INT: But when you got official news..
FG: But official news that he was a prisoner of war did not come until December 1951.. is that right? Yes, 1951.
INT: Can we just stop there..
INTERVIEWER: This is continuation of the interview with Florence Galing and the tape number is 10483. Florence, can you tell us how long it took to establish that your husband had ceased to be missing in action and had become listed as a prisoner of war and please mention the phrase 'missing in action' when you tell me about it, alright?
FLORENCE GALING: He was missing in action officially by telegram, December 29th 1950 and it was in December.. actually December 18th, 1951 that the prisoner of war lists were exchanged and we found out officially that he was a prisoner of war. At that time, I was in New York. I had taken my son to New York for the holidays and decided that I would stay and it was while there that these prisoner of war lists were exchanged. It was a month later that I got my first letter from Bernie. It wasn't until then that we were told that we could write letters and we were given a specific address to write to. We were told to write only one page and not to send anything, for example. There was no nothing was set up to receive packages but I had my devious ways of doing things and I knew he needed combs and cigarette papers when he was in the field so I started including those in my letters. I'd send instant coffee -- George Washington Instant Coffee was available at the time, those little packets -- and I would put those in the letters. I also mentioned the cigarette papers. I also included fish-hooks. Bernie loved to fish and I knew he was on the Yellow River and I figured it would be Spring and he might enjoy fishing, so I went to this pawn shop near where I lived and asked if he had any fish-hooks and the man said 'well, yes what type of fish are you going to catch?' and I said 'well, my husband's going to catch the fish'. He said 'well, what type of fish will he be catching? Where is he fishing?' I said 'well, I don't know the kind of fish and he'll be fishing on the Yellow River!' (laugh) And he laughed but, you know, he really didn't have any concept of the war either and that was another thing. When that prisoner of war list was exchanged, people would say to me 'isn't it wonderful Bernie's coming home, isn't it wonderful!' and I would say 'yes, it is wonderful but I don't know where he is right now.' You know, it was months later and people were still thinking that the war was over and the prisoners would be coming home and everything would be hunky-dory again but it was another 2 years before anything happened there. The peace talks went on and on and on endlessly. At times I'd make preparations to go back to Texas, thinking that the war news was good and that peace talks were looking up and then they'd turn sour again and I'd stay in New York. I was in New York 18 months actually before I went back to Texas and I didn't go back to Texas until April of '93 '53, excuse me when I knew they would be coming home, when the first group of prisoners were exchanged.
INT: But before.. Bernie's name appeared in the lists, you spent a whole year not being quite sure whether he was missing in action or a prisoner of war or.. you just didn't.. can you remember how you managed to live through that time, what you.. were reflecting on, what was going on half way around the world?
FG: Well, I remember when the telegram came, we decided -- Bernie came from a very small town and his mother and Dad knew everybody I think -- when the telegram came, telling us that he was a prisoner of war.. I mean that he was missing in action, excuse me...
INT: (interruption) Tell us about how the news arrived that he was missing in action, when the telegram came, announcing that.
FG: When the telegram.. well, it was the 29th of December as I said, I had just washed my hair, had.. I've never washed it on a Friday again for 3 years but the the doorbell rang and this young boy delivered this telegram telling me that he was missing in action. It was a telegram from the Department of the Army and that was all the news they had at the time. As soon as the townspeople heard about it, we started getting huge bouquets of flowers. It was almost as if he had died. The people.. in, I guess, not knowing what to do or what to say sent flowers and it was more like a funeral than anything else and it rather upset me because I was happy that he wasn't killed, that this telegram had said 'missing in action' and not 'killed in action'. But that whole year was one of well, I was looking forward to having our baby, and he was born in March, young Bernie was born March 28th so actually the baby helped me through a lot of that year. I had him to think about but when I wasn't thinking of him, I was writing letters to Bernie not knowing if they would ever be delivered. I was… I don't wanna say very 'religious' but my faith really played a big part in carrying me through. I said a litany every night before I went to bed religiously I went to church religiously, I think everybody.. it was paying for every altar in the country. I just felt that was very important and that I think helped me through that year while he was missing and we didn't know where he was. It helped me through.. all of that continued even after I found out he was a prisoner of war because even though we had the prisoner of war lists and we knew he was in a camp, I never knew from day to day how he was doing. I never knew from letter to letter if he was alive. You know, so I always held out.. hope that he would come home but I never could say that he would come home I had that reservation about it. His mother, on the other hand, had so much faith. She said 'it will be God's will and I know he will come home' and I could never do that. I could never say that. I could always pray that that would be true but I always had that reservation that he might not come home.
INT: When you eventually got the announcement that he was a prisoner of war, was that a high point, with your reservations, that he.. was alive somewhere in North Korea?
FG: It was and it wasn't because I was at my sister's house and we were waiting to hear the names of the prisoners and Bernie's name.. it was 11 o'clock at night and I still had not heard Bernie's name so I went to bed in tears and his name came through about a half an hour or an hour later and my sister woke me up. But yes, it was exhilarating to know that he was in a camp and that he wasn't dead, lying somewhere in a field, you know, because that would have made him missing in action too. But the fact that he was in a camp somewhere and we knew that he was.. his name was on the current list, I had some hope, a lot of hope.
INT: How often did you write?
FG: I wrote every day and I will say, when the news got bad, I would be dejected and I couldn't write and I'm talking about the peace talks primarily because the peace talks went on so endlessly and at times the newspaper articles would reveal some terrible things, for example, the one time I read that we would sacrifice our prisoners of war rather than capitulate to the North Koreans. I wrote to my congressman, Congressman Javitz, you know, and I cut out the newspaper clipping and sent it to him and wanted to know 'is this true?' and he wrote back saying he had been to the State Department and they were sending me a letter to the effect that no, of course it wasn't true. They would nevsacrifice the prisoners. Another time, I read that the prisoners were gonna be transported to Russia so I wrotto Austin at the UN, Warren Austin was our UN representative, and he wrote me back, reassuring me that this would never happen, that it wasn't happening. So it depended on the news how often I wrote and how the peace talks were going but by and large, I'd say I wrote almost every day and in the two years that I wrote to Bernie, he received 24 or 26 of my letters. I always enclosed pictures and.. 60 pictures, and I received 20 from him in those 2 years.
INT: When did you get the first letter from him?
FG: It was in January of 1951, right after his name was exchanged as a prisoner of war, I received the first letter from Bernie and then subsequently there were more, not a lot, maybe one every six months. I did receive 6 letters at one time in June of '52 and they were written between March and May and they all came in together. But that was unusual.
INT: It must have been a very...
INTERRUPTION - CUT
INT: Florence, can you tell me when you first received a letter from your husband from North Korea.
FG: I received the first letter from Bernie about a month after he was listed as a prisoner of war and it was written at Christmas time and I think I received it about the 23rd of January 1952. Then there were subsequent letters which didn't come regularly, more sporadically than anything else. there were 6 letters that came at one time in June of '52, as I recall. Actually, they were the last ones I received before he came home.
INT: There must have been some very bleak and black moments during that entire time. How did you cope with that? Did you feel depressed?
FG: Oh, yes, I was terribly depressed. I mean, I think I cried everywhere I went. I'd sit in the car.. I'd drive somewhere and I'd be in tears. I'd go to church in the morning and I'd be in tears before I got there and I'd be in tears when I left. You know, it seemed like I cried everywhere. it would have been easier I think had I stayed in Washington State which is what I wanted to do. Bernie and I had talked about it and I had said 'I wanna stay near Fort Lewis. I felt that all news that would come back would be filtered through Fort Lewis and I had a lot of friends there, a lot of army wives who were left nurses whom I knew, and I thought if I had stayed there, I'd have that link, but leaving there and going to this small town in Texas where nobody really knew a war was going on they had sympathy for me but they really didn't actually know the day-to-day goings-on of that war. There was nothing to do, you know, there really wasn't anything to do. I had very few friends I knew my mother-in-law's friends of course and I did make a few friends, but there was no going to movies or going anywhere. I just didn't go anywhere. When I had the baby, he took up most of my time and fortunately for me, I had him because if I didn't have little Bernie, it would've been terrible. I don't know how I would have coped really because, as I say, he took up most of my day, my thoughts were mainly of him during my waking moments and when he was asleep, I would think of his Dad (laugh) and I would usually write a letter when he was sleeping 'cos that was the only time I had to myself. I even moved out of Mrs Galing's home into a small attic apartment which I thought I would fix up for Bernie whenever he came home but we never went back there. He never went to that apartment. I kept it all the time I was in New York but before we went back to Texas a friend found a house for me near her and I moved to this little house that was furnished and went back so that I could fix it up for Bernie, but to say I never really did anything that I can recall other than take care of my little son.