Thursday, May 24, 2012

A World War II Soldier's Story

My novel, Guardians and Other Angels chronicles the lives of my maternal and paternal families of origin during the Great Depression and America’s early engagement in World War II. At its core, this is a true story, one evocative of porch swings and farm houses and barnyards and rural roads and people attuned to raw pure soul. However, I wrote it as fiction to accommodate interesting and historical events of the first half of the Twentieth Century, tandem events of the hard economic times and the war, events that in all likelihood did impact my ancestors directly, but have not been substantiated in family lore. In this way, I also filled in gaps and/or variances in family legends. In addition, writing it as fiction gave me license to illustrate the total complexities of the characters as I remember them to have been. Included in the book are transcriptions of authentic letters written by the principles of the story.            
          The launching of the book was to have occurred many months ago, but unavoidable glitches pushed back the date. I believe that all things unfold in their perfect time, often despite us, and now I see that nothing could be more appropriate than to have it make its initial public appearance in tandem with our country’s Memorial Day observance.
          The following is an excerpt from the novel centered on the Christmas holiday of 1941. Bob, the eldest sibling of my mother, wrote the letter in the piece while in military training camp in preparation for his several years in Patton’s Army during the war:

Ft. Knox, Kentucky
Dec, 24, 1941

Dear Mother: Will write to let you know I am well and hope you are all the same. I received your package and was glad to get it. I guess Santa Claus has come to me after all. Ha Ha. I got a package from Roma [the author’s mother], Mom. She sent a stationary pack and a towel set. I got a package from Dot [Bob’s girlfriend] too. She sent me a box of handkerchief’s and a nice pocketbook. All of the presents I’ve got are sure nice Mom, and that (B)ugler [a brand of loose cigarette tobacco] will come in handy. I can’t get it here at the canteen. I have been smoking (N)orth (S)tate [a brand of loose cigarette tobacco], since I came here. It rained all day yeasterday and most of the night last night. This place look’s like a young river. I’m not on duty today. I don’t guess we will have much to do till after Christmas. I may get to take three or four days off in January Mom. I hope I do any how. For when we get our basic training in here (3 mo.) we may be sent anywhere in the states, or to any of their possessions. We may eaven be sent to the Hawaiian Islands or the Phillipine’s. The German’s are kind of getting the worst end of it now Mom. They are being driven back on the 1000 mi. front [of the USSR].  And the U. S. A. F. brought down 30 planes the other day. Jap’s if I’m not mistaken. And they destroyed several sub’s. Winston Churchill has came to the U. S. to discuss a plan of Hitler’s early defeat the world over. I hope they get something definite worked out pretty soon. Hitler has taken supreme command of the German Army. I don’t think this thing can go on over a year or 2. Well to get back to more civilized things. Ha. You said something about what we would have for Xmas dinner. We decorated the mess hall all up yeasterday, and put up a tree and trimmed it. We are going to have turkey, pie, cake, and all the trimmings at dinner Xmas. So I guess we’ll have enough to eat. Well I was issued more clothes Mom. I’ve now got a locker, bed clothes, overcoat, raincoat, two wool uniforms, 2 suntan shirts & tie, 3 wool suits, underwear, 3 of cotton, 2 pr shoes, 1 pr overshoes, 6 pr socks, 1 combat suit, 1 pr gloves, 1 tent, 1 haversack, 1 first aid kit, 1 shell belt, 1 canteen, a mess kit, and toilet articles. Whew. Well I guess I’ll have enough to run me and there’s more to come. Tell the kid’s, dad and all “A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year”! So be good. Till we meet again. XOXO Your loving son, Bob P. S. Did Tom and Archie [neighborhood friends] get mail from me? Tell Bus [his sickly, younger brother] to take care of himself. ByBy

