Fifteen letters
[ Fifteen Letters ][ Introduction ]
1954: [ June 5 ][ June 15 ][ June 26 ][ July 10 ][ July 27 ][ Aug. 1 ][ Aug. 11 ]
[ Sept. 18 ][ Sept. 30 ][ Oct. 29 ][ Nov. 3 ][ Nov. 11 ][ Dec. 13 ]
1955: [ Jan. 23 ][ Feb. 20 ]
[ Epilogue ]


Hi Aunt Ruth

TotmanLieing here under a clouded over sky with a comfortable air mattress under me and a warm breeze blowing past me, I am happy. For some reason, everything is just right. My work is interesting, challenging, satisfying; my extra time is crowded with learning, harmonica-playing, better reading and writing, and good conversation. My nights are comfortable and food is good, if fattening.

One cause for my especially good mode is the variation that has entered my work. This week I got out of the orderly room. With the Lt. I inspected some Korean villages in search of flies and surveyed some rice paddies for mosquitoe larvae. With Sgt. Wilson I inspected some sanitary fills that had been improperly covered and were breeeding flies. Then yesterday I assisted in the fogging of a sizable village with DDT. Finally, today I went with some fellows and sprayed the area around an artillery outfit with, Dieldrin to control mites.

Totman using an hand-powered mobile sprayerLife here has had some interesting and ingenious little twists. On an inspection of a CIC unit, the men picked up a broken phonograph. Very

cleverly they connected the ampliphier (huh?) to the communications shack next to our Orderly Room tent. The result was a radio station coming in over the remodeled-phonograph. Then our houseboy ran wire from that tent to ours and attached it to the amplifier on a broken radio. Now we, too, have music and all thru some clever guy in one of the tents; don't know who.

Also my Lecture Course in Anthropology is very interesting. It requires studying, but it's worth some effort.

You'll never guess so I'll tell you from whom I received a copy of the Conway Church visitor -- Flossie Germain. She is Mrs. Leon isn't she? That's who the address said. So I believe I will write her a nice, friendly, sociable, sensible little letter and wait to see what happens>.

What a gal is that Lorraine Lively. She caught my admiration in high-school and continues to hold it. Lucky purposeful kid. If I get back from here in time, I'm going to apply for Europe - and probably get sent right back here again.

Regarding the picture, Dick, horse-fancier, Sturdevant looked at the picture, asked a couple questions, and observed that "that horse has got good lines; it has some good breeding." Now maybe a horse's head can tell one that much, but I'd not have known had he said nothing.

As for typing it disimproves so to speak. My touch system is just about gone and I make no less errors, rather I am less disturbed by them than before.

We read about the Texas floods. Last I heard about one detail that interested me was that the bridge from Laredo to Mexico was possibly washed out.

I would like to know if the bridge went or not. It was a rugged bridge and fairly recently built. I crossed it both afoot and acar or whatever. And we heard that both Laredos' were submerged. Good Lord that river must have risen 30 or 40 feet to do that. Laredo, Mexico needed to be flooded. In fact it should have been washed away, prostitutes and all.

I've not been to Seoul yet, but I am told there's not much there. A few large buildings still usable, but mostly one or two story hovels. There's not too much business activity either, outside of the military. It's not necessarily a shot-up mess, but the reconstruction is very poor, quickly done, and haphazardly dangerous to both health and the good old neck, because of fire and disease potentialities. In fact one or two city blocks did burn a couple weeks ago leaving 20,000 people homeless. That's a big figure even in America with several storied houses, and much bigger here, and yet it's not at all improbable in this land of sardines and night-soil.

And that completes the letter-answering and brings me to my main topic of a sketchy description of life in a war-zone-during-the-truce Korean rebuilt village. I'm sure it is safe to say that at this level in Korea, every village was at least partially destroyed and probably safe to say that nearly every one was completely destroyed.

And of course it follows that the villages under observation are postwar villages and not typical of Korean Culture.

The houses:

A newly settled tent village A more permanent villageThey are as variable as the moods of our 1st sargeant. Many are G.I. tents like I live in, only having no frame wall and put up improperly. They are not waterproof, sag in many places, are propped up indiscrimenantely (pardon the lack of time to consult a dictionary; I write as the words flow from my mind) and flap in any breeze that may blow up. Other buildings are frame houses sided and roofed with tent material, scrap metal, cardboard, discarded G.I. lumber and plywood and mud. The more permanent are either of a mud wall held by lathe-like thatch or of a thin concrete composition. These are put on frames of 2x4, 2x2, 1x2 sticks round and un-skinned, or split and unskined, all mortised together. The sticks may be only an inch in diameter and as straight as a corkscrew but they're still mortised into place. Very few nails are used. Onto this frame may go discarded chicken wire, wood strips or bamboo, or rice stalks. Then mud or a concrete-like material is slapped on and allowed to dry into a solid wall. Doors and windows may be discarded G.I. material, bamboo mats hung up, canvas, or nonexistent. The floors are usually dirt, but some are covered with a flooring of some composition material. With these two or three rooms often comes another room either in a separate little shack or in the same one in which is a fire-well in the ground, room to make the kimchi or rice for dinner, and carry on other culinary activities.

