Friday, February 1, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

     Allen, Hervey. Toward the Flame, p. 112. Allen's description of a delayed burying-detail is notable for its horror and absurdity, together with a detailed, understated narrative: "Lieutenant Glendenning and I took some men and went back to the 4th platoon trench. We took shelter halves and blankets and went through the ditch and picked up arms and legs and everything else. Some things we just turned under, and the most we buried in a great shell-hole. Then we pulled out the men that were smothered in the dirt; some were cut in pieces by the shell-fragments and came apart when we pulled them out of the bank. Lieutenant Quinn was so mixed with the two men who had lain nearest to him that I do not know yet whether we got things just right. We did not feel this so much at the time--you get numbed after a while." (p.49).
     Theodore Fredenburgh, Soldiers March: (New York, 1930), p.112. Fredenburgh describes the front-line, where "patrols skirmished amid the putrefaction of the valley":
     "On all sides lay great shell holes, half-filled with water. The chalky soil had been churned and rechurned until its vitals were spewed to the surface. Fragments of stained and rotten uniforms projected from the ground. The dirty bones of corpses reached despairingly from the soil that gave them no rest.
     On the floor of the valley a sickly stream flowed. Its banks of yellow mud looked slimy and unclean in the sun. As far as the eye could see the valley continued--a yellow, pestilent muck-heap.
     March, Company K, p.27:
     "The dog sniffed the air. He lifted his voice and howled.
     I got up, then,and put on my pack and a moment later Al joined me. for a moment we looked at the white wall, stil standing, and at the sacred picturee untouched in its place.
     Al walked over to the wall and stood regarding it curiously: 'why should that one wall remain?' he asked. 'Why should it be spared?'
     Then as he stood there adjusting his pack, and fumbling with the rusty catch of his cartridge belt, there came a tearing sound, and a sharp retort, and down fell the wall in a cloud of dust, smothering the heart from which flames weree ascending, and crushing him to death with its weight."
     Hervey Allen, in "Report to Major Roberts," (a novella) in It Was Like This (New York, 1940) combines irony, rhetoric, and objective action in still another vignette, set in the small French town of Crezancy:
     A battalion of Americans and a regiment of Germans had left their dead behind them. The place had been shelled into a shambles. Streets of empty and desolate houses with collapsed roofs and fronts ripped open, the contents gushing out of the doorways like vomit out of a dead man's mouth. The large church in the town square stood with one side cracked open, a large painting of Christ on the Cross looked out over the shivered roofs and gazed at the gentle works of his followers in the year 1918. In the courtyard of the town hall twelve abandoned horses, their eyes swollen shut with gas, milled about miserably and made bleating noises. Dick had them shot."

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