Although he told his family that he had borrowed the money, in truth Bob sold the stationery, the towel set, and other Christmas gifts he had received. In that way he raised the $20.00 required of him by the Army to get a four-day pass, and he went home for Christmas – surprising his family.
           As his younger brother, Bussy’s new fighting rooster, Ranger, named after the Lone Ranger, Bussy’s favorite radio character, coaxed the sun to rising with his ringing five-note greeting, and the cows bawled in the field as if in welcome to him, the gravel on the road leading to the farm of his parents crunched beneath Bob’s boots. At that hour, only his mother would be up; his father and his many brothers and sisters would still be sleeping. He adjusted the small duffel bag slung over the shoulder of his new Army-issued wool overcoat, and bent down to straighten the creases in the immaculate wool trousers of his spiffy new uniform.
          His mother had been right, it was bleak in Southern Ohio. There was an eerie mist hovering over the land, a fuzzy band of fog like a shimmering boa hugging the neck of the earth. As far as the eye could reach, dense bare trees, their feet cloaked in the mist, seemed lonely and unsupported, their jagged and raw heads, unprotected, piercing the top of the mist. The silver conditions of the morning seemed to mirror a shift that was occurring in Bob’s soul: an aloneness he was coming to know all too well; clear colors and details formerly sharp and contrasting, fading to gray and merging, transforming everything, often to unrecognizable states, a wary feeling of exposure to an ineradicably new life, where, not only his surroundings, but he was becoming unfamiliar to himself.           It had been difficult for him to articulate the specifics of the issues that were needling him, and part of the problem was directly tied to the impossibility of finding that voice in the environment where he was being trained to be a killing machine. Although in the beginning he had spoken with such bravado about being ready to go to any lengths to protect his country and family, as well as Dot, the girl he loved, as the reality of his being involved in the actual fighting approached, methods of killing and maiming and destroying that nobody on the outside of it could possibly anticipate or comprehend, his sense of purpose was becoming blurred, like that foggy landscape.
         Bob had naively played with the idea that he had a kind of affinity with the ways and means of war, for as a backcountry boy he was familiar with the natural cycles of birth and death of the animals on the farm, surrounding forests, and countryside. He had euthanized sick animals, shot hogs in the head in preparation for slaughter, and he knew guns, the feel of them in his hands, their kick against his shoulder, the real damage they did to animate and inanimate objects alike. Guns had long been a hobby for him, actually. In his creative mind, he had even begun to design guns. As a matter of fact, in his spare time at the training camp in Ft. Knox, Kentucky where he was stationed, he had made some rudimentary sketches of a canny little gun he planned to someday fashion out of a Zippo cigarette lighter.
         Hunting had been nearly a daily activity for him since his adolescence, and he was learning that his experience in that regard gave him a decided advantage over many of the other boys at Ft. Knox, town and city boys whose experience with guns extended no further than toy guns, or perhaps B. B. guns, boys who had never held real guns in their hands, or tracked down living prey in their sights, and once positioned in the crosshairs, squeezing the trigger, and killing that prey. But that nagging voice inside of him was urging him to pay attention to the fact that killing an animal was a whole other matter than bringing a human being to its death. Despite the fact of his believing in the necessity of the war, for after all Japan had attacked the U. S., and Germany had aggressed against his country as well, his being away from Ft. Knox for only a few hours now had helped him to see that he was wrestling with that moral dilemma, the first and most serious moral dilemma of his life.            His was a tender society that believed in goodwill toward all people. He had been taught that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” his fellow man and it constituted a basic tenet of his very soul. How am I going to kill another human being? he worried as he sauntered in his usual loping fashion toward the farmhouse. He decided he would try to find time to talk to his favorite preacher, Harley Ward about it before he returned to camp. Perhaps the man of God could help to lift the mantle of confusion weighing so heavily on Bob’s soul.
          Barely glowing from the moisture-streaked window closest to the cook stove in the kitchen of the farmhouse, was a sole low light. In the thick mist, a plume of white smoke billowed delicately, charging the air with the scent of wood smoke, a scent of home, and sparks in the smoke twinkled like stardust shooting from the chimney at the top of the peaked roof. As he neared the back of the farmhouse, he took note of its slick moisture-sodden clapboards. It was a house weeping from the melting icicles along its eves, weeping like those damp and lonely trees, weeping like the boggy fields, as if in an act of complicity, they collectively wept, as if the whole of nature and his home grieved an inapprehensible and ill-omened fortune laying in wait for him, his family, his girl, his country, laying in wait like the hidden land mines he would encounter on the beaches of Southern, Italy in the not too distant future. Shuddering like a threatened animal in the few minutes that passed, he worked at shaking off his paranoia as he entered the perpetually unlocked back door that opened to the kitchen.
          At the cook stove, her back to him, his mother stood in the arc of light from a kerosene lamp, her body noticeably weary as she bent to her duties of stoking her cook stove with her poker.  At the sound of his footfalls that she knew so well, but dared not believe were real, and visibly shaking with fear that they would prove to be products of her imagination, she turned to him. Her empty hand flew to her mouth to stifle her cry, and tears spilled from her eyes.
          The changes in his mother in just a few weeks took his breath away. It was as if the changes in him were manifestly reflected in her, as if by some means of osmosis beyond the natural connection between parent and child, his experiences and fears and bewilderments also were hers, only exaggerated and accelerated. She seemed already to have endured what he was facing; she seemed to have already passed through, and had been permanently altered by, the ravages of war: the superhuman demands on one’s body and heart and mind and conscience; the depleted stores of psychological reserves; the lifetime of recurring night terrors. In her rote movements as she had bent to stoke her stove, in her turning to him, and in her covering of her quivering mouth, a rigid choking anxiety afflicted her.
          He lowered his duffel bag to the linoleum-clad floor while concurrently she dropped her poker with a crash. That emptying of their hands was the prelude to the opening of their arms. As she swayed weakly in his embrace, Bob’s dilemma was erased from his mind. In that moment, his conscience split into two expedient parts, and in a reversal of roles, he became her personal protector. He knew then that to keep his mother safe, he would kill their enemies, and without hesitation, if not with relish, at least with the automatic precision of the professional soldier he was learning to be, and as grievous as they might be, he would live with whatever consequences his choice quickened in him…

I am very happy to announce that my novel, Guardians and Other Angels is currently available in hard copy and in eBook format at Hard copies are also available at all other booksellers on the web, as well as at

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations!! I intend to check it out! I have all my Grandfather's diaries from the 1920s to the 1960s and other materials, but what you've done seems incredible.