'LETTERS FROM KOREA' | A review Twins' book chronicles 1950s war
The book is a tribute to the war's veterans.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
"Corpsmen: Letters from Korea," by Richard G. and Gerald E. Chappell (Kent State University Press, $21)
The book details a slice of 1950s Americana and gives a fascinating perspective on the Navy and the Korean War provided through more than 300 letters written home to their parents by Ohio identical twins Richard and Gerald Chappell.
It takes the Chappell twins, as they were known in Ravenna, from boot camp in San Diego, Calif., to hospital corps training at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md., to Fleet Marine Force training and eventually to the front lines in Korea, and after.
The letters, they freely admit, don't contain all the gory details of war so as to protect their mother and keep her from worrying. But, they are a genuine 1950s view of the war and of the quick growing up that occurred with two self-anointed naive Ohio 18-year-olds.
History: The Chappell twins, the only children of Walter and Mildred Chappell, grew up on a 60-acre dairy farm outside of Ravenna in the 1930s and '40s, graduated in 1950 from Ravenna High School and worked at the local A & amp;P supermarket for nearly a year before joining the Navy on March 5, 1951.
They served four years as corpsmen, including a stint on the front lines in Korea, and went to college at Kent State University where both received degrees in speech pathology and audiology.
The Chappells have ties to the immediate area, as well. Richard lived in New Castle from 1974 until his death in 1998; and immediately after graduating from KSU, Gerald worked as a therapist in Lisbon and Leetonia.
Features: The book features their letters, every three or four of which were condensed into one by eliminating redundancies and idle talk. When that occurs, the letter in the book is marked with the date of the most recent letter used.
"Corpsmen: Letters from Korea," with an introduction and 157 pages divided into nine chapters, is an easy and interesting read.
At first, the letters, and thus the book, seem a little too unvarnished and plain. But in the end, it is the straight forward, folksy style of the letters that make it compelling. It does what any good book does: Places ordinary people, the Chappells, in extraordinary circumstances, the Korean War, and tells how they deal with them.
Reflections: The first eight chapters begin with narratives that give perspective to the letters to follow. At the end of each chapter there are "Reflections" that provide hindsight to the events.
Chapter Nine, "Reflections," was written by Gerald after Richard's death, and presents his impressions on the war in general and opinions on whether the sacrifices demanded by the so-called "forgotten war" was justified.
In the end, he concludes: "I have to justify it. This ex-Ohio farm boy and corpsman must believe the war was worth fighting, for if it was not, then Coy Brewer, a friend, and all the other casualties of that war died or suffered truly in vain."
Gerald said he and Richard initially thought of the book as a record for their family.
But it became more than that. It is a tribute to and honors all Korean War veterans.