Letters home turned into memoir of war Veteran uses diary, notes to describe time in Korea

November 10, 1995|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

During his 13-month tour of duty in the Korean War, retired Sgt. Boris R. Spiroff endured the dangers of shrapnel, bullets and bone-chilling cold by exchanging letters with his wife back home in Baltimore.

"They kept me going," the 75-year-old Severna Park resident said from his home on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. "Every time I got a picture or letter from her, it made me feel like I was that much closer to her."

His letters are now the basis for "Korea: Frozen Hell on Earth," Mr. Spiroff's recently published memoir of war. It combines his memories of combat with excerpts from a small diary he kept during the war and the 35 letters and postcards he wrote to his wife, Catherine, during his stay in Korea from September 1950 to October 1951.

The book is being sold at Shepherd's Nook, 558 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. in Severna Park.

Mr. Spiroff, a 25-year Army veteran, said he had always wanted to write about his experiences, but didn't feel comfortable only relying on his hazy memory.

After his wife died of breast cancer at age 65 in 1990, Mr. Spiroff began the ordeal of throwing away her clothes and shoes. When he opened one shoe box, he found the letters he had sent Catherine.

"I was elated," Mr. Spiroff said of the find. "I didn't know she had kept them."

The book recounts Mr. Spiroff's triumphs and tragedies during 13 months of hard fighting with G Company, 2nd Battalion, First Infantry. He went to the front lines immediately.

For more than a year, he witnessed more tragedies than triumphs. U.S. soldiers would capture a critical piece of land, only to relinquish it within hours. On Nov. 1, 1950, Mr. Spiroff's platoon was forced to retreat from the town of Unsan -- less than 24 hours after they had secured the village.

Mr. Spiroff also saw some of his best friends die. On Feb. 14, 1951, his 31st birthday, he saw Sgt. William Ford get shot in the head. About a month later, Cpl. Jerry Riggs was killed in action.

In one letterMr. Spiroff wrote, "It's so depressing to see anyone killed, especially when they are close to you. It seems as if all the good ones are the first to go."

Chilly rains, snow and frozen mud made life almost unbearable for the American soldiers. Mr. Spiroff sought solace in his letters.

"Honey, I'm so sick of shooting and fighting," he wrote from the battlefield on Oct. 18, 1950. "I'm just plain tired of it all. As much as I hate the North Koreans, I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I pull the trigger."

As Mr. Spiroff looks toward Veteran's Day, he said the observance and the book should remind people about the horrors of war.

"I want people to realize what war is about," Mr. Spiroff said. "We should not be involved in another nation's problems without justification."

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