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.