It started out seeming like a bit of a sad story - but I had no idea just how sad it would turn out to be.
I was transcribing a pile of newspaper clippings, and happened upon the story of a Korean War soldier, Ralph, who was missing in action. I will only refer to the people involved by their first names, as it is entirely possible, no, probable, that at least some of them are still living. Ralph had married Avis, a 15 year old girl, before enlisting and being sent to Korea. Just a few months later, Avis received a telegram from the Defense Department saying that her husband was missing after a skirmish. In that days’ mail she would also receive a letter that her husband had written the day before his disappearance.
How sad – but it wasn’t the end of the story, by any means.
Several weeks later, Avis received another bit of a surprise. Her husband, who was captured by the Chinese, had scribbled a note on a piece of war propaganda, and was able to send it to his friend in the same squad. It read, in part -
I'll write you a few lines to let you know I am safe and okay. I was captured by the Chinese the 30th of Dec. They treat me very good. They also give me plenty to eat. They try to feed me according to what I am used to eating. I would appreciate it if you would write to my wife and let her know I am okay as I know she is worried."
I needed to know the rest of the story – was the note really from Ralph? Was he ever released, or was he killed by his captors? I checked an online database, and his name appeared in a list of Korean War casualties. A sucker for happy endings, it was a bit disheartening for me to see his name there, but there was also a note that he was returned to the military in 1953. What - his body? Him? What??? I had to know more.
The next article I found detailed Ralph’s return to the United States, being met by a drove of reporters as his boat docked. An excerpt follows, edited by me to remove identifying information:
“The young army corporal back from 20 months in red captivity stared glumly into space Sunday when he was told his wife had remarried in the belief he was dead. ’I had never heard that until you told me,’ Ralph said after a newsman informed him of the marital mixup. Veins stood out on the young soldier’s forehead and his blue eyes glistened as a news story was read to him saying his wife, Avis, had married Harold last March. Then, the brown-haired corporal, wearing an almost dazed look, joined several of his buddies who were taking pictures of each other. It appeared a desperate but futile attempt to be nonchalant about a world turned upside down.”
Oh my. I don’t know which of my emotions was stronger – the heartache on behalf of the young soldier, or the disdain for the reporter who apparently valued the shock of the story over any sort of decency and empathy for Ralph. I had to find out what happened – regardless of the late hour, there would be no sleep until I knew. Did Harold step aside? What did Avis want? Would Ralph be able to pick up with Avis where he left off?
The next article I could find was a month later, stating that Ralph had been granted a divorce. It was also disclosed during the hearing that Avis was “expectant”, and of course, it was not Ralph’s child. The grounds for the divorce, the newspaper said, was Mental Cruelty. It sounds to me like a case of Mental Cruelty for everyone concerned, doled out by life itself. This is where the newspaper articles appear to end, but, of course, not where the story ends. There’s more, lots more, no doubt, but it’s out of the public eye, as it should be. I can only hope that Ralph, Avis, and Harold all found some semblance of peace with the situation, and were able to get on with their lives.