Cherie inherits a stack of 33 letters, written by her grandfather, who died during the Korean War, and who Cherie’s family never talked about. Before receiving the letters, she knew almost nothing about him. She hadn’t even seen a picture of him. But the letters unveil who he was and the fateful decisions he made that affected not only his life but still affect her life today.
Larry Hood’s page on the Korean War Project website. (While talking with Cherie, I misspoke and called it the Korean War Memorial website. It’s the Korean War Project. My apologies to the folks there!)
Season 1, Episode 4: Crystal’s Letters
Guest: Cherie Louise Turner
Visit www.MementosPodcast.com to see some photos of the memento in this episode.
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Lori Mortimer – Host, Sound Designer, Producer
Cherie Turner – Guest
Charles Gustine – Voice Actor
Galen Beebe – Story Editor
Alyssa Duvak – Social Media
Micolai by Blue Dot Sessions
Mementos Episode S1:E4
CHERIE: One of the reasons that he was so aggressive about putting himself in danger is because he just wanted to get back home. And that was his fastest way to get back home. And it ended up doing the very thing that made it, this short track, which is that it was super, super dangerous and you’re at risk of dying.
And that’s what happened.
LORI: Welcome to Mementos. I’m Lori Mortimer. If you listened to the last episode, Crystal’s Hymn, you’ll know that it was a story about a grandfather. Today’s episode is also about a grandfather, but the two episodes could not be more different.
In this episode, my guest is going to tell us about a grandfather who she knew nothing about until just a few years ago.
Cherie has been able to bring back to life, in a sense, her grandfather, who died many years ago and who had been lost to the sands of time.
And she learned that he made some fateful decisions a long time ago that not only affected him but also still affect her life today.
CHERIE: My name is Cherie Louise Turner. And I’m originally from Goleta, California, which is near Santa Barbara.
LORI: Cherie’s story starts in 2010, when she got a phone call from her aunt.
CHERIE: She informed me that my grandmother had passed, after several bouts of cancer. And she had left me some things in her will. Which I was very surprised about because I really hadn’t spoken much to her um, in probably over 20 years.
So I received this stack of 33 letters that my grandfather, Larry Hood, had written to my grandmother while he was in the Army and then when he went off to the Korean War.
Before I got these letters — I got them when I was 40 years old — I really didn’t think much of my grandfather. Or I didn’t give him much thought. I had maybe known that he died in a war. I wasn’t even ever clear on which war it was.
He went into the Army on the 4th of April, 1951, and he died on June 29th, 1952. He wasn’t even overseas for but a few months. So by the time I was cognizant of this missing person, he’d been gone for such a long time, and nobody really talked about him because my grandmother had already been married — remarried — twice.
And so this was my first opportunity to learn anything about him.
LORI: One by one, these letters unveil the pieces of Larry’s life story.
Most of them are written to Cherie’s grandmother Mary and to Cherie’s father Gary, who was just little at the time. He was between 4 and 5 years of age. And yes, this family has rhyming names: Larry and Mary, and their son Gary.
In the letters, Larry talks about his everyday life in the Army. They start when he was in training camp in California, and then take him to a stop to Japan and then on to the front lines in North Korea.
CHERIE: I don’t know how he ended up in the Army. I don’t get the sense that he was real gung-ho about it. I think he probably got enlisted.
And from all of the letters, all he wanted to do was come back home.
LORI: You can tell that Larry was especially focused on getting home sooner rather than later.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
Dear Mary and Gary,
Tomorrow morning at 3 a.m, I leave by ship for Korea. I get 20 percent more pay in Korea and the full G.I. Bil. The way the rotation system is now workin’, I will get home twice as fast as I would if I stayed here in Japan.
CHERIE: The other thing about these, coming from the Army, is there are just some basic things that you miss. You know, you miss your family. Every single letter, he writes, tell Gary I love him, tell him how much I miss him.
LORI: He didn’t just miss them, he stayed in communication and supported them. He stayed in communication and supported them. He asked how they were, and he followed up on the things they told him in their letters to him. And he expressed a lot of concern about Mary’s well-being.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
You say for me to take care of myself. It sounds like you’re the one who should take it easy.
Your mother wrote me you only weigh a hundred two pounds. So, gal, you better get on the ball and start taking your shots again. Especially now that the windy season is startin’. You’re going to blow away if you don’t.
So honey, write me what you’re doin’ because sometimes I wonder and worry about you.
LORI: Through the letters, Cherie got a surprise about her grandparents’ relationship, which makes Larry’s support of Mary even more remarkable.
CHERIE: He and my grandmother had been divorced before he went to war. They got married when they were 17 years old. So they were children. And when you look at the dates it seems pretty obvious that they got married because she got pregnant.
