Fact Check

Marine's Letter Home

A farm kid's humorous letter home describes life as a Marine.

Published Mar 24, 2006

A farm kid's humorous letter home describes life as a Marine.

While the urban legend genre features a better-known "daughter's letter home" from a young lady informing her parents of certain difficulties experienced at college, this less-traveled item has its own special charms. In particular, it positions its female correspondent as a wholly empowered individual, something highly unusual in the realm of contemporary lore, where women are usually either victims or sexual prizes. Backwoods though she may be, the farm girl who became a Marine is frighteningly competent in her new career, her farm-acquired skills proving a perfect match for those required in boot camp.

We first encountered the "Farm Kid's Letter Home" in December 2002, when it was posted to a handful of newsgroups. It circulates under a variety of titles, including: "Letter from a farmer, now at Camp Pendleton," "Letter from a farm kid, now at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Training," "Letter from a West Virginia farm kid, now at Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot," and "A farm kid writes home from Camp Lejune, N.C." The letter writer's name changes too — we've seen sign-offs of Emma Lou, Betty, Mabel, Gail, and Alice.

Yet the item is far, far older than its Internet pedigree would indicate. It has also appeared within the pages of a 1952 collection of Saturday Evening Post offerings. In that version (which is almost word-for-word the same as what is circulating online more than fifty years later), the soldier signs off as "Zeb," a gender shift that alters the humor of the piece.

The postscript adds a further element of humiliation to the tale, especially in the online versions that present the young soldier as a girl — not only is a female recruit showing up the tough guys on the training course, she is also emasculating them in their male-oriented leisure pursuits.

While the joke can be read as a disdainful "they're not so tough" dig at the Marines or as "country versus city" chest pounding, it better serves as a general homily expounding upon the view that hardship is more a matter of perception than anything else. In this, it is akin to another widely-circulated bit of lore, "Grandma's wash day."


Bailey, John.   Post Scripts.     Philadelphia: Macrae Smith Company, 1952.   (pp. 190-191).

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