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 ]

30 Sept. '54

Hi Aunt Ruth

Didn't last year provide you with the best class leaders ever offered U.M.? I was thinking you told me a while ago that they were the best, and now these are. Guess I was mistaken, but then our class was supposed to be pretty good. Ah, well, they are all the world's best however they compare.

I roared aloud at your remarks regarding my nocturnal wanderings and gabberings. I hope I never talk aloud about my time in Korea when I get home. Could be fatal, you know? And as far as I know, that damned Tom Cat is still alive and unscathed.

Good gosh, I wish I'd not missed Gail's first adventure in the fairyland of going steady. She must be on clouds lugging that monstrous sweater and ring all over the place. What a kid!

Mom wrote and told me that she made cheerleader, like everyone knew she would, and was a big wheel just like we also knew she would in the same way that her older sister also was. I'm so proud of the two of them that I could bust a button (unfortunately one of those in the middle section) thinking about them.

I love the way you recount conversations at home. So typical and so hilarious in their simplicity.

I'll speak now about the nurses here. They are officers. I needn't say more, but will for your interest and perhaps shock. They are opportunists like most everyone else over here. "High class" prostitution for officers only, but there nontheless. They are white and speak English, and there the resemblance to home ends. Scanning further over your letter: how I'd like to take those little boys by their little hands and lead them to the little girls, pat their little hands and let them dance. Trouble is, I was scared too. Isn't it stupid? Just give me a second chance. But I'd still be scared, dope that I am. Life here has pretty well settled down. I've eased off on the helling around now that I'm used to seeing everyone else running around like mad trying to break every moral law ever put forth in the Bible. It's easier to let them run while I sit back and contemplate the motives and their reactions to the situation here and their future readjustment to the norm of a frustrated life in the states. Being broke also has a factor in my “containment policy."

I guess that I spoke of the terrific black market here. Of prostitution I've said aplenty. So I'll speak of Seoul.

I don't know where outside of Asia one could find a city like Seoul. It is a hodgepodge of old and new, of western and eastern, of permanency and temporaryness.

(The old paper is now used up)

It is ruined and preserved, beautiful and ugly, wealthy and groveling in poverty. And which has better endured the test of war and pestilence, of famine and disaster? The eastern, the temporary, the ugly and the poor. Which was hurt worse and will take the longest to recover? the western, the permanent, the beautiful and the wealthy.

Outer suburbs of SeoulAll the square miles of poor, hard-working, often hungry people living in small wooden and mud, tile roofed homes are now much as they were before the war. I have seen looms being operated by teen-age girls, making very nice material on old, rickety, repaired, rerepaired and rererepaired old foot-operated looms. I have seen blacksmiths, ancient and young, pounding out the metal tools of mankind with the skill and deftness of masters of the trade. I have seen millers grinding grain to flour on old, worn equipment. And all this has been in small wood and mud, tile-roofed buildings in the narrow streets away from the wide streets, the trees, the big buildings.

Bombed out building South Gate of SeoulAnd I have walked among the big concrete, granite, or brick buildings. Some spared and in business, others partly in use and being repaired, and all too many roofless, windowless, gutted ghosts standing in mute testimony to the frailness of progress when forced to the wall of destruction. I've ridden down the broad streets, dusty or hard-surfaced, crowded with all sorts of vehicles of all ages and values. The trolley cars so nobly donated by Cincinnati and Baltimore perhaps or some American city, run everywhere around carrying loads away above capacity. They are loaded with 2 and 3 times as many people as would pack them full in the states. And the buses, adapted from military vehicles or made in Japan, carry capacity crowds way into the night until 9:30 curfew when all must be in their homes or face arrest and jail. These people are the poor, the hardworking, those who live in the little wood and mud, tile-roofed houses.

In the Buicks and 88's, the Chevrolets and Fords ride the diplomats, the war-wealthy unscrupulous few, and the post-war-wealthy. There is little repair work being done on the streets. Those that are all dirt never were surfaced, those that were hard-top still are and the holes are mostly all filled. The work is on the buildings. Solid walls needing only floors, a roof, doors and windows and occupants are ready for work. But these are not built in days, they take months of expensive work. Hence the westernized areas still bleed while the quickly repaired temporary-appearing eastern structures are all built.

Wreckage abutting unscathed structureThe Chosen Hotel is a beautiful structure desired by both sides during the war and hence unscathed by battle. It is elegant and expensive and existed only from the pleasure of the leaders.

Ladies wait for a busAs you walk down the streets of Seoul, being very sure not to stray down a side street or alley which would be off-limits, many other things are noticed. Besides the workers and housewives and the moderately well-dressed businessmen are countless shoe-shine boys who for 40 hwan (10¢) give one an excellent shine.

Open air hardware storeAn older group of boys also inhabit the streets - the pimp boy and an occasional, or at night many, girls out on business missions. There are the little side-stores where the black market operates wide-open. There are the money-changers trading hwan for MPC (Military Payment Certificates) who profit at every turn. And all the people, regardless of their age, size, appearance, or wealth dabble, when economically sensible, in the market. Economic betterment is a prime drive of all these people who know the needs of survival.

A large class of people, more noticable in the outer parts of Seoul, are the school children, girls in white blouses and black skirts or boys usually in a moderate uniform with or without a cap. They travel to and from School, probably the happiest group in Seoul. They crowd the busses and trolleys, walk in couples for mutual defense and friendship and wisely do not associate with G.I.'s

Children playingChildren playingThe camp followers concentrate around the G.I. Compounds. Away from these places are the little people who are the backbone of this country. They are the ones who say little, but are the Korea of today. They are not the ones who put up the signs, "Drive North," "Free and United," "Yanks, Stay Here," for they, despite their ardent nationalism would like to have peace to make their homes safer, happier, less hungry and cold in the winter. The young and ambitious, and better-off, and the ones who have prestige and backing of others (but not the backing of the people) want to fight. Korea would be better united, but it will not get unification under Syngman Rhee.

A man poses on the Han River BridgeHis forces, oh God, 15 Divisions. I weep for those poor ROK soldiers. They will die by the thousands, slaughtered, for they have our awful weapons of destruction but lack the supply system, the home support, the complex and efficient operations, the medical aid, all but the front-line soldiers who will bravely walk with blazing rifle into certain murder, or turn tail, drop everything and run for dear life only to be overrun and killed with their own weapons and ammunition. Why can't these people, the glorious leaders of the great Republic of Korea, put away their buntings and banners and let the people live as they want to?

The meek"The meek shall inherit the Earth" is so true. The big and spacious, the modern and complex, the finer and more lovely things are destroyed as in Seoul, and the little people remain, hurt but not beaten, for they are predestined, it would seem, to carry on after the fanfare has subsided and the flames have licked their last great draught of fuel and died.

Gad, what a long drawn-out one that was. It's bedtime. So goodnight.