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AN UNEXPECTED GIFT: Tumultuous Love Letters from the Korean War

By Kathleen Cavazzi,

In this new age of pandemic isolation, we feel the absence of loved ones we can’t visit or have in our physical presence. We miss sitting and talking with them, their hugs and kisses, and even just the secure feeling of having them in close proximity. For many, parents and children provide the most peaceful and comforting human interaction that we experience in life.

My mother Anne was my best friend. She allowed me to abuse her, neglect her, unload all my sh..stuff onto her, and take her for granted over and over again. I had my moments of appreciation, but overall, I got a lot more than I gave. But she knew I adored her and I knew she would always be there. Until she wasn’t.

My mother died when she was 67 and I was 37. Her death was the most devastating event of my life. I got through the loss, but never really got over it. Over time, I can now laugh and joke and smile when I think about her and all of our time together. Though I can never think of her without getting a little tight in the throat.

My father Jack was a very different kind of parent. He was the disciplinarian, but we were still very close. He died 12-1/2 years after my mother’s death and never moved on to another relationship. He had one love in his lifetime and that was enough.

After my dad’s passing in January of 2013, my brothers Rick and Kerry and I were tasked with cleaning out his house and preparing it for sale. In the garage, we found over 235 letters that apparently had been there all along, though I never knew it. They were the letters that my dad wrote to my mom while he was in the U.S. Army during the Korean War from June 1952 –May 1954.

Dad never talked to me about his time in the army or in Korea. There was the story that my parents eloped shortly after my dad went into the service and was stationed in Ft. Belvoir, VA. My mom took the train down and met my dad in DC. They got married, and 10 months later, my brother Rick was born. I never questioned it, and I never asked my dad about his time overseas. It wasn’t that I was told not to ask about it, it just seemed like something he wasn’t eager to discuss. Or maybe I just didn’t have any interest in finding out. It’s kind of a blur now.

In the winter of 2013, with both parents gone, I suddenly had an overwhelming need to reconnect with them in whatever way possible. I would go through old pictures, cards that they gave me, videos, and anything else I could find to help me conjure them and connect with them on a spiritual level. But I only had the memories of my conversations and times spent with them, and therefore I only remember them from their late 30’s on. Having the chance to read letters that my dad wrote when he was 19-21 years old, I was able to experience him in an entirely new way.

As I read each letter, I was hearing my father’s voice as a young man. A very surreal experience. I devoured every page – out of sequence at first. They had been in a box for almost 60 years, along with lots of curled up old pictures, and were all askew. I put them in chronological order as I went, then I read them in order. My dad wrote in a way that was so engaging, funny and silly, passionate, at times irate, at times contrite, but in every letter I heard the deep love he had for my mother, sometimes to the point of obsession. I saw him go from a happy-go-lucky young guy, making plans to go dancing on his weekend leave, to a lonely, tormented, desperate soldier, driven close to madness by separation and anxiety. His letters are raw and incredibly expressive, with no filter. And through them I gained an insight into my father’s personality and character that I could never have known otherwise. Although we expect that some letters are missing due to the nature of the delicate subject matter, we were given the opportunity to piece together the mystery that they chose never to outwardly share with us, but left behind for us to discover.

While I can never have my parents back in this lifetime, they left me the most incredible, unexpected gift. I get to indulge in their love story and experience them as young adults just by reading my dad’s letters. I can share the beauty of their story with others. It’s a story of incredible strength through separation, amazing devotion in the absence of contact, and a test of mental and emotional endurance that seems so applicable to what we are facing in this Coronavirus crisis. There are lessons to be taken from soldiers who faced true isolation and separation in past wars where there were so few communication options. Listening to their personal stories, we see what the human spirit is capable of overcoming. Yes, we are home and bored, eating and drinking too much, binge-watching shows, and worrying about what the future holds. Imagine if we had no phones, no internet, no telecommunications at all. How would we connect with our loved ones that we are missing? In today’s world, it seems unthinkable.

But it has been done when it was the only choice, and sometimes looking to the past helps us understand what we humans can really do when we must. When love and determination are present, so is the ability to get through what we doubt is possible, though it takes a toll, certainly, on our well-being. Luckily, we possess the resilience to heal and become whole again. We can all benefit from that reminder right now.

Jack’s letters are currently being compiled into a book for publication. Agent and publisher inquiries welcome. If you’d like to learn more about Before I Go Berserk, Hon Tumultuous Love Letters, Comfort Women With VD, and 4 Ton Wreckers, visit Please join our mailing list and Facebook group for updates and to be the first to know when the book is available.

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