But he’s just so sweet to her the whole time, and he talks about how she would always be very special to him.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
You’ll always mean a lot more to me than just an ex-wife because we were together and did too much to ever forget. Even if it wasn’t for the fact that Gary is part of us both.
So, baby doll, take care of yourself, and tell Gary that I never stop thinking of him.
And naturally, when I think of him, I also think of you.
LORI: You know, not surprisingly, Cherie has opened and read through these letters many times since she got them. But one time, not that long ago, she found something new when she was trying to put one of the letters back in its envelope.
CHERIE: The envelope felt kind of heavy after I took the letter out and I just, I kind of gave it a second thought, but not much. And then I was reading through the letter, and I go to put it back, and it won’t go in very well. And I realize that there are two photographs in here.
They’re the only photos I’ve ever seen of this man. Which is just kind of miraculous to me.
LORI: Think about that. She’d never even seen a picture of her grandfather before. And when Cherie saw these photos, she was struck by just how young he was.
CHERIE: In my mind, he’s an old person. But he died when he was 23.
LORI: The photos also captured the bleakness of his surroundings and what he was living through while stationed in North Korea.
CHERIE: Of course they’re black and white, so like, there’s no color to them. And you can see it’s a very desolate landscape where he is.
And you can see hills. Um, there’s a lot of rocks. There are no trees whatsoever. And here they are guarding this post.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
Except for the guard duty, half the night, we don’t have hardly anything to do, but every so often we have to go on patrols of the Chinese lines to see where and what they are doing. Goin’ on those patrols, I can’t say I like too well. As far as I’m concerned, they can stay on their hill, and we’ll stay on ours.
It gets me that so many fellas have to get hurt and go through so much just to take one of these worthless hills. I just hope I get outta here before too many more months because every week seems like a month itself.
CHERIE: He talks about how they do live in tents, and it snows. You know, they were digging into the snow in the hillside to get themselves into a warmer situation. That was just for insulation. Because it was so freezing cold. He said it would take them about an hour in the morning to put their boots on because everything was frozen.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
More guys have left here because of pneumonia or frozen hands or feet than those who have gotten wounded or shot. I got frostbite in January, and my knees are still bothering me from the cold that has set in them.
I’ll be home sometime this summer. I’ll have at least 30 days’ leave, which I’m going to spend at the beach. The sun will feel so good after havin’ spent the winter here.
LORI: After getting frostbite and suffering with the lingering effects, Larry makes a fateful, but consistent, decision.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
I could have gotten off the front lines because of it, but I would have been moved to a rear area where I would have to stay twice as long.
CHERIE: I, I have a lot of respect for the military and the things that they do. But when you’re reading about a single person’s existence and their experiences, it also can make you feel like, here was this man who was full of life, and he didn’t come back. And it really does make you wonder, was that life worth losing?
LORI: The letters are kind of an extended family, treasure trove for Cherie because she learned that other family members were very supportive of Larry while he was overseas. One set of the letters are to Bernice and Ted Boyd.
CHERIE: And I can only surmise that Bernice and Ted were my grandmother’s parents, so my great-grandparents.I’m just putting this together because he sent a bunch of letters to these people, and it sounds like they took care of my father a lot. And that lets you know how fractured my family was and how little I know about a lot of these people.
CHARLES (as LARRY):
Dear Bernice and Ted,
Just received your letter today. You’re right. Spring is here. Right now I’m sitting in the sun enjoying the sunshine. I sure hope I never spend another winter like this year has been. I’m still having trouble with the cold that had set in my bones. For a while, I even had trouble walking. But they are much better now.
I would very much enjoy some cookies from you. They should be wrapped airtight. Wrapped and thin, put into a coffee can, they keep very well.
When I get home, I’m going to get you to make some pop overs. I haven’t forgotten how good they are or how swell you make ’em.
CHERIE: There is a very last letter in all of this, and it’s in a return envelope. And it is a letter from Bernice Boyd that never gets to him because by the time it gets overseas, he’s already died.
Yesterday your mother read to me over the phone your letter that you were in the hospital and hurt in the leg and knee.
We have all been praying for you during all these months. I have pictured you in our home in chairs around the house with faith that you would be here.
We told Gary last night at dinner that you were hurt and in the hospital. Larry, the expression on his face was so sad and so deeply hurt. I told him right away quick that his Daddy would be home soon and that he was getting well. And the expression changed right away to one of happiness. He loves his Daddy. We all love you.
God will take care of everything, Larry. Right always wins in the end. I will accept the future as God’s will.
I have been making preserves to go into those popovers.
Relax now, Larry, all you possibly can.
