Saturday, February 23, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

     Every soldier  wonders about his first time under fire. All my life I've wondered what my sensations would be, how I should act.  My great hope was that I shouldn't run if ever I was fortunate enough to be actually under enemy fire. Here we were in that position at last. The sensation was a peculiar one. We didn't run, we were not afraid. It all seemed so impersonal, not meant for us. The sensation to us was one of joy and intense interest. Milliken said: "They can take away our rank, they can send us home, and take everything away from us, but they can't take away this experience." We really were delighted. Soon our delight was tempered with a bit of nervousness, for it seemed the boche had planned to send some more things our way.
     The Dead! It is no more than your duty to read of the things that are not nice about war. You give your money, your comfort, your sons, brothers, husbands, sweethearts; you sacrifice for us, pray for us; you support us as you should; but you are thousands of miles from the mental and physical suffering and a million miles from the truth. You don't know what war is! You haven't a conception of it. All the stories, lectures and pictures of war in the world would not give you an idea of it as it actually is. To realize war you have got to see it and get the stench. You got to see the dead bodies and mutilated bodies and smell the stink.
     The stink! --the "atmosphere" of a battlefield a day old! A battlefield--scene of a battle--is glorious, inspiring, like any great display of power, like the heavens at night when a fierce, ragged-jagged electrical display shatters the sky and shakes you where you stand or sit, partly fearful, partly in awe. But a battlefield after a battle; before there has been time to bury the dead, or when the burying squads are out dumping the dead Huns in shell holes and covering them in their machine gun pits, and making an attempt in handling the bodies of Americans as gently as they would like--it's after that one realizes something of war.

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Château Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $29.95.Winner of three National Book Awards, Available at bookstores everywhere.

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