: January 2013

Letters from Johnnie: Letter Five — the last one

Final letter from Johnnie (as far as I know – there may have been more that were lost). I don’t know if Mom ever wrote back to him after this. After we looked at some of them together all she said was, “Maybe he took one look at me and said, ‘She’s just a kid!'”

I have a different theory. I think Mom had begun writing to Dad* by now and saw his photo and fell in love. Dad was a handsome young man. Perhaps they’d met and she abandoned writing to Johnnie.

Poor Johnnie.

So many mysteries. Maybe the great and powerful Internet can solve some. Wouldn’t it be fun if he ended up settling in Bethesda? I hope he followed his dreams.

I’m going to miss Johnnie — and wonder what Mom’s life would have been like with him instead of my father. Of course I am glad she met and married my dad because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. And also, he was a great guy.

8 March ‘52

Dear Pat,

It’s true, I have moved around an awful lot, and from the looks of things I’ll be moving for a year longer. The government seems to be on the verge of extending my enlistment for another year. That means I’ll be wearing a hash mark and good conduct medal. I’ll get some laboratory schooling on the East coast out of it.

The days are passing but not fast enough. Only 25 days to go and I’ll be on my way home. One other corpsman and I are the only ones from the KMC’s going home and we are happy.
For three days it has been cold – and we were told by the Koreans that winter is over. Well, at least it isn’t forty below now.

Had to get a new issue of clothes today – my old ones were too small. I just turned 21 and am still growing. Happy am I.

It’s pretty late now Pat and I’m really tired. They kept me busy all last night so I’m turning in early tonight. Best regards to the folks and write again soon.

Johnnie

*The story goes that my mom’s parents were friends of my dad’s sister and brother-in-law and my dad’s sister and brother-in-law asked if Mom would like to write to Dad. She did and he wrote back (mom has a large scrapbook full of his letters) and the rest is history.

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Letters from Johnnie: Letter Four

Here is Johnnie’s 4th letter to Mom. He definitely sounds a little down which is probably because of the war and what was going on at the time — intense fighting and the raid on his bunker. However, he did ask Mom if she was writing to any other servicemen — so he might have been a little jealous about something — maybe something she said in a letter? I’m not sure when she began writing to my Dad — but it could have been around this time.

Interesting how he mentioned motion pictures in the letter. His father worked in the motion picture industry in Chicago according to Family Search.

17 February ‘52

Dear Pat,

Due to circumstances beyond my control it was impossible for me to write any sooner. The Reds have been keeping our group on our toes almost continually for many days and today was the fist letup. I’ve had to tramp over too many hills the past week and had none of my personal gear at my disposal. Thus, this being my first opportunity, I am using it to fulfill the promise (belated) that was made in my last letter.

As I compose this poor excuse for a letter I’m indulging in a cup of hot soup that one of the marines in my immediate company received through the mail. It is a very welcome appetizer due to the cold weather we are enduring. Seems these eves are getting colder instead of warmer. Spring will soon be here and it’s still snowing.

A big group of corpsmen left Korea today for the U.S.. As far as I can figure there are about 130 corpsmen in Korea that have been here for a longer time than I. March 25 (or April 25) cannot come too soon – that being the date I figure to leave here forever (I hope).

Had a unique experience today that saddened me immensely. Upon returning from one of our patrols I found that the Reds had made a probing attack on our position and destroyed my bunker. (bunker – a hole in the side of a hill used as a home). Wait till they get back and find we did the same to their positions. I’m now living with a lieutenant (from Chicago) and find my sorrow slowly changing to glee. He is a swell guy (and has a much warmer bunker than my old one ever was.) Such are fortunes of war.

This is flashy paper, is it not? One of the Marines presented me with a pack in lieu of the one I had that was destroyed. Alas! So many souvenirs I had in the old bunker are gone. I’ll have to start over collecting some.

Golly – this soup is delicious – and almost second best to home cooking. But then, so many little things are appreciated in time of war.

