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Harry A. Berne letters

Identifier: RHC-119
In the collection are 292 letters and envelopes. 207 were written by Harry Berne and sent to his parents and sister in St. Louis, dating from 29 January 1947 to 11 September 1949, with a few significant gaps. 49 letters were written to Harry by his sister, Marie Berne, dating from 30 January to 19 April 1947; 17 letters were written to Harry by his parents, Henry and Marigold Berne, dating from 5 February to 15 April 1947. Finally, there are 19 letters written to Harry and other relatives from various high school friends and others, dating from 29 January to 20 July 1947. It appears that the letters sent to Harry while at Great Lakes Naval Training Center were all saved and brought back to St. Louis for safe keeping when Harry had his first furlough on 22 April 1947.
The contents of Harry's letters to his parents and sister give detailed descriptions of day-to-day events, including specifics of basic training, officers, barracks and camp, guard duty, drill, gunnery practice, new friends, meals, assignments, and leisure activities. He reassures his mother on a number of occasions that he joined the Navy not to escape from home life but to see something . Later, as he attends electronics school, he mentions classes and his test scores. Much detail is given about his stay on Kwajalein, including weather, description of the atoll itself and situation at the base, including construction, supply, barracks, and entertainment, the latter including performance of a play. In one of the later letters, Harry writes that after he is discharged from the Navy he may go into firefighting like his father, go to college, or enter the construction industry.
The contents of Marie's letters to her brother Harry reflect life in a large American city in the late 1940s. She asks questions about his training, new friends, food, living conditions, health, and the Navy in general. There are frequent mentions of her day-to-day activities, including work at the large St. Louis department store, Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney, that seems to include the training of new employees. She makes references to their father, Henry, concerned about his drinking binges which she calls "celebrations." Also mentioned are her social activities with a group of friends, including going to the movies, shopping, and other get-togethers.
The letters from Harry's parents echo the content of his sister's, with the addition of worries about his health, expressions of loneliness now that he is in the Navy, opportunities to attend Catholic religious services, and mention of the escapades of the family dog, Skippy.


  • 1947 - 1955
  • (bulk) 1947-1948


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research use.

Publication Rights

Copyright retained by original authors.


0.48 Linear feet (2 boxes)

Biographical Note

Harry ("Bud") Alexander Berne was born on 6 May 1929 in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents were Henry August Berne (1893-1986), a municipal fireman, and Marigold (Marie) Cella Berne (1888-1970); he had one older sister, Marie C. Berne (born ca. 1925) whom he calls "Sis." In 1947 the family resided at 3915 Burgen Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri; and as of May 2017 Harry A. Berne still lives in the family home.
Harry, a Boy Scout, attended Grover Cleveland High School which was located about a mile and a half from his house. He graduated in January 1947 and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an Apprentice Seaman. He underwent basic training at Camp Barry, Naval Station Great Lakes, North Chicago, Illinois. Following his basic training he was transferred to the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Ward Island, Corpus Christi, Texas on 19 May 1947 where he took courses in electronics. In October 1947 he was sent to Naval Air Technical Training Center at Memphis, Tennessee for further training. However, in March 1948 he was dropped from the radio/electronics school because of poor performance. After a brief assignment to Charleston, South Carolina, he was sent to Port Hueneme, near Oxnard, California in April 1948. In January 1949 Harry was stationed on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands at the U.S. Naval Air Base, where he was soon promoted to Petty Officer and Surveyor Third Class. He returned to the United States in September 1949 and was scheduled to be discharged in March 1950. His subsequent career, activities, and family life are unknown although it is likely that he remained in St. Louis.
Harry's father, Henry August Berne, was born in Missouri on 24 August 1893; he enlisted in the U.S. Army on 21 October 1918 and was discharged 3 April 1919. His parents, Anton Franz Berne (1857-1913) and Henrietta (1862-1947) emigrated to St. Louis in the early 1880s. Henry married Marigold Cella (15 April 1888-15 February 1970) who was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her parents were Alexander Cella (March 1859-April 1906) and Frances Cella (June 1863-?), and she had a younger sister, Carmen (1890-2 June 1975).
Marie C. Berne, Harry's sister, was born in St. Louis about 1925. No specifics about her life can be located other than she graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in 1943. It may also be surmised, on the basis of the last three letters from Harry to his parents in October 1955, that Marie was unmarried at that time.
Other correspondents in the collection include:

• Burns, Rev. John J. (1914-1980). Born in Iowa, he served in the U.S. Navy as a Catholic priest and chaplain, 1944-1960.

• Halliburton, John J. (1930-1987). Classmate at Grover Cleveland High School, St. Louis. He married Patti Lee Prosperito (see below) before December 1948.

• Hetherington, Arla (1912-1992) lived in Saginaw, Michigan and was the mother of Harry's friend, Carl Hetherington (see below) during basic training.

• Hetherington, Carl (born ca. 1930). Lived in Saginaw, Michigan and became friends with Harry when both were undergoing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

• LaLonde, Jerry (1933-2007). Lived in Saginaw, Michigan and was probably a friend of Carl Hetherington.

• Norwood, James Joseph (1931-1994). Classmate at Grover Cleveland High School, St. Louis. He married Pauline Massud (1932-2009).

• Prosperito, Patti Lee (1931-1995). Attended St. Elizabeth Academy (Catholic girls high school), St. Louis. She may have been a former girlfriend of Harry's. She married John Halliburton (see above) before December 1948, and later remarried Robert Carwell (1928-2003).

• Repetto, Caesar Paul (1875-1953). Marigold Berne's uncle, lately relocated to Los Angeles, California from St. Louis.

• Rietman, Joan Maxine (1932-2000). Classmate. She graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in 1950. She married Cletus Werner in 1952.

• Robinson, Janey (born ca. 1930). Unidentified. Possibly a classmate at Grover Cleveland High School, St. Louis.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Randy Clifford on eBay, February 2017.
Robert Beasecker
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Valley State University Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Seidman House
1 Campus Drive
Allendale MI 49401 United States