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The Telegram
  • Letters recall man’s Korean War experiences

  • The Korean War ended 60 years ago this month, running from June 25, 1950 until July 27, 1953.

    Among the area residents who served during the war was Robert J. Wesley, of Dolgeville. Wesley died in 1985, but his widow, Frances Svet Wesley, still has his medals and the letters he wrote home during his time in the service and decided to share them with The Telegram and Times.

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  • The Korean War ended 60 years ago this month, running from June 25, 1950 until July 27, 1953.
    Among the area residents who served during the war was Robert J. Wesley, of Dolgeville. Wesley died in 1985, but his widow, Frances Svet Wesley, still has his medals and the letters he wrote home during his time in the service and decided to share them with The Telegram and Times.
    Robert J. Wesley was born Oct. 21, 1930, the son of Joseph and Julia (Shager) Wesley, of Dolgeville. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1951 and went to Fort Dix, N.J., and then to Fort Hanchusa, Ariz. He was promoted to sergeant by the time he shipped over to Korea as a member of Co. C – 841st Engineer Aviation Leader School Battalion.
    “He had worked with his father logging timber and had a good knowledge of operating heavy equipment which was of use to the military for building airstrips for the bombers and for the new jet planes at that period of time,” said Frances Wesley in a letter to The Telegram and Times.
    “At the time he was in service, I was about 13 or 14 and went to school in Richfield Springs,” she wrote. “Like many Slovenian in the Little Falls and Cooperstown area, our families knew each other.”
    She noted the men all had to pledge not to say anything about combat in their letters home, so no mention is made about fighting in Wesley’s letters to his parents “even though — on a steady basis — the airfield was bombed and strafed.”
    Despite the omissions, his letters reflect the experiences of one young man during the Korean War.
    Here are a few excerpts from his letters:
    May 22, 1952
    “Dear Mom and Dad,
    “Well it will only be four more days now and we will leave this place to go to Stoneman … I’ll send all my money I can send when I get to Korea because we’ll be working 16 hours a day and there isn’t any place to spend it anyway.”
    July 5, 1952
    “Our mail was all mixed up because we were supposed to stay in Pusan instead of coming up here to Osan. Well, we still haven’t been paid since the 15th of May and I don’t even have any money for writing paper … We are still in big tents on the ground and have no lights or no place to work. We use our steel helmets for washing.”|
    July 13, 1952
    “We finally got a floor in our tent and are up off the ground. The flies almost eat us up at night they are so bad … P.S. You can send The Evening Times from Little Falls if you want to. I’d enjoy it a lot.”
    Page 2 of 4 - July 23, 1952
    “I got the $5 Pa sent but don’t send anymore because I can’t use it here. I traded it for G.I. scrip and the fellow sent it home I traded with … I didn’t get The Evening Times yet, but I guess it will be along soon. It is terribly hot during the day now. It was about 130 degrees in the sun today. We had to shut the Tournadozers down because they got so hot. Even the candles were melting inside the tents. I’ll never be so glad in my life to leave this place in January.”
    July 31, 1952
    “Well I am finally getting paid today, $286, just about what I figured I’d get … I sleep all day and work all night. We had to pull out of the airfield because it is all flooded. We had a terrible rainstorm and then it rained for three days without stopping … Most of our equipment is all gone to hell already. They work it 24 hours a day and hardly ever stop them, only for fuel.”
    Undated
    “Well the radio finally got here and it plays okay. I don’t think the bottle will break if you send one. I need a good drink once in a while here. I haven’t had a day off now in about three weeks working 12 hours a day. It gets so boring with the same job every day and teaching other men how to cut and fill and read grade stakes and blueprints. It is a tough job with some of them.”
    Undated
    “(Inexperienced operators) just about got all the brand new machines ruined. The $25,000 D8s are all shot and so are the $30,000 apiece Tournadozers. Every once in awhile they run into each other and spoil a $1,300 tire. It’s an awful wasteful thing.”
    Sept. 16, 1952
    “I got a chance yesterday to go to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Talk about a wreck, that city is all ruined. There isn’t hardly a building standing which hasn’t been hit … They have all sorts of things in the stores up there. It is all black market. I bought a carton of cigarettes and I no sooner got out of the PX and some Koreans wanted to give be $3 for them and all I ever pay over in the PX is a dollar ... I seen all kinds of different troops up there from other countries and they sure looked strange in their uniforms. I got the whiskey okay and it was gone in a few minutes. All of us here had a little drink and it didn’t last long. The only (radio) station I get here is from Japan, the Armed Forces Radio Service. All the programs from the states are a week old.”
    Page 3 of 4 - Sept. 27, 1952
    “It is getting pretty cold now and we haven’t any stoves yet in the tents. It was so cold this morning only half of the men got up to go to wash. I had to go around myself to get them out.”
    Oct. 4, 1952
    “Well, we got the main airstrip all done and they are landing planes on it most every day. We have started the housing areas now. We lay 14 to 16 building foundations every day … I got short pay again this month, but will send $30 home anyway.”
    Oct. 30, 1952
    “You don’t have to worry about me being warm. Someday I will put the new cold weather suit on and take a picture of me. They are really warm, especially the pockets. A person can hardly move with all the things they just gave us for cold weather.”
    Nov. 5, 1952
    “I finally got promoted to Sgt. First Class. The captain signed a waiver last month and I made it Nov. 1st… I got everything fixed up to go on R.R. to Japan either the 21 or 23 of this month … It is really going to feel good to get away from all this. I don’t even know what day of the week it is hardly.”
    Dec. 22, 1952
    “They are going to give us two hours off for Xmas and New Year’s. I thought we would get both days off, but no such luck.”
    Dec. 28, 1952
    “They had one of the worst dinners I have ever had in the Army. We got a Korean waiter to bring us our food in tin places and when he brought me 1 piece of baloney I almost fell over backwards.”
    Jan. 5, 1953
    “We also had a small pine tree on one of the tables in the mess hall … Trees are hard to find here ... Nothing but rice paddies and mountains … They had a big New Year’s celebration here. Around 12 o’clock everybody in the battalion started firing their rifles and pistols. The most of them were all drunk and I thought anytime a bullet would come through the tent … One Air Force officer got drunk and he pulled out his .45 and shot the tent full of holes.”
    Jan. 17, 1953
    “I forgot to tell you in my last letter that our mess hall caught (fire) and burned about half of it before the Air Force fire truck got here. A hot water heater blew up is what started it … Early the morning a Tournadozer was crossing the RR tracks and a train hit it. One fellow that was operating it got killed.”
    Feb. 2, 1953
    “Well the day is finally coming when I will leave. I got my orders to start processing today and will leave either the 5th or 6th. At any rate by the time you get this letter I will be well on my way.”
    Page 4 of 4 - Wesley transferred to the Army Reserve on March 25, 1953 and was honorably discharged on Oct. 17, 1956. His brother, Ed, was about 7 when he was in Korea. Ed Wesley fought in the Vietnam War.
    Robert Wesley and his wife moved to Mount Dora, Fla., in 1981 and were living there when he died Aug. 30, 1985. He was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Dolgeville.
    His name was included on the Veterans’ Memorial at Fountain Park, Leesburg, Lake County, Fla.
    Frances Wesley is a member of the Lake County Quilters Guild and makes lap robes for veterans at the VA Malcolm Randall Medical Center.

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