Tag Archives: hospital corps

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.



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.


Mom, age 15
Mom at 15

Letters from Johnnie: Letter One

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

Dear Pat,

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.

“Johnnie” Gannon