I wish there were something more pleasant for me to write of outside of the war – but then, I’m like a bus driver trying to talk of the making of motion pictures. It doesn’t work.

You put up admirably well with me. You are to be commended for that. Tell me, do you write to any other guys in service? You don’t have to answer that.

I had a beautiful view of the heavens last night and the beauty of the stars was simply breathtaking. Are you at all interested in astronomy? I know little of astral conceptions, but being a nature lover – the heavens and the high seas are always magnificent examples of the works of God. I find music and song in both no matter what the conditions. Sometimes the joy of life is exemplified, and at times sorrow of living. maybe I’m a little nuts, think so?

Had one of those embarrassing and unusual occurrences in talking to a KMC in Korean lingo. He is the hardest worker I have seen here and I told him today that he deserved to rest for the rest of his life. Instead it came out “I think that he deserved to test his best wife.” He didn’t know what to say and I had to start over and then correct myself. Tone of voice has a great deal of importance in oriental lingo, and it’s hard to master. I believe I never shall, either. Maybe I better learn French and worry only about words, and not tones and accents. One word can mean many different things here just by changing tone or accent. And often it proves embarrassing (as my case)

In spite of the five (count ’em) pages I have said very little and can think of nothing of interest (barring war) to talk of so I shall close. I hope to receive a letter from you in the next batch. No mail has arrived in our sector for six days now – I’m due.

Don’t work too hard at your job and write soon. Regards to the folks.

“Johnnie”

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Defining sentiment

Sometime between December 1986 and December 1990 Dean and I saw “Les Misérables” at one of the big theaters in Washington DC. I’d like to think it was 1986 or 1987 — before it was even on Broadway, but I don’t think we were that forward thinking. I only remember where I was working at the time because I remember talking to one of the mothers of the students I taught about seeing the musical and she said she was not interested in seeing it because she’d seen a lot of violence in her life.

Anyway, I loved the musical. I cried buckets of tears at the end and hummed the music for weeks afterward. I purchased the record album and played it constantly. I must have played it even after having my first child because Clare became such a fan of the music that she wanted to see the musical when it was in town. She and I went to see it, probably at the National Theater where she got to sit on a kidney-shaped cushion so she could see over the people in front of her and when we left the theater the young actor who played Gavroche was being whisked away by his mother directly in front of us. Clare loved the musical, of course, and the album was played in the house for many years.

I’ve since seen most of the movie versions of the book (although have never completely read the book) and own a VHS of the “10th Anniversary Concert” that includes many of the various casts on stage singing their songs.

When I heard about the movie version I was excited until I heard Anne Hathaway was in it. I do not like Anne Hathaway (sorry Anne — nothing personal — your acting annoys me). However I have heard that even Anne is pretty good in it and she dies in the first part of the story anyway. Clare and I decided that we would see the film after all.

Until today all of the reviews of the film version I heard or read have been very positive, with only a few negative bits and pieces. In fact, I’d never heard anyone admit they didn’t like “Les Mis”.

Today while I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed I saw a link to a New Yorker article with which a Facebook friend said he agreed 100%. I clicked on the link and read the article that begins:

“I want to render a public service. I want to suggest that even if you were deeply moved by “Les Mis,” you can still save your soul. I don’t think you are damned forever. Salvation awaits. I realize that we are not supposed to argue about taste. De gustibus non est disputandum, as some Latin fellow said. But, in fact, critics do nothing but argue about taste. And I realize that emotion is even harder and riskier to argue about. But, as we have new experiences, emotions change. Therefore, in the interest of public health, I will try to bring cures to the troubled. But first, a few words about the movie version of ‘Les Misérables.'”

The article goes on to say that the music is “juvenile stuff”, emotions are “elemental” and “engineered”, the comedy repetitive. His bottom line is:

“It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive. I was doubly embarrassed because all around me, in a very large theatre, people were sitting rapt, awed, absolutely silent, only to burst into applause after some of the numbers, and I couldn’t help wondering what in the world had happened to the taste of my countrymen—the Americans (Americans!) who created and loved almost all the greatest musicals ever made.”

