Tucked away neatly inside a tin box, Joyce Blowers discovered a treasured piece of family history.
Shortly following her mother's (Caroline Frederika "Freda" (Hasstedt) Kruger) death in the mid-90s, Blowers found a collection of letters written by her her brother - Tom Kruger - among her mother's belongings.
The faded letters were from the time Tom was serving in the National Guard during the Korean War, and each one - more than 50 of them total - began with "Dear Ma" and ended with "Love, Tom."
Lower left: Joyce (Kruger) Blowers is pictured alongside her brother Tom.
An 18-year-old Tom in his Army best.
"My mother and Tom were very close," Blowers said. "Tom was proud of being in the service. He felt like he'd done his job and did the right thing."
Blowers, who has lived in Marshall for the past 35 years, has cooked for the Samuel Lutheran School in Marshall for 12 years.
Although Blowers knew she had uncoverd a precious gem when she found' her brother's letters, it wasn't until this past summer that she began to organize them in order to preserve their history.
"My mother knew she was dying and gave away a lot of her good stuff," Blowers said. "But I found those letters in her stuff. I kept them over the years. Finally this summer I started working on them. The kids won't know these things if you don't write them out."
During the summer, Blowers went through the letters, retyping them and organizing them into a binder. She has a number of notebooks, binders and photographs in her collection.
"When I started, I just wanted to type just the highlights of Tom's letters," Blowers said. "But I started reading them and they were so good that I typed the whole thing."
Tom served in the Army from Jan. 1951-Sept. 1952.
"Tom was 18 years old when he joined, knowing he would go to Korea," Blowers said. "He was in Company K."
J. Allan Johnson, a reporter for the Fairmont Sentinel, followed Company K and sent "Dear Mom" stories, including ones about Tom, back home to be published in the newspaper.
Johnson chronicled the time Tom, nicknamed "Step N' A Half" because of his marching, spent At Camp Rucker, Ala., for basic training.
Tom's first letter home to the Sherburn area, where he, Joyce and their five siblings grew up, was postmarked Aug. 20, 1951.
He was stationed in Fort Lawton, Wash., before being sent to Korea. On Aug. 22, Tom wrote about his first KP experience.
"It was the biggest mess hall I have ever seen," he said. "They feed 12,000 men a day. We had to peel 2,200 pounds of potatoes. We had a peeler so it wasn't (too) bad. Used 120 pounds of butter in one meal. There was 105 men on KP."
A week later, Tom tells his mother about getting nine or 10 shots in about five minutes, and that he had gotten his rifle.
On Oct. 4, Tom explains that he arrived in Korea.
"Right now, I am in a valley in the mountains of Korea, about 30 miles north of the 38th (Parallel) and about 5 miles south of the front line," Tom said. "It is sure nice weather, just like Minnesota."
Tom asks about pheasant and duck season back home in his Oct. 13 letter. He also spoke solemnly about being at Heartbreak Ridge, seeing a slaughtered family and about reading the Bible.
"Tom loved hunting," Blowers said. "One time, he went hunting with 12 bullets and shot 11 pheasants. His younger brother Jerry had 12 bullets and only shot one pheasant. He also did a lot of trapping when he was young. He wanted to be a farmer, and he loved his horses, too."
On Oct. 20, Tom was esstatic to receive his first letters from home and "felt like a new man."
In early November, family got word that Tom had injured his knee. On Nov. 7, Tom wrote of being moved to a hospital at Pusan.
"We're just about as far south as you can go," Tom said. "It's a Swiss hospital. All the doctors and nurses are from Sweden. They're a lot nicer than American people."
The Sentinel reported on Tom's injury in a Nov. 30 issue.
"Today they put a cast on my leg," said Tom in a letter postmarked Nov. 9. "It is from my ankle way up to the top of my leg. Sure is a big one. ... They told me today that I wouldn't be able to go up in the front line anymore."
Tom was extremely bored while recovering from his injury.
"I think I will have a 'trick knee' out of this," he said on Nov. 22. "But I sure hope not. I am getting sick and tired of being in this hospital. Nothing to do in the morning. At 7 o'clock, Bill, that's my buddy, comes over to my bed and tickles my feet till I wake up. Then we go to breakfast."
On Dec. 5, Tom sent word that he'd been sent to Japan.
Tom also sent and received letters from other family members. In a Dec. 16 letter, Tom writes to Blowers, asking if she knew whether or not some jackets he sent had arrived home yet.
Though it was tough being away from family for Christmas, Tom appreciated the correspondence from home.
"Today I broke my old record on mail," he said. "I got two boxes and 21 letters. Pretty good don't you think?"
In January 1952, Tom went back to Korea, but this time as a construction engineer.
"We build roads and bridges," said Tom in a letter postmarked Jan. 28. "I sure do like it here a lot better than the infrantry. Isn't so much boom and banging about."
In the spring of '52, Tom started thinking about life after the Army. He talks about wanting to farm and writes his dad (Alfred Kruger), asking about calves.
In June, Tom reports that he is helping the Army build POW (Prisoner of War) prisons.
Tom's last letter was written some time in August. While more than 33,000 Americans died in the Korean War, Tom came home to the Sherburn area after being discharged on Sept. 26, though Blowers said he was never the same.
"Tom got out of the Army and bought a new Chevy car," Blowers said. "He had three horses, a bull and five or six heifers. After awhile, he worked on a barge in the Twin Cites, going up and down the Mississippi River."
After working on the barge from about 1955-59, he married in '58 and moved to White Bear Lake.
"He had a daughter, Lisa," Blowers said. "He worked for about 12 years as a pilot bringing in ships to grain elevators."
In the spring of 1970, Tom told his family that he had leukemia.
"The barges carry a lot of refrigerated stuff and the chemicals from them spilled sometimes," Blowers said. "We think that's where he got the cancer."
Tom died April 13, 1971, at the age of 38. He was buried in Fort Snelling.
"I've heard that Indians cut off a finger when a loved one dies," Blowers said. "That pain would have been less than how I felt when Tom died. It broke my heart. My mother cried for three years. She had the table covered with his things and lit candles, grieving the whole time."
As she creeps upward in age, so does Blowers' determination in preserving her family's history. She especially wants to retain that history for her three children and grandchild.
In addition to Tom's legacy, Blowers has plans to write histories on her husband Roy, her father and possibly her mother.
"I've read two books about Korea, so I can relate to what Tom wrote," Blowers said. "But there's a lot that isn't in the history books."