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Elmer F. Kern, Jr. papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 394

Scope and Contents

The Elmer F. Kern, Jr. papers contain more than four hundred and fifty letters, including twenty-four v-mail letters, written to and from Kern and loved ones. In his letters to family members and friends, he describes his life in vivid details from when he was a student at Purdue University, from his different assignments in the Air Corps, and until his death in Germany. His letters show the different envelopes represent the numerous places he has been with different sender addresses and types of envelopes. This collection also features many letters from the War Department regarding his death. The family were notified about his death via wire but were not told any details, so a lot of these letters are from people passing along their information to people they knew had a direct connection to him, such as the chaplain who baptized Kern and was at his funeral. Several areas of the War Department reached out to them, such as the General Accounting office about his life insurance payments to his parents and the Effects Bureau about his personal items. Also included are several of his medals and pins from his time in the military as well as a few as a Purdue student. Also featured are several of Kern's items from his time at Purdue and in the military such as a 1945 auto license for his Studebaker, a certification of membership card from the American Red Cross, grade reports, and an autographed potrait from Ann Blythe, amongst other items. There are also photographs of several subjects such his fellow fraternity pledges, him in his uniform, and a couple from his time in Rouen, France, amongst many others.

Kern's descriptive letters gave an insight to his days as a son, a brother, a nephew, a Purdue student, and as a soldier in World War II.


  • 1938 - 1945


Access Information

The collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Copyright held by Purdue University or original creator. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

Second Lieutenant Elmer F. Kern, Jr. was born March 22, 1923 in Colorado. His family, parents and one sister, moved to Maywood, Illinois, where he attended Proviso High School and graduated in 1940. Then, he went to Indiana to attend Purdue University. While at Purdue, he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, was in ROTC, and played trombone in the Purdue orchestra. He was inducted into the military on February 17, 1943. He graduated from Purdue University in 1943 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and he became active in the United States Army Air Corps and his unit was the 365th Field Artillery Battalion, 97th Infantry Division.

He was at several military installations. First, he was at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana on September 6th and 8th of 1943. Next, he was at Fort Sill in Oklahoma until January 7, 1944. Then, he was at Camp Roberta in California. In a telegram to his family, he tells them he received new orders to Camp Beale in California on February 1, 1944 and remained at Camp Beale until April 1944. Then, he was at the liaison flying school in Pittsburgh, Kansas until August 1944 until he went back to Fort Sill in Oklahoma until November 1944. Next, he was at Camp Cooke in California until February 1945. At this time, his family moved to Van Nuys, California from Maywood, Illinois. He then received orders to go overseas to aid in World War II. He was around the New York area February 14th and 16th of 1945. Then, he went overseas to France, presumably around Rouen, France according to the photos sent by Lieutenant Willis Schalliol. In his last dated letter to his family that was dated April 6, 1945, he tells them that he was now in Germany. He flew a Piper L4-J “Grasshopper'' over France, Belgium, and Germany. In a letter written by his mother to her brother Weldon (featured in his collection), she stated that Elmer wanted to be an artillery officer to which was refused by the superiors, and instead asked for volunteers for cub plane pilots. His mother called them “suicide pilots”. He volunteered for this role. Lieutenant Kern was shot down and killed April 10, 1945. In a letter from the war department that is included in this collection, it was described that he was participating in an aerial flight over enemy territory as a pilot of a Field Artillery liaison place and his mission was to secure information regarding enemy installations and relay that information to the Field Artillery which in turn directed fire on those locations. Before he was shot down, he was able to secure and relay this information along, thus destroying important enemy installations. He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously at 22 years old. Once his parents and his sister, Ruth, received the news about his death and all of his items from overseas in a trunk, they stored it in the garage, where it is was never opened again. Ruth vowed to honor her brother’s death. She never married or had children and instead spent her life working and saving her money. Upon her death, it was discovered that she saved 2 million dollars in honor of her brother, Lieutenant Elmer F Kern Jr. She bequeathed half of that to Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering department, thus establishing the Elmer F. Kern Jr. BSME 1943 Memorial Scholarship, honoring him through helping other students pursue their education. Second Lieutenant Elmer F. Kern, Jr. was originally buried in Germany, but his final resting burial site is in Greenwood Memorial Park in San Diego, California.


3.344 Cubic Feet (Seven manuscript boxes and two flat boxes)

Language of Materials



Materials are arranged into seven series that are categorized by material types.

Physical Access Information

Materials in this collection are fragile as they remained in their original envelopes and should be handled with care.

Custodial History

Ruth Kern originally had the materials. Upon her death, her estate donated the materials to Purdue University. the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Acquisition Information

Materials were received from the School by the Mechanical Engineering on January 31, 2012.

Processing Information

All materials were rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes. Rubber bands were removed and letters remain in their original envelopes. Newspapers were unfolded and placed in appropriate sized folders. Photographs were placed in protective plastic sheets.
Elmer F. Kern, Jr. papers
In Progress
Emily Jones
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Second edition.

Revision Statements

  • 2023-03-07: Addition 1 was located and added into the collection by Emily Jones. Series were added as well re-labelling.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States