Letters of love endure

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Boxed in its tattered postage-due package, Lucy Baier's 60-year-old card remains a treasured keepsake of her teenage romance with her soldier.

Sent from San Francisco by Paul Baier before he shipped out for Korea in 1953, the oversized card with fabric detailing was one among hundreds of pieces of correspondence that provided a connecting thread between the 21-year-old soldier and his 17-year-old bride-to-be.

"I saved the letters he wrote to me, and later I thought, 'What am I doing with all those letters?' " she said, thumbing through a few photos and vintage greeting cards at her kitchen table. "But I didn't throw this (Valentine) away.

"I thought, 'I'll always keep that with my cedar chest things.' "

The card, signed "With love and best regards," in elegant penmanship, was purchased from a post exchange in San Francisco. Next to the card, a fading photo of several soldiers reminded Paul of the young Ellis County men who shipped out for Korea with him.

Most of the men, Lucy said, have died. She and Paul agreed he might be the last surviving member of the group.

But Paul brightened considerably as he picked up another photo from the pile.

"There's my keepsake from Korea," he said, indicating a photo of Marilyn Monroe he took during the war. "In '53, she had married Joe DiMaggio, and he went to Japan to teach the Japanese to play baseball.

"And she came over to Korea to entertain troops. A bunch of us managed to get a weapons carrier, it's like a 3รขÑ4-ton truck, and there were six or eight of us and we drove for hours, but we found the place."

Despite the quality entertainment, Baier had no interest in re-enlisting after his two years of service and returned to Ellis County.

"They begged us to stay in, but they took all the NCOs and they put a crowd of soldiers around us, and they tried to convince us to re-enlist," he said. "It wasn't my bag."

Lucy was attending Victoria High School during Paul's deployment. They married 58 years ago, the November after his return from Korea.

For 14 years, the couple ran a family dairy operation in Ellis County. They raised five daughters, Susan, Mary, Jane, Betty and Amy. Tragedy struck the family when Amy was killed in an automobile accident 23 years ago during her senior year at Victoria High School.

Paul and Lucy moved to Hays in 2008 after selling the farm in 2007.

"I told my neighbors, 'My cows are gettin' old. ... It's time to part company,' " Paul said with a laugh.

When asked if she had any marital advice for young couples, Lucy got right to the point.

"All I can say is, there is lots of trials and tribulations in a marriage, especially when you lose one of your children," she said. "It seems like you grieve in different ways.

"If you slide downhill, and the other one is going the other way, I can see why the marriage will not last."

But Paul was even more direct.

"Work hard," he said. "Support your family and get along."