I Promise You I’ll Be Home: Korean War Letters by Late L.A. Times Columnist Al Martinez - 11/11/21
Late Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez chronicled Southern California life for 23 years and was awarded three team Pulitzer Prizes and scores of other honors before his retirement in 2009.
Throughout his 20 months of service during the Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953, he served on the front lines and later was a regimental writer and war correspondent. During that time he wrote letters nearly every day to his wife Joanne.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m., onsite at the Pasadena Senior Center and simultaneously on Zoom, some of these extraordinary and eloquent letters will be highlighted during a free presentation by Sara Hodson, retired curator of literary manuscripts for the Huntington Library. The title of the presentation is taken from a line in one of the letters: "I Promise You I'll Be Home."
Members and nonmembers of the Pasadena Senior Center 50 and older are invited to participate in either event, no matter what their city of residency is. To register for this free event, visit www.pasadenaseniorcenter.org and click on Events, Clubs and Lectures, then either Online Events for the Zoom presentation or At the Center for the onsite presentation. Seating will be limited for the onsite event due to COVID protocols. Masks and social distancing will be required.
Martinez's letters bring to life the experiences of a 21-year-old U.S. Marine with an innate talent for storytelling who faced the brutality and dangers of the battlefield.
Here is an excerpt of a letter Martinez wrote to his wife April 15, 1951, from the front lines in Korea. The ellipses are his:
". . . I’m writing of a chipmunk scurrying suddenly through the leaves and bringing 40 men to a firing position, silent & listening . . . Of a flare lighting up the sky & of eyes staring into the blackness it leaves when it fades . . . I’m writing of nite and day, of life & of just existence & of death which is the inevitable for some who must fight a war . . . And I’m writing of men like myself, who love & watch & think, and who laugh at their misery because it holds a plot that no other writer has been able to top."
Joanne Cinelli Martinez passed away in April of this year not long after she authorized Hodson to make presentations about the letters.
"He was a young man discovering his literary voice and writing style," said Hodson. "Although he often was in mortal terror on the front lines, he still found a way to infuse humor into his letters home to his wife Joanne, sometimes adding quite lively pen and ink drawings at the end of letters that tied back to the content."
For more information about the Nov. 11 presentation visit the Pasadena Senior Center website or call 626-795-4331.
In addition to online classes, onsite events and other activities, members and nonmembers of the center are encouraged to visit the website regularly for a weekly blog, monthly magazine, COVID-19 updates for older adults and more.
The center, at 85 E. Holly St., is an independent, donor-supported nonprofit organization that has served adults 50 and older for more than 60 years. During the pandemic, doors are open Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for social services and other critical services for older adults in need, as well as limited occupancy for events and activities, the library, fitness center and computer lab. Masks and social distancing are required. Rooms are sanitized after each use.