REMEMBER WHEN: Letters Home from Japan during the War of Occupation
Published 6:15 pm Friday, February 28, 2020
Dr. Charles Brunson, Jr. passed away recently. I put a search
on for letters that our family had saved, letters he had written
home from Japan when he served in the Army of Occupation.
Let me share some excerpts from those letters written to his
parents, Charlie and Foye Brunson, and his sisters, Caroline
Brunson Caton and Marge Brunson Bass.
“Charlie Boy” as he was called by his family, born in 1928,
was graduated from Andalusia High School in 1946. He enlisted in the Army in October 1946. He had lived in Andalusia during
his growing up years and assisted with the operation of his
father’s hometown bakery located in downtown Andalusia.
Too young to serve in World War II, he had lived through those war years as a young teenager listening to the evening war news on radio. He would often salute his mother with right hand extended straight, click his heels together, and say “Heil Hitler” when she would give him instructions for a household chore! So his willingness to serve his country came into the forefront when he reached the age of 18.
His basic training was at Fort McClellan, Alabama and before
he knew it, he was on his way to Japan on a ship, the Victory, in January 1947.
“I went in the ship’s bakery and helped them mould bread. They all thought I was very fast. I also gave them a pointer or two on how to round up the dough and proof it before moulding it. I never did think I would take much interest in baking in the army, but I felt like I was right at home when I was working in that bakery. I would like for you to send me The Covington News every week as soon as I get located.”
January 23, 1947 – “Dearest Mur (pronounced Muh for Mother) and Dad, Well, I am in Japan now. We unloaded in Yokohama. We are in a place that was Japan’s West Point during the war. It is nice for Japanese standards but not so nice by ours. The snow-capped mountains are really beautiful. The Japanese are just about like I thought they would be. I’ll tell you later.”
February 1947 – “I went out in Yokohama yesterday and looked around. Today I am going to Tokyo where I go every weekend to get a haircut.”
March 1947 – “Dearest Caroline, Every time I have written you, it has skipped my mind to say anything about a silk kimono. If I can get a Jap around here to get me one, I will send it. I don’t think that will be hard either. They have imposed a lot of laws to do away with the black market, and we can’t have any yen on us unless we have certificates to prove we bought it from official U. S. finance offices. I have 2500 yen now. A kimono costs about 1200 yen. …I sure would like to be back home for one of those family dinners and a quart of good ole’ sweet milk.”
April 1947 – “The camera came. Thanks. It is really a fine one. We went on a tour today, and I took an entire roll of film in the Imperial Gardens. They reminded me of Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile. Thursday we are going on a cherry blossom tour. They are really beautiful….By the way, I never want any more fish to eat when I get home. The stinky fish smell in the streets over here gets me.”
May 2, 1947 – “I need about 8 pair of khaki socks, 6 white t-shirts, and 4 heavy towels. The PX’s over here don’t have stuff like that on account of the black market….The boys without much education are the ones that have to walk guard. In the army, I have seen how having and not having an education can be. It makes me want to finish school in three years after I get back and the army is going to pay for most of that. Send me a catalogue from Auburn….Are all of you at home going to church now? It would be a good thing if you would. I go to church here as much as I can. When I get back, I am going to church. Love as always, Charlie”
May 1947 – “We had the usual amount of drunks over the weekend. They really tore up the place. The way they act – I don’ think they ever had a drink before they came into the army. I wouldn’t let Pete (his bird dog) drink the beer they sell over here. The G___’S (euphemism of the time) saki and whisky is poison. The officers get plenty of stateside whiskey at $2.00 a fifth though a lot of boys have been killed or permanently blinded since the occupation forces have been here.”
May 29, 1947 – “Tonight I saw ‘The Fabulous Dorseys.’ It was about Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Both of them played in it. It was a very good show.”
June 1947 – “My office is nice. I have a phone and a typewriter and a desk. It is a good place to write letters. I have been reading a lot of books. I know more about the world affairs now than I ever have, I guess. This coming Friday, I have a lecture to give on the Atom Bomb. The best thing about it is that no one supervises me, and I do just what I want. I am still figuring on getting a transfer. The 406th Medical Lab in Tokyo is the place I want to go.”
