Elaine Kathryn (Johnson) Ketchum never knew her father. Just recently, she came into possession of her father's letters to her mother from before and during the war. Private Melvin W. Johnson, an infantryman with the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, was killed in action, fighting in France on November 18, 1944. Finally, she got to hear her father's voice and glimpse a little of the man behind those words.
He wrote about basic training, troop travel, conditions, landscape, daily routines, and occasionally, if it passed the cutting pen of the censors, combat. He admitted his loneliness, sometimes his fears, aired his gripes, and frequently shared his yearnings for peace and a return to normal life. He wrote often asking about "the baby" and her well-being. His letters often expressed his hopes, confided his love and regularly noted his confidence in ultimate victory.
May 13, 1944 "Oh, yes, I'm still in England. At least I'm getting a 'trip abroad' from this and afterwards I can tell you all about it. But what a wonderful country America is. You don't realize it until you leave it. Where else do you have all the conveniences, comforts, pleasures, and the stuff that makes up good living? Did you know that refrigerators, electric wash machines and irons are 'unheard of' luxuries over here? And I miss the good old American foods. We have dreams about fresh eggs, fresh milk, hamburgers, ice cream and real home-style coffee"
June 7, 1944 "The big day has come and talk of the just-begun invasion is on everybody's lips. Bet there's plenty of excited interest at home now at the news accounts of the unimaginable greatness of this historic undertaking. (excuse the polysyllabic words - been listening to the radio commentators too much maybe). I suppose you're worried about me, but I'm not, for here I am - in the same cockeyed place as before. What happens next I don't know but in some respects it would be rather bad to be entirely left out of this big show."
June 29, 1944 "I've been assigned to the (314th Infantry Regiment - this part censored). They're a good, tough outfit and I hope I can meet their standards. You've maybe read about them in papers already. I'm O.K. and hope to remain so; though I expect I'll see some pretty rough days. I haven't heard from you lately. Are you in Missouri Valley now? How's the child? I won't be writing to so many people probably, but I do owe Melvin B. a letter. Send me his address. Gee, but I get the lonesomest feeling at times when I think of you, the baby, and home. But this war will be over in the not too distant future. Don't worry about me, for as I said before I feel I'll get back to you someday."
July 12, 1944 "I have a bit of time now to write you. I'm all right, feeling fine, although pretty tired and dirty. We've been in action the past several days. It's really a pretty rough sort of life. Been sleeping in holes in the ground these many nights. Have a profuse growth of beard right now, and my clothes are so dirty they can stand up by themselves. But as I said before I'm O.K. and hope to remain so. Maybe our outfit will be relieved one of these days. I haven't heard from you lately, but expect I will any time now. I'll be a happy little boy when this is all over and I can start back for home."
October 7, 1944 "I'm writing this letter in a foxhole. I've been getting your letters regularly. You mentioned not having heard from me for a long time. Maybe a letter got lost. It's been pretty rough going. Don't think I haven't been praying, for I have. I'm all right and I have good hope of continuing so. I think of you and the "young lady" constantly. I love you very much."
Nov 1, 1944 "I'm a bit down in the mouth today because of what Churchill said about the war lasting until next Spring. So if you run across any more cheerful predictions and if they sound credible maybe you'd better send them on to me to bolster my morale. Otherwise I'm quite all right. Some of that Christmas candy and stuff would taste good right now - with this coldish weather here. If my last letter to you was heavily censored it was because first we were told we could say a certain thing - then told later we couldn't! Evelyn is sending me a Bible. A very good idea, I say. I believe I'm much more religious than I was before."
These are my Grandfather's letters. They allowed my mother and I to glimpse into the heart and mind of a man we never knew. To see what our soldiers gave up to preserve the freedoms we can so easily take for granted. This article is dedicated to all of those who bravely answered their country's call. It is especially dedicated to the brave men of the 79th Division and those who never came home, who lie mute beneath rank upon rank of white marble markers and other unmarked places forever known but to their God.
"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget, in time, that men have died to win them." ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt