Oh, well, it can’t hurt my birthday anyway.

I am posting a letter today which will be out of order with the other letters I have been posting. I just wanted to post in honor of my Father, Jimmie Lee Collester’s Birthday. If he were still alive, he would have been 80 years old today. Back in May 1955, he was stationed in West Berlin. His birthday fell on a Thursday, so it would have been just a regular day in the life of a soldier.

Letter postmarked: May 25 1955

 [Note Incorrect Date] Dec. 24, 1955

Dear Folks,

Well, it was nice here today. I haven’t got one thing to say. I’m listening to some of my records. The 1st Platoon went to the Zone today. “Dog” company (Co. D) all have “Mohawk” haircuts, even the Lieutenants, I hear. I did receive all of the money. I hope you are all well. I saw my AGCT test grade, it is only 103, but I guess it is okay. A lot of guys are lower by far. We go to the Zone soon, as I mentioned, so I hope it is nice & warm down there. On the 26th they have an inspection and I have guard at the service club. Oh, well, it can’t hurt my birthday anyway. It sure has been raining a lot here. It about half snowed.

Here are a couple of photos from this period;

One of him in his uniform:Jimmie Lee Collester in uniformIMG_1252

Here is the Service Club at McNair Barracks, where he may have been on guard on his Birthday:

All American Club, McNair Barracks, West Berlin
All American Club, McNair Barracks, West Berlin




Envelope Postmarked 1955 May 25




I must think Army to do Army

This letter was dated August 10, 1954. It really displays the home sick feelings my Dad had again. What is somewhat humorous about this, is that he insisted that nobody write since it will make it easier, yet he asked a question about whether they got his letter… which would require them to write in order to answer. Poor guy.

Here is his letter:

Enclosed is $10.00 $5.00  I did not need.

I got $20.00 the other day.

It will make it easier for me if you do not write. I must think Army to do Army so I don’t want to think of home.   J. Lee

(did you get letter?)


I have also come across his daily journal from this period!  This gives me more insight into his activities which perhaps he didn’t share with his letter recipients.

For August 10th He wrote the following:

We had small pox vac. and tooth check at dentist, and had photo taken for ID Card. Then saw picture on care of teeth. We had Chow & then we went to a church for an orientation on going to church. Then we got our M-1’s. (25-35-086)

I served food at counter again at dinner chow time. I was too sick to eat breakfast. (mostly homesickness)

So, you can see that he was very homesick; so much so that he couldn’t eat.

One other thing I noted from this journal, is that the Army emphasized going to church to the soldiers. I wonder if they still give “orientations on going to church” in the Armed Forces.


Home sick … way down inside.

Here is the next letter dated August 9, 1954. It seems my Dad was extremely home sick at this point. Perhaps visiting with his old friend Norm had contributed to the feeling. It was also interesting that he wanted to assure his parents that he’d never take up gambling. Perhaps this was against Army regulations, or just frowned upon by society at the time. Also noteworthy is that this letter was finally addressed to his parents and sister.

Page 1:

Mon 9, ’54

Dear Mother, Dad & Tiny,

I’m at a permanent for a while barracks now but I’d rather you didn’t write for a while, as I am very home sick and also sick way down inside. I sure miss everybody around there and my eight weeks are just starting. I saw Norm Sat. & Sun. for a while. I’m wondering how I’ll do. I hate this type of life, it’s so uncouth,

Page 2:

dirty and just plain nasty.

The other boys (most of them) are hard for me to visit with. Right now there is gambling going on in a corner bunk for dollars & stuff.

I am hoping that this does not worry you though, as I won’t do any such things. You will receive many letters from me, (as many times as I can write) but there is little time for this so I don’t know how many.

Your loving son, J. Lee






The weather is just plain crappy . . .

Here’s another letter addressed to Esther Brittsan. I haven’t a clue how I can find out the story behind this. Perhaps they were staying with Jim and Ann Collester for a time and Jimmie just decided to address the letters this way. Since Jimmie and the addressees are all deceased it would be difficult to ascertain. Apparently Jimmie Lee Collester, at this time, also did not enjoy the foggy coastal weather of California. The interesting thing is that he later moved to a not too dissimilar climate in Oceano, CA.




