Topic: World War II
In the effects of my late grandparents I found a copy of a letter written home from the war in 1945, and apparently typed up and distributed by his wife to friends. His identity is lost, but he signed his name Earl, and his initials are ETR. The letter expresses a cynicism fostered by being on the front lines of battle in the "real" war, brutalized and traumatized by the experience, even in "The Good War."
"They pay us $10.00 more per month and write a lot of Glorious crap about the battles won and lost. Crap about the beautiful places we get to see, all the pretty girls that kiss us, etc. on into eternity. They applaud our heroes and mourn our dead. Pin metals (sic.) on our manly chests none of which is true or we want.
"It is hard to really explain how it is. We don't want the glory, metals, or the pats on the back and as for the kisses. Can you imagine there being joy amid a shable (sic.) of burned homes, death, distrust, and hunger: When the dead are still lying there, Americans, Germans, old men, women and even babies. When every anyone move (sic.) is made to relieve some wounded or to even get water or food you get shelled by artillery or a machine gun chatters. Yes, we have lots of fun.
"After the haze of battle and the eternal smell of death moves on it is not too bad. (They say time dulls all pain). The people do come back to their homes and do line the streets and kiss the troops and cry for joy. But remember the infantry is not back there. They have moved on to another battle field. It makes no difference to us where it is, France, Belgium, Holland, or Germany. They are all the same. The people look the same. Dirty, hungry, afraid and always with something tied up in bundles that they treasured too much to leave behind. But where at times it is so quiet that you can hear your own heart beat. Times when we don't even whisper our prayers, but sit in the tense, electrified silence and commune with God or try to recall some vision of a happier day. Or sit on guard for hours with your hand on your buddies (sic.) shoulder to keep him from groaning or crying out in his sleep. Yes, we are a privileged few.
"I'm not asking for pity or anything else. Only trying to explain how we live and how we feel. We are not playing a game that we can quit any time but a game where one slip would be fatal. You must have a hatred for your foe that blacks out everything else, fear, misery, hungery (sic.), pity or comfort. You must not relax at any time (not even in your sleep) and keep with you at all times the eternal lust to kill and vigilance of the killer. Yes, I am the same one that left home.
"Sometimes at night I hear the nurse walking. For a moment I can't place myself and feel for my knife or gun. Or sometimes hear the drone of a motor and start to duck. I know I'm not nervous but it only takes time to realize that I am back here where everything is changed."