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Sleeping on Rocks

11/11/2014:

Vernon Ellingson was born in Bismarck on October 8, 1912. By the time he was a year old, his family had moved to Grand Forks. In 1923, Vernon’s father Adolph ordered a Sears Roebuck house plan and built the home of his dreams. The family had to live for a time in the garage while the house was built – a house that still stands today.

Vernon’s childhood was a happy but ordinary one. The family took frequent road trips, often going to Minnesota for family reunions. Vernon enjoyed sports and was named class athlete in high school. After graduation, he worked in the book-binding department of a printing company. Then Vernon received his draft notice in February, 1942. He reported for duty the following month. The owner of the printing company gave him a box of engraved stationery, postage stamps, and a ten dollar bill. His coworkers gave him a pen and pencil set.

The Grand Forks Herald reported that hundreds of friends and family waved good-bye to 40 Grand Forks men, including Vernon, as they boarded a train for Fort Snelling. Vernon wrote his first letter home on March 21, 1942. He put the stationery and pen to good use as he continued to write regularly.

Vernon’s letters offer insight into the mind of a young man away from home for the first time and on his way to war. On this date in 1943, he wrote home from Camp Granite in California. He told his mother that they were eating beans, beans, and more beans. He explained that “We have been sleeping on rocks, sand, and any old place.” He told her he was getting along fine and urged her not to worry. He added that he was going to appreciate civilian life when he returned.

In 1944, Vernon shipped out for Europe. He participated in D-Day, and wrote to his mother on June 10th, only a few days after landing. He gave his return address simply as “France.” He continued to write home throughout the rest of the war. Finally, on May 7, 1945 he wrote that the day they all had been waiting for had arrived. The war was over. Vernon came home in October after his honorable discharge, and his letters survive as a valuable legacy from a World War II veteran.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Blis, Joy V., Rosanne E. Bliss, and G.L. Dybwad eds. Pitching My Way Through World War II: Letters Home to North Dakota. Albuquerque: The Book Stops Here Publishers, 2010.

Grand Forks Herald. “40 Men Leave for Army.” March 21, 1942.