He then mentions what he considers better music and musicals (“Carousel”, “West Side Story”, “A Star is Born”, “Top Hat”, “Singin’ in the Rain”) and challenges people who love “Les Mis” to watch those for comparison.

While I agree that maybe the music is not as good as other music and the story does evoke tears purposefully, I don’t think it is just that. For me it is the memory of seeing it many years ago — going to the theater and seeing an accessible “opera”, getting caught up in the (melo)drama, crying, sharing it with my daughter. For me it is the sentiment, pure and simple.

The article and discussion of the article and “Les Mis” on my friend’s Facebook page reminded me of an article and ensuing discussion I read about a local business having to move because of increasing rent. Some of the folks commenting were all about the sentiment and some were all about “get over it, the store is a chaotic mess and not of this era”. Some admitted to crying when they heard the news and others couldn’t see the value. While I agree that the store was often untidy, I also don’t want it to go. Going into the store was like a step back in time. A real variety store not unlike the Ben Franklin where I got my first job in 1973.

In each case it is a matter, I think, of the non-sentimental folks just not “getting” the sentimental folks. Sentiment is not something that can be easily shared. You can describe reasons for the emotions, but unless someone shares the emotions and memories they are just not going to get it. This is not saying they don’t have a right to their opinion, but a gentle opinion is much preferred to a harsh one.

The folks commenting, one in particular on the matter of the local business was very harsh and, in my opinion, downright mean at times. On the other hand, the folks commenting (and original poster) on the New Yorker link on Facebook were much more understanding of the sentiment involved. The article was harsh and seemed to demean those who liked the musical, but the humor with which it was written softened that for me.

We are now facing the loss of another local business. Looking forward to the discussion of that. Luckily there is a Facebook page for that.

Letters from Johnnie: Letter Three

So Mom continued writing to Johnnie and he continued to write back. This one was signed “Love Johnnie”.

This one is the longest, by far, and the newsiest. It also contains connections that make me feel that I was meant to read these — and perhaps Indigo Bunting was meant to read them too.

Johnnie mentions Bethesda, Maryland in this letter — the town I now call home. He tells my mom that everyone should see the Nation’s Capital and its buildings and monuments. She has — several times. He also mentions a publishing company in Elgin which very likely was affiliated with the reason IB spent a year in Elgin in the 1980s which is partly why she and I connected.

7 February

Dear Pat,

I like the idea of you writing as soon as you hear from me. Maybe I’ll have to take time out to write you more often. That way I’ll receive more letters from you. I’m using my head now.

Do me a favor and don’t cut your hair. I like to see a girl with long hair, and from the picture I like yours as it is or longer.

When you write, just ramble on about nothing or try to imagine you know me fairly well. The letters are the best when they take my mind off Korea, and yours have done just that. It isn’t nice to be seeing killing and all fighting, then have to think about it too. It’s bad enough I have to study wounds and the treatments in my spare time, without thinking about it too.

Just keep your letters as nice as they have been and I’ll be a happy guy.

I’m glad you find my letters satisfactory and interesting. That’s a high compliment as far as I am concerned.

Don’t you go working too hard. You may have been waiting for a long time for the day you start, but you have all your life to work and you’ll get tired of it. I had my first job when I was eight and have been working ever since at a grocery store, bowling alley, another store, a dental laboratory and then a pharmacy. It has been interesting but I sure looked to0 [sic] vacations and days off. You will, too. You may think $ .75 is not too much, but it is. My job, the first, paid $2.00 a week. But then, that was in ’39. before the raise in prices. I guess it isn’t too much for today.

I have been through your home (Elgin) numerous times. At the pharmacy we had an elderly pharmacist by the name of Otto Bruder. His brother has a book publishing company in Elgin.

