Monday, March 3, 2008
AEF Doughboy in Battle
Continuing Hervey Allen's memoir Toward the Flame:
"Here we again ran across some of the 26th U. S. Division. At that time they had seen so much more fighting than we, that they seemed veterans, by comparison. Their clothes were in very bad shape, the set expression of their faces, and their small platoons advertised what they had been through. They sat along the roads and told us stories of the fights and recounted details of their losses. I thought it disheartening for our men, but the "Yanks" did not seem to feel that way about it. They held an absolutely fatalistic viewpoint, telling us we would never get through the game. "Wait," they said, "wait." Later on I understood. There was a great pride about these fellows.
Men who have faced death often and habitually can never again have the same attitude towards life. It is hard to be enthusiastic about little things again. The fact is that everybody is soon going to die is a little more patent than before. One sees behind the scenes, the flowers and the grave-blinds, the opiate of words read from the Good Book, and the prayers. For there is Death, quiet, calm, invincible, and there is no escape. Yet there are compensations.
For instance, one loses one's horror of the dead themselves. They have so patently lost all personality, and to the soldier, the process of their incorporation with the mineral kingdom is a visible one. Earth is claiming them again. It is my honest opinion, a very humbleone, that the sight of battlefields must always be a great blow to the lingering belief in personal mortality. The least that can be said is that the subject was never mentioned by any one, contrary to the statements of religious enthusiasts and the stock cant of journalism.
There is no man who is so totally absorbed by the present as the soldier. It claims all his attention and he lives from moment to moment in times of danger with an animal keeness that absorbs him utterly. This is a happy and saving thing. With time to brood, conditions would often seem intolerable. To the soldier, now is everything. It is in the piping times of peace and leisure that a man has had the time to afford himself the luxury of an immortal soul. When the present world is not engrossing enough, we begin to ponder on another."