Repairs to an existing houseWithin the houses, is a great variety of conditions. In the poorer, rougher tents and shacks, the foodstores, clothing, implements and other properties of the family are stacked in disorderly piles around the walls leaving the center open for activity. The floor is excellent for sleeping and is used for just that purpose. In the permanent homes, there is a rhyme and a reason to it with bedrooms, dining room or living room, and kitchen. Here, there are mats to sleep on or even a cast-off but usable army cot. Of course the shoes are left outside, but what the people don't track in, the dogs, winds, and flies more than do track in.

The villages:

These houses, or homes we had best admit, are found in villages of varying sizes; from a half a dozen to a half a hundred or a hundred occasionally. Sometimes they are put in some semblance of lines leaving muddy rough roads big enough for army vehicles, but often, only animal paths are open. The houses are surrounded by stacks of rice stalks, sticks for firewood, weeds, piles of overgrown dirt, masonry, old helmets and helmet liners, crockery and G.I. (garbage) cans, mud holes, egg plants, cabbage, tobbaco, corn, beans, Irish potatoes, Chinese cabbage, cosmos, or other domestic plants usually put in little gardens the size of your hot-bed or more often growing wherever someone happened to turn over a few clods of soil.

Tent villageScattered around thru the village will be a few pig stys the size of your freezer or an ox-barn with a thatched roof or canvas draped over a frame. There may or may not be a manger device resembling a Jules Verne bird-feeder. The other object dotting the village is the latrine. Surrounded by canvas, rice stalks, old lumber or sheet metal, or some old torn up packing cases will be either a hole in the ground or half of a 55 gallon gasoline drum with boards laid along either side for squatting purposes. These are cleaned out maybe once every week or month and are uncovered at all times. Their odor may not be unique put it could be patented.

The people:

Children in a village near the DMZThe people are of all ages. They are all poor. Nearly all are peasants except for an occasional store-keeper selling some food, a few bits of supply or hardware (the weather halts my dissertation upon Korean conditions while I seek the shelter of my trusty tent), and living mostly off liquor sales. They eat and sleep in their homes and spend the rest of their time outside, the men in the fields tilling the soil or building, the women cooking, tilling, planting rice, cleaning house or feeding the ever-present baby. The most numerous single group of people is the children varying in age from a few days (or hours if one stumbles into the right place at the wrong time) to perhaps 10 or 12 years old. Older than that they become less numerous, either in the rice paddies working or the victims of circumstances – circumstances known as Communist occupation. Then the women folk busy at their cooking, cleaning, commerce, or conversation are the next most common character. And finally the papasan is present some but is usually at work and not seen within the village proper.

These people dress poorly and of necessity with odds and ends of clothes. I saw what appeared to be an Aid-to-Korea distribution process. Several piles of types of clothing were laid out on the ground beside one house. The womenfolk were gathered around and received one peice of each type of clothing, They were second-hand American clothes, the type which most of the people were wearing in addition to the white clothes of Korea which are white only one day after manufacture, being grey thereafter and dirty most of the time.

Doing laundryThese people are dirty, have extremely poor (if any) teeth; sometimes but not usually, have the outward appearances of disease and malnutrition, and are nonetheless happy. They smile, chat actively and gayly among themselves, are industrious, polite, unassuming and either satisfied with or resigned to their state of existence. The children run and play, laugh and are curious just as are American chldren. I was approached only once with an extended hand asking for money.

When we drove into the village, children and adults alike gathered about our truck and followed our dusting buggy with the greatest show of interest. Many offered to help and almost all wanted their own homes dusted with special care and completeness. They know that we kill the flies and are glad. And yet they do nothing to remove the garbage, open latrines, trash, water-filled containers, and rotting weedy patches that breed these very same flies and mosquitoes.

The government:

Martial law is imposed thruout free Korea. In each village is a civilian "honcho" or VIP with an enlisted ROKA man overseeing his guidance of the villagers. We work in the villages thru these ROK "rulers" who seem to show an active interest in the welfare of the villagers.

Living Conditions:


Pervading (is that right?) the atmosphere of every village is the rank stench of excretion and decay and the ominously unnoticeable buzz of flies making their regular trips from dinner in the latrine to desert in the ladle. This complete disregard for sanitary practices causes continuous disease potentiality and discomfort. I can't understand, even being right here, why they don't understand that by cleaning up their villages they could eliminate over 90% of there insect pests and 90% of the accompanying insect-borne disease. Thruout the village are mud holes, all traveled areas being muddy, and the basins and depressions caused by digging, leveling, raising to make level foundations for the home, which provide plenty of opportunity for one to wash his feet it is true, but also opportunity for fly-breeding and mosquito multiplication. These conditions are those with which we contend in our efforts to control disease over here.

Well, I'm pooped. I've missed much but don't know what. If you wonder about anything in particular, ask about it. The most you can lose is a few calories of energy, seconds of time, drops of ink and square inches of paper. On second thought, that is quite a bit to lose, isn't it?

So I must scrounge up a complimentary close somewhere and put it