And don’t worry about anything.
He really liked popovers.
Just assuming that this is the mother of his ex-wife, there was just a very loving situation all the way around.
And had he had the opportunity to come back, they would have all still at least had friendly relations. Who’s to say how things would have turned out in the end? I can only fantasize about them, being that my father didn’t turn out to be the nicest guy or the most responsible person.
LORI: Cherie’s father, Gary, the little boy in the letters, was entirely absent from Cherie’s life. By choice.
CHERIE: My mother got divorced from Gary Hood, uh, about six months after I was born. So I never met him. Uh, he has since passed, so I will never meet him. And my grandmother I love to pieces, but she definitely had her challenges, and she could be a challenging person.
And then there’s this sort of shining light of a person who ends up getting killed … and so, it’s, you know, it’s sad. And I hold onto these because he really just felt like such a good part of a history that I didn’t even – that I didn’t know about. And then I got this gift of getting to know about him.
It was just this really, it, argh, it just … it made me really happy to feel like there was this person who had been in the world who I’m related to, who I kinda got to know just through these series of 33 letters that he wrote to people. It brought him to life for me, and nobody else had done that.
And the fact that he got to do that? That was really special.
LORI: At first, I was thinking this is where Cherie’s story would end. But, you know, something kept nagging at me. And it was something Bernice Boyd said in the letter that was returned to her.
She said that Larry had been injured in the leg and the knee. And I wondered if those are the injuries that killed him because he had been well enough to write a letter home to his mother about them. I was curious, so I did a little research. And then I called Cherie to tell her what I found.
LORI: Hey, Cherie.
CHERIE: Hey, how’s it going?
LORI: It’s goin’ well, thanks!
LORI: Um, okay, so I am going to read to you from the Korean War Memorial website.
Private first class Lawrence Clark Hood was a member of the 179th infantry regiment, 45th infantry division. He was seriously wounded by the enemy in North Korea on June 16th, 1952, and returned to duty on June 18th, 1952.
CHERIE: Oh, wow.
LORI: Yeah, yeah, two days. And then he went back.
LORI: He was killed in action while fighting the enemy on June 29th, 1952.
So he survived the leg injuries. And then he was killed in action 11 days later.
CHERIE: You know, that’s really interesting because I just assumed he had died in the hospital.
This just makes so much more sense. It kind of, honestly, it kind of makes me want to cry.
You know, the first thing that comes to mind is that … argh … I’m, I’m trying to think of a way of saying this without sounding, I don’t know, dramatic or cruel. But, like he, he died fighting. You know, like somehow that just seems, it seems very powerful to me. I mean, in a really awful way, because to die violently is horrible.
Um, but somehow it, I, I don’t know. It, it just sort of goes with who he was that he was fighting to get home. He, he was putting himself in danger to get back to his family.
And what a tough guy, right? Like, he’s got frostbite, he’s got a leg injury, and it’s like, he’s still not asking for desk duty.
Like, like I don’t really like the word badass, but it’s just like, well, that’s kind of a badass move. Like just the, just the human spirit of that, right? Like, the human spirit of just wanting something so badly that you’re just gonna keep at it until either you die or you get what you want.
The fact that he died — it changed my life. Absolutely. And I think he would have been an amazing father. And that’s the saddest part because my father missed out on that. And I missed out on having a great grandfather.
Like, every time I think about him, like, it really gets me welled up. It’s the sadness of missing out on what could have been.
LORI: Thank you, Cherie, for sharing the story, the letters, and your newly found grandfather with all of us. He really does sound like a shining light of a young man.
Cherie has her own podcast called Strides Forward: Stories of women runners. You can check it out. She’s on all the podcast apps. She’s got a website. And she’s publishing a series right now, um, about nine women who are prepping for the Boston Marathon, which is running in October this year instead of April, because of the pandemic.
For this episode, I must give huge thanks and praise to Charles Gustine, who read Larry’s letters.
Beautiful work, Charles. Thank you so much.
Charles also has a podcast called Iconography, which he calls a tour of icons real and imagined. It’s a mix of pop culture, history, place. So I would check it out. One of my favorite episodes is the episode on Jaws.
Galen Beebe edited the story and really helped me pull all the pieces together.
Thank you to the Pod Prod, secret society. And Skye Pillsbury and Jenna Spinelle for your feedback and suggestions. And as always my main man, Steve.
This episode was written, produced, and sound designed by me, Lori Mortimer.
And lastly, how you can support this show. If you like Mementos, and I hope you do, anytime you’re talking to a friend, mention that you listen to the show and send them to it.
See you again in two weeks where we will not hear about a grandfather this time, but we will hear about … birds. See you then!