Elsie Fletcher Caldwell: Cultural Officer with the U.S. Information Service, U.S. Department of State
Elsie Fletcher ‘38 served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Japanese language officer translating messages during World War II. After the war, she worked in Korea “doing propaganda work for the U.S. State Department. We were telling Korean people, newly liberated from the Japanese, that democracy was a better form of government than communism.”
“As an officer with the Office of Civil Information, I had charge of a train that toured the country for six months, putting on outdoor movies before crowds of five thousand people. The train consisted of a kitchen and dining car, a pullman, a baggage car, and three flat cars on which were loaded a 2 ½ ton truck and a couple of jeeps. In the daytime I made speeches, generally standing on the hood of the jeep in the middle of a market place, distributing literature and at times cooperating with a public opinion polling team.”
Elsie Fletcher had been raised in Korea, as the child of missionary parents. While she was with the State Department, she was assigned to be John Caldwell’s assistant. Caldwell was told at the time, “She is a good worker, but a missionary’s daughter and terribly anticommunist.” The couple were married in 1949.
In May of 1950, and expecting her first child, Elsie was struck by a bullet on the grounds of the Presbyterian compound. On the day she was shot, two little girls were playing in the compound yard. “To this day, I have no idea where the shot came from. At first, I thought a child had thrown a rock and hit me in the hip. Quickly, I knew it hurt too much for that. I looked down and there was blood coming from my hip. I called to the girls to run and tell their mother I had been shot. Their mother said I couldn’t have been shot. The police chief came and the Republic of Korea Army got into the investigation.” A friend of hers, the wife of a missionary, was less fortunate. “A man came to her door and blasted away with a shotgun, killing her.”
The next month, June of 1950, North Korea invaded. Kimpo Airport at Seoul was strafed as Elsie and John were being evacuated. Their plane, which kept its engines running while they hurriedly boarded with their one suitcase, got away under the protection of fighter planes overhead.