June 13, 1947 – “Dearest Marge, I’ll be glad when I don’t have to take any more shots. The army really takes care of the men when it comes to stuff like sleeping sickness that is over here. It is the latest of the shots given to us….Don’t name the baby Charles. We have enough of those in the family for now. What about Wilbur Clarence? (Little did they know Marge’s baby would be a girl!)”
November 1947 – “Thanksgiving Day was a big one for me as far as food was concerned. I never thought that they could get as much food overseas for one meal. It was more than we had in the states, and it was good. I had much rather be at home for the day. It is a good thing to know that I will be home for the next Thanksgiving Day. By the time you get this, I will have been in the Army for 14 months. Sue (Marge’s new baby) will be around 4 months old when I get home.”
December 1947 – “The package you sent came today, and I
don’t know how to thank you for it. The macaroons are really great and the fruit cake, I haven’t cut yet but I already know how good it will be. I’m glad Pete (his bird dog) is getting along all right with John Frank Miller. Hope he is healthy. He will hunt much better when I get home. He needs exercise, too.”
December 7, 1947 (Pearl Harbor Day) – “Dearest Mur and Dad, Six years ago today something happened when I was quite a young chap, and I have a feeling that it is responsible for my being where I am today (Japan). I have a lot to be thankful for as a lot of the boys who were involved in this deal never got to go home.”
January 1948 – “We went ice skating the other night, but it was hard going. It is so cold over here. I will be glad to get back to milder weather. I also went out to a Japanese golf course and played golf. A Lieutenant here in the company took me….Take care of everything back in the old hometown. Do the streets still roll up at 7:00? I heard a new movie theatre was coming on South Cotton next to the old City Hotel. It will be close to home.”
January 22, 1948 – “By the time you receive this, I may have already said goodbye to Japan. I’ve been here a year today. I can see myself now getting that last glimpse of Mt. Fujiyama. I’ll always remember the first one I had. If the weather is clear, I can have one good last look!”
January 23, 1948 – “One of the carpenters fixed a box to send the stuff home I had for the boys (nephews, Skip and Chris) and Sue (baby niece). Several ships are coming in, and it shouldn’t be too long before I go. We sail some time tomorrow and they say we are going to San Fran via Hawaii. The trip takes about 18 days in all. They hardly ever fly anyone to the states now. I had just as soon go on a ship for too many planes get lost.”
January 25, 1948 – “Without much notice, they told us we would get up at 3:30 a. m. to board the U. S. Army Transport O’Hara. The ship is supposed to be much nicer than the Victory I was on before. To be going back the other way makes me feel just as happy as I was sad then. This will be my last letter from the 10th for we will be on our way towards the states when you get this. I will try to wire you and will do my best. If they send us to Seattle, I will come straight home, but if it is San Francisco, California, I want to stop off and see Charlie Mathews (hometown friend). P. S. I went to church today. It’s been a long stay here, and thank God it’s over. ”
Let me add that Staff Sergeant Charles Brunson finally arrived home in late February 1948. He was reunited with the family, was thrilled to see his nephews and the new baby girl then six months old, and was even more excited to see his bird dog, Pete, who moped around during his absence but who perked up upon his return. Pete was taken good care of through mange and depression by friend John Frank Miller.
Charlie did go on to complete his education and received his degree in Business Administration at Auburn with honors (Cum Laude) in 1950 on the G. I. Bill after having married his hometown sweetheart Jonell Boyette in June of 1949. After working in the family bakery business for a few years followed by the birth of daughter Eva in August 1953, he enrolled in the University of Alabama Dental School in Birmingham in the fall of 1956 graduating in 1960 and receiving the DDM degree with honors having been presented the American Academy of Dental Medicine Award.
Charlie and Jonell returned to Andalusia with their family of five where he began a dentistry practice with Dr. Edgar Pugh King. Children Stephanie and Charles (Buzz) III were both born in Birmingham. Dr. Charlie Brunson retired in 1995 and was grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of the Andalusia area in his beloved hometown.
I am sure that many of you readers Remember When the King & Brunson dental office was located upstairs in the Henderson Building on Court Square. He and some other doctors later built the new Professional Center across from the Methodist Church in 1963 and the office was moved there.