You don’t know much about me, do you? How will it be if I give you a short rundown of my life> Here goes:

I was born in Chicago (south side) and lived all my life in the area south of the stock yards. Graduated from St. Finbar grammar school. Lived on the south west side all through high school at St. Patrick’s Academy. Was in the glee club for three years (pres. for 2) I’m a baritone. Was sports reporter for three and editor for two years on the school paper. Did a littler boxing and played some basketball and baseball.

Was a student at the Art Institute for over a year and wrote with the sports division of the City News Bureau of Chicago newspapers. Had loads of fun and did lots of work, had a fairly high average in high school. Like most of all, math and chemistry. I’m a wanderer and like to travel and see new places, I’m crazy about baseball and basketball and have played both at Great Lakes, Bethesda, Maryland (outside Washington, D.C.) Camp Lejune, North Carolina and Camp Pendleton, Calif. My main ambitions in life are to be a better than average pianist (tho I can’t play a note now) and baseball player, and get a degree as a research chemist or professor of mathematics. Interesting?

The most interesting part of my life was spent near Washington, D.C. at the Naval Hospital at Bethesda. I went to medical school and worked on contagious wards, cardiac (heart diseases) ward, the nursery and pediatrics, and in general medicine. The best job was the honor of working for high government officials as Vice President A. Barkley, Admiral King and Admiral Leahy and other high dignitaries. I had the privilege of meeting General MacArthur and going to congressional sessions and Senatorial  luncheons. It was wonderful to meet the people that run the gov’t and our country. My hopes are to return there for the summer.

I believe everyone should at some time visit the Capital and see the White House,  Capitol Hill, Washington Monument, Lincoln & Jefferson Memorial and other places of interest.

Places as New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Gettysburg, and many other cities on the coast were great places of interest for me. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell you of them.

Know me any better now? Will write more later. You answer this – another will follow in two days.

Love,

Johnnie

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Letter 3 page 1

Letters from Johnnie: Letter Two

Between the first letter and this letter, it seems my mom sent Johnnie a photo of herself. She was still only 15 years-old. He, as we learn later, was nearly 21.

In this letter he describes his family — he talks about his siblings, but doesn’t mention his parents. I did some poking around on FamilySearch.org and found the 1940 census record of a family that matches Johnnie’s. More poking found a death record for an Ida Gannon who was married to an Edward Gannon which match the 1940 census record so it is possible that his mother, at least, was dead at the time of this writing.

The photo of my mom was taken on or around February, 1951 and on the back she wrote:

“I’m not as mad as it looks. It was windy.” 16, Feb. 1936 (her birthday). Feb 11, 1951. 1936.

It is possible she sent Johnnie a copy of this photo — the backwards way of writing the date (to us) makes me think she was copying the way Johnnie wrote the date.

20 January 52

Dear Pat,

The picture arrived today. Thank you very much. Unfortunately  I have none of myself – but will try to procure one at the earliest moment. As of now I am in no position to try to get any. I’ll send one as soon as I can.

Note the change in address. I am now connected with the Korean Marine Corps – and am back on the lines with aforementioned unit. It’s a unique experience and my limited ability of the language has helped tremendously. it’s fun too – something to remember. The KMCs are a great outfit and treat American Corpsmen like kings.

Before I forget, please send your phone number. I’ll be leaving here in March or April and when I get to Chi – I want to call and arrange a date with you if it’s all right with your folks. We’ll see about that.

Also before I forget – I like your hair very much. Do me a favor and don’t cut it short like most of these female fools (no offense meant) do.

You know, I am supposed to wear glasses all the time too. (but I don’t either)

For a short note, I have one brother – age 18 and married! One sister age 16, a junior in high school. That’s the family and as you can see, I’m the oldest.

I’ll try to find a picture in my gear next week when I go to the rear for a rest. All I have here on the lines are the clothes I am wearing.

Don’t study too hard, kid. And write real soon.

Johnnie

Mom, age 15
Mom at 15

Letter 2 page 1

Letter 2 page 2