benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 15, 2014 

As an Army brat, Julia Irvine grew up in a loving home. But she never realized just how much until she found a footlocker with almost 80 letters her father wrote to her mother while serving in Korea in 1953.

Irvine of Columbus found the letters 52 years after they were written and shortly after her parents, James and Elsie Irvine, died within months apart in 2005.

As families gather today for Father's Day, Irvine has compiled the letters from her dad, a military officer at the time, into a book to express the love he shared with his family while serving as an adviser in Korea. The book, "Letters from Korea," was released a month ago and is dedicated to Irvine's parents and other loving fathers who are separated from their families.

"My father was a very good father and he practiced exemplary morals and character," Irvine said during an interview at her home. "He was a very loving father, but he was very strict as you can imagine with the military. We were brought up with very little leeway to get into mischief. Most of all, we knew he loved us and he loved my mother."

Irvine was living in Decatur, Ga.,

when her father, then a lieutenant colonel, was sent to Korea on April 30, 1953. Assigned to the Fighting 69th, he arrived in the country three months before the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, to cease hostile actions between North and South Korea.

The Army officer left behind his wife, Elsie, older daughter, Joyce, Julia and younger brother, Jimmy. His letters, handwritten or typed, offered a rare glimpse of life in Korea.

Irvine's father was a seasoned soldier with nearly 13 years of service by the time he arrived in Korea. He entered the military in 1940 and served in World War II. The daughter said the family was in Germany in 1949 when her younger brother was born.

At an outpost some 100 miles from Seoul, the father wrote letters about the weather, food and the tent where he and other officers lived.

The 42-year-old officer was about six months into his 12-month deployment when he admitted to his wife how difficult it was being separated from the family.

"I know this is the worst separation we have experienced so far," he said in an October 1953 letter. "Perhaps it is because it has been later in life and we know how much more we really miss each other."

Irvine said the letters described a man that some relatives didn't know.

"Several of my relatives said we knew uncle James was a romantic," she said. "You never saw that. He was not a romantic not in public. There was no public display of affection. Behind close doors, he was quite a Casanova. He was totally devoted to my mother."

At times, her father would write letters spanning three days straight, leading to a bundle arriving in the mail back home. Elsie also would answer him with a series of letters.

"These letters, he wrote almost every day," Irvine said.

Her father also used letters to stay in touch with other officers and family members. On one bundle of letters, James Irvine mailed a letter that was meant for Elsie Irvine to his mother, Lucille Grace Irvine. He had written the letters but placed them in the wrong envelopes.

To avoid that mistake again, he said he would start writing one letter at a time and placing it in an envelope.

Although the post wasn't near Seoul, the capital and largest city in Korea, soldiers could see movies like the "Titanic." But when it came to going out with other soldiers, Irvine's father would have rather stayed in the tent to rest or write letters.

He recalled a military ceremony on the post and later that evening 15 young Korean women were invited at the camp.

"He talks about them bringing these girls up from Seoul to dance," Irvine said. "He said some came to renew older acquaintances."

While her father was in Korea, the separation took a toll on Irvine, a fourth grader at the time. The 9-year-old started crying after a patriotic song was played in class.

"I was thinking about my daddy," Irvine said. "The teacher told other kids to just ignore me. I guess I was disrupting the class. It just got to me. It was my first separation."

The tough separation for Irvine's father ended in the spring of 1954. His next assignment was in Japan where he was reunited with the family.

"When he came home from Korea, he was one skinny guy," the daughter said.

After 20 years of service, Col. James Irvine retired from the military in 1960. He was 95 years old when he died in August 2005. His wife, Elsie, died two months later in October at age 93. The couple were married for 69 years.

Irvine was clearing out the house when she ran across the letters.

"I glanced at a couple of them and said I better keep those," she said.

Five years after her parents died, Irvine started thinking about what to do with the letters.

"I really, really worried what they would think if I did something with these letters," she said. "And I knew daddy probably wouldn't like it but then again it's part of history now. One of the reasons I did it is it tells so much about that time."

What convinced Irvine to publish the book was her father's support of the National Infantry Museum formerly located on Main Post. "When he was stationed here, right after he got into the Army, dad and mom were here in Columbus and he joined the Infantry Museum after it opened. He loved it," she said.

That's why she is donating all profits from the book sale to the museum now called the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

"I don't think he will mind that much if I give the money to the Infantry Museum," she said.

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