A card my dad sent to his mother when he was in the service. (I know that because my grandmother wrote it at the bottom — she was good like that.)
A card my dad sent to his mother when he was in the service. (I know that because my grandmother wrote it at the bottom — she was good like that.)
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.
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
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.
*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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
In 1951 my 15 year-old mother sent a copy of John Dickson Carr’s “The Three Coffins” to the US troops in Korea. On the inside cover of the book she included her name and address. She has only a vague memory of sending the book and doesn’t know why she put her contact information in it.
In October of that year she received a letter from a member of the US Navy Hospital Corps who received the book. She wrote back and they exchanged a few more letters over the next year.
While this was probably a common occurrence – after all, she ended up marrying a sailor whom she met through the mail—I was struck by the quality of the Corpsman’s writing.
Here’s the first letter:
21 October, ‘51
Unfortunately we are not acquainted. For a brief rundown, here is why I am writing you. I don’t know where it begins, actually, as far as you’re concerned; but as near as I can figure your name and address was in a pocketbook entitled “The Three Coffins.” Somehow the Marine Corps got the book to Korea and it was passed from Marine to Marine to be read (in as much as reading material is scarce here.) Yesterday a Marine that had been hit by shrapnel was brought to me for medical treatment. Where I fit in comes now. I’m a Navy Hospital Corpsman on duty with the Marine Corps in Korea. (The Marines have no Medical corps of their own so the Navy trains corpsmen to fight with and treat wounded Marines.)
Anyway, he had finished reading it and gave it to me. Your name and address were on the inside flap. Ordinarily, I would have paid no attention to it, but being from Chicago I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to inform you your book came a long way and helped a good many men since it left the league at Park Ridge. The Marine and myself on behalf of those who had it before us, send our thanks. If you care to write and possibly hear of the Orient as I have seen it in the last few months, write and let me know.
I can’t tell whether you are a boy or girl (though I think the latter.) Being interested in human psychology, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to clear a mystery. Will be waiting to hear from you.
I dropped my mom off at BWI a couple of hours ago. We’ve been together for the past 28 days — longer than since I was still living under her roof. I’ve heard that you can break (or form) a habit in 28 days, so I guess Mom became a habit.
I’ve been crying on and off for the past couple of hours. For a lot of reasons — relief is one. I’m no longer the strong one. Sadness is another — I’m finally able to feel/express the sadness that was inside me about placing my father in the nursing home. But just plain missing my Mom is the biggest of the reasons. For the past 28 days I’d gotten to know her again. I’ve gotten to know the person she’s become in my absence.
We had a pretty good month if you discount the nursing home / Medicare / insurance worries. We ate out a lot — mostly at Bookers (of which I became Mayor on Foursquare on my second visit). We laughed some, and talked a lot, but mostly we enjoyed each other’s company — sometimes in silence, sometimes not. I hope she feels the same about our 28 days together.
Mom, if you read this: I love you.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I was able to understand my relationship with my mom. I’m still not sure I understand it fully — and it might not be until my kids have kids that I do, but it is getting a little clearer as the years go by.
One of the hardest aspects of the relationship is that of authority figure. I’m pretty sure that, from a very young age, I rebelled against authority figures — except I was too shy to rebel in front of anyone other than my family, so most of that rebellion manifested itself into rage at home when I was not given my way or disciplined in anyway. I had temper tantrums and screaming fits. I once picked up a pile of newspapers and as I went to fling them on top of a brand new dining room table realized that something very heavy was among the papers. I flung them anyway and put a dent in that table that is there to this day.
My mom wasn’t all that strict. In fact she was pretty lenient. I was a “good” kid for the most part, except for the tantrums at home. There were times, however that she put her foot down — or at least made suggestions that made me uncomfortable. Like the time she thought I should talk to the popular kids that were in the same store as we were. Or the time that she suggested I stop by the office at school to see if anyone turned in my lost purse that held my retainer because I’d lost so many retainers we were going to have to pay for the next one. I remember the feeling I had about those experiences. My chest felt tight, my throat closed up. I clenched my teeth and fists. My breathing quickened. I was mad. I didn’t want to talk to Laura Holtz. I’d already asked at the office about my lost purse. I didn’t need suggestions. I just needed to be left alone.
I don’t have temper tantrums much anymore. I still occasionally “lose it”, but not like the old days. I still have trouble with authority figures though. Basically, I don’t like being told what to do — especially if I was already planning on doing it or if I had reasons for not doing it. I also have trouble when I’m questioned about an action. I guess in that case I get defensive.
