A scrapbook’s tale – a brother, an Islander, and death far from home

This photo and the following caption appeared in the Boston Globe: Bay State Marines Rest After Iwo Battle. After three and one-half days of continuous battling against the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of Tokyo, these heroic Marines take a well-deserved rest. They are c, members of Company C, Ninth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division. — Photo courtesy Yvonne (Berube) Sylvia

On the cover of a large blue scrapbook, there is a piece of tape, on which Yvonne (Berube) Sylvia wrote: “Brother Edmund J. Berube. Born August 18, 1918. Killed March 3, 1945.”

On the inside title page Mrs. Sylvia inscribed, “In loving memory of a loving brother.” There is a large valentine, with a felt heart and bow reminiscent of a simpler time, pasted on the facing page. “From your son in the service on Mother’s Day,” the valentine message reads. Mrs. Sylvia’s brother signed the valentine, “Love Edmund.”

The book, its pages frail and yellowed over time, contains photos, letters, documents and clippings Mrs. Sylvia assembled to preserve the memory of her brother and to document his accomplishments. At this it succeeds admirably, but the scrapbook also provides a glimpse of Martha’s Vineyard and the ways in which the war years affected Islanders.

By all accounts, Edmund Berube was a gifted athlete who excelled at track and basketball. Beneath a team photo of the 1935-36 Edgartown School basketball team is the notation, “won 14, lost 3, won trophy.”

His high school report card for the same year shows a curriculum of six subjects: U.S. history, civics, chemistry, gymnasium, music and citizenship. He did well.

He entered the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in the spring of 1941. Various photos show him on the streets of Boston with fashionably dressed young ladies and with classmates, including his roommate Raymond Gosselin of New Hampshire, who later became the president of the college of pharmacy.

The scrapbook contains 15 letters Mr. Berube sent to his sister between the time he arrived in the Pacific and landed on Iwo Jima with the Third Marine Division. The first envelope is dated October 7, 1944, the last, February 15, 1945.

The letters all have a return address of “somewhere in the Pacific” and are signed, “your loving brother.” The letters are remarkable for the sense of the ordinary they convey.

Mr. Berube often wrote about news from home and how much he looked forward to a return to the normalcy at home. In one letter he worried that his many nieces and nephews would not recognize him.

“How is your social life coming along these days?” he wrote on October 12, 1944. “I sure wish I could be with you to help you entertain a bit. That night life would sure be a help to my pent up spirits.”

Day to day Island life – who had married, the arrival of babies, holidays – meant something special to Mr. Berube as the months of separation passed by. And although he never mentioned a particular woman, he looked forward to the day he would marry and raise a family.

Islanders seem to have a knack for bumping into each other, no matter where they are in the world. In a letter dated, December 20, he wrote, “You remember Frank Noyes from Oak Bluffs, graduated in 1942. Well, he is here in the same battalion with me and a pharmacist’s mate also. We can have our arguments, like when we played basketball against each other.”

Mr. Berube was with Marines who had already had experience fighting the Japanese. If he was worried or concerned because of what he had learned and consequently what he might expect, he never shared such anxious thoughts with his sister.

As he celebrated the New Year in the Pacific, his letters became more somber. “Here we are starting on another year, and many new things are to be given to the world,” he wrote on January 1, 1945. “We will just go along almost the same as before life changed a bit, but behind it all our thoughts are to be back together. The New Year for me was a decidedly different affair than was the previous one … Of course, I was still what people look upon and call a civilian. Ella had eyes for Alvin, but he had eyes elsewhere. Ella, Pauline, you and Betty were a little more indulgent than the rest of us and I do believe just a trifle on the silly side. But the fun did not last long enough, so here we are passing another [year].”

On February 13, five days before the first wave of Marines landed on the black volcanic soil of Iwo Jima, Mr. Berube sent his last letter to his sister. He criticized some of the movies shown to the troops but wrote not a word of the upcoming battle or nonstop bombardment of the island that he witnessed. He wrote about photos he recently received. “I really like your picture and also the one with Albert [her husband]. They really made me feel wonderful all over, it took me back to the days when you were in school in Boston and all the fun we had. That of course is one of the things we have to help us though blue days. I do not like to look back, but rather ahead to the future when everything can be done as you want and have your good times as normal humans. I hope some day I can walk into someplace out here and meet someone from Edgartown.”

He added a comment on some lively and current town gossip, offered some brotherly advice and a request for film for his camera. In one of his only comments on the war, he wrote, “Yes, the war news is very good, but still some way to go for a finish.” He ended, “Yvonne, I have really run out of words so will say so long for now. Regards to all. Your loving brother, love Edmund.”

Mr. Berube’s unit landed on Iwo Jima, on February 22. A Marine Corps photographer snapped a photo of Mr. Berube and a group of Marines soon after. The photo, carefully preserved in the scrapbook, appeared in the Boston Globe and was the talk of Edgartown.

On March 3, a Japanese sniper shot Edmund Berube as he went to the aid of a wounded Marine. He was 26 years old and one of the 6,800 servicemen killed in a battle defined by its unrestrained ferocity.

Mrs. Sylvia has pasted into the scrapbook a faded Western Union telegram, sent the family on March 15, 1945: “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your brother Edmund Joseph Berube pharmacists mate second class USNR was killed in action while in the service of his country.”

In the weeks that followed, the Berube family received many cards and letters, many carefully preserved in the scrapbook.

One letter was written on Marine Corps stationary and dated April 18, 1945. The writing is badly faded, but the sentiments are indelible.

“Your son, Edmund, served as one of my corpsman in the first battalion Ninth Marines,” Frank K. Johnson wrote to Mrs. Berube. “He did a fine job for us. I thought you might like to hear from one of the doctors he worked for. All of us liked Ed, and we miss him too.

“A little more of the details about his death may help to ease a little of the pain that I know you now have. A Japanese sniper killed him instantly as he was crawling over a stone to help one of his buddies. He was seen almost immediately by another Corpsman and was already dead.

He is buried in the Marine cemetery on Iwo Jima.

“As a tribute to him his fellow Corpsmen chiseled out a little monument of stone and placed it on his grave.

“My sincerest sympathy goes out to you and yours in this time of bereavement.”