Phi Kappa Psi Mourns the Loss of Elma Letterman
Elma Letterman, widow of the grandson of Phi Kappa Psi co-founder William Henry Letterman and mother of the great-grandson, died March 18 at age 95 at her home in La Luz, New Mexico.
Her nursing career spanned over 50 years, a period which included service in the Navy Nurse Corps in the Pacific during World War II. She was a flight nurse in a very small and elite unit of highly-trained and brave specialist volunteers who routinely flew in and out of combat zones -- rare duty assigned women. She and the other members of her unit later would receive a Presidential Unit Citation for their service.
For that distinguished service, she was chosen last month as the first recipient of the newly-established Phi Kappa Psi Military Recognition Medal for those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. "Nothing could be more in line with the values and character of the men of Phi Kappa Psi" than to select Elma Letterman as the first recipient of the medal, said Phi Kappa Psi National President A. Scott Noble, Texas '81, Feb. 18 in announcing her selection.
She also received Phi Kappa Psi's Ladies Silver Bowl in 1976, a national fraternity award presented every two years at the Grand Arch Council to recognize the contributions to the fraternity by a special "Phi Psi Sweetheart." It sat on her dining room table where she could see it every day.
She was born Elma Belle Allen in Monroe, Louisiana, Dec. 20, 1919. The family traces her history in the U.S. to John and Priscilla Alden, he a crew member on the historic voyage of the Mayflower and she a passenger with other members of her Mullin family.
As a young woman, Elma trained as a secretary before being licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN). After enlisting in the Navy Nurse Corps, she would fly into what had been Japanese air bases as soon as the Marines had taken and secured them, to evacuate the wounded. The danger included her once diving into a trench next to an airfield during a kamikaze attack.
She was based in Guam after it was secured and where casualties were first brought to its field hospital. She then would fly with wounded to Hawaii and also served on flights from Honolulu to Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland, California. As the war ended, she flew into recent war zones to evacuate recently-freed prisoners of war who required medical attention.
After the war, she worked with her Phi Psi husband, Dr. Gordon Sparks Letterman, Missouri '38, and managed his office. She ended her medical career upon her husband's retirement. He died March 26, 2001, at age 86, concluding their marriage of 54 years. Dr. Letterman was recognized last month as the second recipient of the new Military Recognition Medal. His and his wife's awards will be presented to the Letterman family.
While still in her early 90s, she continued "feeding her backyard full of birds and turtles, was very active in her church, and walked a mile first thing in the morning to get her day going," said her son, Gordon Roscoe Letterman, West Virginia '72. "She also loved to hear from Phi Psis."
She was a good friend of "Mr. Phi Psi," Ralph D. (Dud) Daniel, Arizona '47, longtime Executive Director of Phi Kappa Psi and frequent presence at Phi Psi events throughout the country until his death in January 2011. "She would always call him on Founders Day, his birthday, holidays, and sometimes just to chat," Gordon said, adding with a smile, "She's the one who saw to it that regular checks went out from my dad and me to the Fraternity."
Survivors include her son, Gordon Roscoe Letterman, his wife, Ellen, two granddaughters, Elyscia Belle and Laura, and five living brothers and sisters.
The family plans private services this fall, at a date to be determined, at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New. Mexico, with internment next to her husband's grave.
In lieu of cards and flowers, the family requests any donations be made in her name to the Eternity Baptist Church of which she was a member, located at 1205 25th St., Alamogordo, N.M. 88310.