I don’t usually have trouble taking orders from someone who employs me. I try to do the job I’m given. I never had much trouble with teachers or professors — I expected assignments and did them. The authority figures I have the most trouble with are the ones that one day are my friend or associate and the next day are president of the PTA or a neighborhood or not-for profit-board member for whom I do some odd (volunteer) jobs. I have trouble when they give me assignments — or micromanage whatever tasks I’ve taken upon myself — especially if I’ve been doing it alone for years and they come in and want to change things. Sometimes, even, my anger can rise when a friend (or my husband) seems to be taking over something I’ve planned.
The anger is the same as what I felt when my mom would make suggestions. And I find myself thinking in a rebellious teenage voice, You Can’t Tell Me What To Do. You’re Not My Mother!
I never do say that aloud, but I don’t always handle it well either. Sometimes I explain my reasoning. Sometimes I reply angrily. Mostly I say nothing, take a deep breath and move on although occasionally I tweet about it or make it my Facebook status.
Last night I dreamed I was going to be the 103 lb wrestler for my son’s wrestling team in a tournament. For some reason (the snows perhaps) the rules of who could wrestle for the team were relaxed so that the parent of a wrestler could fill in for another wrestler. Even in the dream I must have realized how wrong this was — and not only because it’s been 10 years since I was 103 lbs — because I reasoned with myself that I was just a filler. There was no way I’d win the match.
Anyway as I was getting ready to leave with Dean and Andrew, my mom walked into the room and said she was going to go too — that she’d missed so many wrestling meets this year.
It is not unusual for my mom to pop up in a dream. When I dream of being at home (meaning my current home) the house is often the house in which I grew up and my mom is always there. She’s often in dreams in which I dream of my husband and children.
I think I’ve known this for a long time, but never wanted to admit it, but when my mom is in those dreams she is me. Even if I am in the dream, I think my mother represents me. She’s usually doing the right thing, while the other me is goofing around or as in last night’s dream, trying to get the scale to work while everyone is waiting in the car to go to the tournament. In the dream from last night she made the decision to not make dinner, but to pick it up on the way — and if I need to cut weight could eat the sandwich after weighing in.
I think she is the authority figure in the dreams (I’ll write more about how I perceive authority figures in my life in a later post) but I don’t seem to have a problem with that — in dreams.
Today is my mom’s birthday. I’m glad she was going to be there to watch me wrestle, but luckily for the team and me, I woke up before I even got to the tournament.
[And just so you know — Mom’s alive and well and even on Facebook]
Actually I’m pretty much over this issue, but since I had it for so many years, I’ll post about it.
My mom had/has a specific way of folding towels. I’m still not sure if I know how she folds them, but it is something like fold them in half (making sure the tag is inside), then fold them in thirds then in half again. When I’d help her fold laundry when I was a kid and teenager I’d never do it correctly. I tried, I really tried, but never once got it right. Once I came close — and was proud of my accomplishment, but I’d done it backwards and the tag was on the outside. My mom always got upset with me and at least once said she thought I was doing it wrong on purpose.
When I moved out of my parents’ house and was able to fold towels however I wanted to fold them, I still had my mom’s frustration in my head as I’d fold towels. At first I folded them the way I wanted to fold them, ignoring my mom’s voice in my head. Then I tried to fold them like she did. Then I wondered why she folded them the ways she did — after all she’d then have to unfold them in order to hang them on the towel rack. I then came up with my own method: Fold long ways in thirds, then in half or thirds, depending on the size of the towel. There — all I had to do was undo the last fold or two to neatly hang it on the towel rack.
But still, when the time came to fold towels, I got that familiar tight feeling in my stomach — feeling that even though I knew it was silly, there was only one way to fold towels — my mom’s way. And if I didn’t fold my towels that way I was somehow inadequate.
Once, during a parent-teacher conference a teenager’s mother complained that her daughter refused to fold towels the way she folded them and suspected the daughter did it because she was passive aggressive. I sure don’t think I was passive aggressive about the towel folding — I just think it was too complicated for me to remember — and it didn’t make a lot of sense.
My mom and I have since talked about towel folding, and she agrees that my method made more sense. I think she still folds towels her way — and that is fine. I rarely fold my towels the same way twice anymore — now that I use hooks instead of towel racks. In half, in half, in half is fine with me. I think it depends on where I’m storing the towels. I no longer get the tight feeling in my stomach that I did, even a few years ago. Not sure why it went away — perhaps I just figured out how silly it was to still be upset about such a minor thing.