Written on Back of Env: “P.S. – I saw Norm today”


Letter Transcript:

Page 1:

Dear Bob, Esther & all,

Our Company is separated no as about 10 or 15 (I’m one) of us have to stay back from the Basic Training Station for K.P. Monday. (3:00 AM or so)

The weather is just plain crappy with fog, dampness, and cold breezes off of the ocean. I am still at the Induction center, or whatever it is.

I hope you are fine. It has no been hard for me to get up a 4:30 AM.

The chow is good and so are most of the officers, but I never will care much for this type of a life. The worst is yet to come though, in Basic. I am sitting out in front of my barracks (#2137) writing on my knee.

Page 2:

It is about noon and I am done with chow.

In the part of my company that left, were two of my best friends, John somebody and Clarence Smith. John is an ex-marine & ex-sailor and I sat up all night in his compartment on the train we came down on. We each had our own compartments with bed, toilet, sink, cabinets, air conditioning and so on. Smith reminds me so very much of Don Keeney, his face, stance and build, and even his voice. It was almost as he were here.

There are guys ranging from old ex-army boys to real found guys. I have met some real dumb guys. We got our Typhoid & tetanus shots, one in each arm at the same time and you couldn’t even feel ‘em. (until now) My right leg is sure sore around the ankle from my boot. I’ll be glad to get home now, no telling how I’ll feel in eight weeks. We got our Dog tags and $20.00 yesterday.

(Doodle?)   Love J. Lee







Dear Bob, Esther, & Sandy

After too much delay, here is another letter from Jimmie Lee Collester while in the Army. Again, this one is interesting in that it is directed to his Aunt, Uncle and ‘Sandy’, yet the letter is sent to his parents’ street address.


Letter Transcript:

Page 1:
Aug. 4, ’54

Dear Bob, Esther, & Sandy,
Just a line to let you know everything is fine. I’ve kept pretty busy but the food and officers are good. We get up at 4:30 A.M. It is not bad though. It is damp and cold here morns & eves.

(Left Margin)
Boy! We’ve got clothes galore, a whole duffle bag so full, I don’t know what I’ll do with the ones I’m wearing.

(Right Margin)
My main objection is the strictness. Do not write until I send you permanent address.

Page 2:
  The food is good but you’re so hungry you eat anyway. My two so-to-speak buddies are veterans, one from Korea in 1952 or so, and the other, once a marine, a sailor and now in the army. I did not sleep much on way down and was tired first day. (it dragged too!)
I did a little K.P., (Voluntary) today. I’m pretty lonesome and will be glad to get home, I have no idea what it will be like in 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, we get 2 weeks off, then 8 more weeks of advanced training.

(Right Margin)
Will send address later, J. Lee

Letter Images




You’re in the Army Now!

Here’s the first piece of mail which was received from my Father when he was inducted into the Army. It was a pre-printed postcard which the soldier simply filled out to be sent home. Interestingly, this was not addressed to my Dad’s parents, but rather to his aunt Esther.

Transcript Below:

Aug 3 1954

I have arrived safely at Fort Ord, Calif.  During the next few days I will be given tests that will determine my assignment and the type of training I will receive. To avoid possible error in delivery of mail, please wait until I inform you of my assignment and address before writing.

Fort Ord, California.



Letters from J. Lee – a new project

Box of Letters from J. Lee
Box of Letters from J. Lee

I have begun the process of cataloguing, transcribing and scanning a series of letters which my Father, Jimmie Lee Collester, wrote during his time in the US Army during the 1950s. I hope that my family members will enjoy reading these, as well as anyone doing research for Historical reasons.

If you have a stash of letters from someone who was in the US Military; before you throw them out, consider donating them to an archive for people studying this subject. One such Archival Project is The Legacy Project (located on the web at www.warletters.com). If you’ve done interviews with family members or other Military Vets, you can contribute transcripts and audio to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (Online at www.loc.gov/vets/).

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