Letters to our boys – VE Day

(Editor’s Note: This is another installment of The Express’ “Letter to Our Boys,” written during World War II to let “our boys” know what was happening back in their home towns. The Express will bring the letters to you occasionally, thanks to the efforts of Fred and Anna Snyder, who compiled the letters over several years of research and donated a full copy of them to the Clinton County Historical Society.)

Dated Monday, May 7, 1945

Dear…

Well boys, this is the column I have been waiting to write; the one to accompany the downfall of Nazi Germany.

There is another one I have planned –the last one , the one that will come with the news of the Jap losing face (and more).

Everyone here is very happy about the news, particulary those people whose boys came through the action in Europe. We feel like going around patting each other on the back but, what the hell, we didn’t do the job, you guys did.

The Express comes out today with one of the greatest editions, one which, in fact, is second only to the celebrate the 100th birthday of Lock Haven.

We are not celebrating any birthdays today but we have something just as important even though we still have the last quarter of this brawl game to go.

The first edition of Col. O’Corn was published on Saturday, Oct. 31, 1942, with this top: “The Express herewith presents a new weekly feature, ‘Letter to Our Boys’ a letter to be clipped from this newspaper and sent along with another to your son or brother or husband or uncle or cousin or friend in the camp, on this ship or at the front.

“Any contribution you have –a letter from one of the boys or a suggestion –should be sent to Col. O’Corn, The Express, Lock Haven, Pa. Now clip the Letter below, write in the name of the man you are going to send it to and sign your name at the bottom. It won’t take more than a minute or two and he will enjoy hearing more from home.”

It wasn’t until the fourth time the column appeared that the text matter reached to the bottom of the page and it wasn’t until No. 9 was printed that we started to number them. With the ninth issue, the feature assumed the appearance which it carried throughout 1943 and 1944.

There was considerable amount of work each week gleaning paragraphs from letters written to Col O’Corn or those brought in by people who received word from the boys. Time, too, hard to be spent in reviewing the week’s issues of The Express to collect the top news which was briefed to fit the space.

Many letters arrived from the boys complimenting the Colonel. Such pats on the back were indeed gratifying and gave us the idea that perhaps after all we were in some little way lending a hand in the big business of war by keeping our lads posted on what was going on back home

One boy who had been in the South Pacific for more than two years came to The Express to see what Col. O’Corn looked like. That was a thrill to us not because it was complimentary so much as that it proved that The Express was getting to the far corners of the earth as we pridefully thought it should.

It is probable that the “Letter to Our Boys” is one of the oldest columns of its type in the current war. It came into being when Lt. Joe Hamilton mailed to The Express a copy of a similar letter which had been published in a Los Angeles newspaper. From the very first week Col. O’Corn not going, he never missed a Saturday and sometimes write for Friday when there was no Saturday edition.

Although it has been necessary to cut here and cut there to save newsprint and space, the “Letter” has never been reduced. In the necessity of saving engraving materials, pictures of service men were cut from one column width to a half column but Col. O’Corn never got notice to shave his stuff.

The column has been the closest tie between this community and its boys on the far fronts.

During the long months of the war it was often our duty to keep quiet.

We at The Express sometimes knew that President Roosevelt was en route to somewhere east or west but we maintained silence until the word came through to let out the news.

But every time we kept silent, we did so voluntarily — such is the American way of censorship.

It is good to report to you boys that the censorship was just about as tight as it would have been in a totalitarian country and that is something.

We have written of scores of boys killed, hundreds missing, wounded or prisoners and we didn’t like it.

But scores of these “Letters to Our Boys,” reprinted thousands of times, went all over the globe.

Here at The Express we are hoping we helping a mite by keeping you up on the news.

Through the eyes and ears and typewriter-tapping fingers of guys like Ernie Pyle, your fathers, mothers, sisters, bothers, wives or sweethearts have followed you in the camps, on the ships, on the beachheads, in the foxholes, under shellfire and aerial bombardment.

We have heard a lot of the troubles of our GI Joes and some of his sometimes few joys; of his gripes and his jokes; of his slogging in the mud and of his field rations, and we’ve heard from the Air Corps, the Marines, the Sailors and the Coast Guardsmen.

Naturally, a substitute is not as good (or sometimes as bad) as the original.

We read bout it but we can never really know what it was like. You read about home but second-hand information was not anything like being back here yourselves.

Many were the letters received by the Colonel, some written to him directly and some merely passed on to him by relatives of service men.

One of the outstanding letters I have seen was written by a mother who had lost her son. She was answering a letter of sympathy from a friend who had tried to console her. The mother said:

“Many thanks for your sympathy and understanding. Our hearts are broken and I feel a part of me died with my son.

“Truly there is no greater grief. You would have been very proud of him if you had known him since he grew into manhood.

“The same sterling principles that we taught him in our home were always cherished and he died for the same ideals our forefathers fought and died for.

“There was never any question in his mind about what he must do.

“He felt he had been trained as well and better than most of the boys fighting and after his friend was reported missing, he had to get over and help the rest.

“In his last letter to his Dad, he closed saying: ‘Take good care of Mother for me and keep the bullets coming – keep plenty coming for it will take tons and tons.’

“We have had so many letters from Lock Haven — it helps to know they still care. Many of our friends of seven years ago have written. Must close and write many more letters.

“I have sent 125 cards of acknowledgement. Everyone has been most kind in the most thoughtful ways.”

There you’ll find a lot of sentiment.

It is better stuff than I could have written, so we’ll let it speak for the mothers of all the boys who won’t be back.

Sincerely, Col O’Corn

PS: Hurry back, you others. We would sooner you would read the whole paper here in your home town than read part of it any place else.

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