Some of the recommended Veterans Day reading that’s turning up on Twitter today, plus a few other Storyboard favorites:
“The bugle that sounded the end of the first World War,” by Kelly Whitson, Smithsonian:
When Hartley “Hot Lips” Edwards joined the Army in May 1918, he had never played the bugle in his life. A few months after joining the Army, Edwards was off to France to join General Pershing’s Regiment, where he would soon become the lead bugle in Pershing’s famous drum and bugle corps. In November 1918, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, General Pershing ordered Edwards to sound Taps. This command was a bit confusing to Edwards, as normally he only played that sad, soulful tune at funerals and at the end of the day.
In the last century, a few years of sodden slaughter in France and Flanders turned British poetry from Keatsian lyricism to raw, aghast reportage. Isaac Rosenberg’s poems, for instance, moved from prewar patriotic exultation—“Flash, mailed seraphim, / Your burning spears”—to, three years later, this numb, bone-dry mutter from the trenches: “Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies.”
In Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love” you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem—between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It’s the most astonishing line break I’ve ever encountered. It’s the sound of a culture’s poetic history cracking in half.
The World War II columns of Ernie Pyle. From “A Dreadful Masterpiece,” December 1940:
Someday when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges.
And standing there, I want to tell somebody who has never seen it how London looked on a certain night in the holiday season of the year 1940.
For on that night this old, old city – even though I must bite my tongue in shame for saying it – was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire.
They came just after dark, and somehow I could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.
Shortly after the sirens wailed I could hear the Germans grinding overhead. In my room, with its black curtains drawn across the windows, you could feel the shake from the guns. You could hear the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart. They were not too far away.
Half an hour after the firing started I gathered a couple of friends and went to a high, darkened balcony that gave us a view of one-third of the entire circle of London.
As we stepped out onto the balcony a vast inner excitement came over all of us – an excitement that had neither fear nor horror in it, because it was too full of awe.
The Face of War, by Martha Gellhorn. From “The Third Winter:”
In Barcelona, it was perfect bombing weather. The cafés along the Ramblas were crowded. There was nothing much to drink; a sweet fizzy poison called orangeade and a horrible liquid supposed to be sherry. There was, of course, nothing to eat. Everyone was out enjoying the cold afternoon sunlight. No bombers had come over for at least two hours.
The flower stalls looked bright and pretty along the promenade. “The flowers are all sold, Señores. For the funerals of those who were killed in the eleven o’clock bombing, poor souls.”
It had been clear and cold all day yesterday and probably would be fair from now on. “What beautiful weather,” a woman said, and she stood, holding her shawl around her, staring at the sky. “And the nights are as fine as the days. A catastrophe,” she said, and walked with her husband toward a café.
Pat Barker’s Regeneration, a World War II fiction trilogy:
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
“Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin, New York Herald Tribune:
Yesterday morning, at 11:15, Jacqueline Kennedy started toward the grave. She came out from under the north portico of the White House and slowly followed the body of her husband, which was in a flag-covered coffin that was strapped with two black leather belts to a black caisson that had polished brass axles. She walked straight and her head was high. She walked down the bluestone and blacktop driveway and through shadows thrown by the branches of seven leafless oak trees. She walked slowly past the sailors who held up flags of the states of this country. She walked past silent people who strained to see her and then, seeing her, dropped their heads and put their hands over their eyes. She walked out the northwest gate and into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. She walked with tight steps and her head was high and she followed the body of her murdered husband through the streets of Washington.
Everybody watched her while she walked. She is the mother of two fatherless children and she was walking into the history of this country because she was showing everybody who felt old and helpless and without hope that she had this terrible strength that everybody needed so badly. Even though they had killed her husband and his blood ran onto her lap while he died, she could walk through the streets and to his grave and help us all while she walked.
Inside a limousine parked on the airport tarmac, Katherine Cathey looked out at the clear night sky and felt a kick.
“He’s moving,” she said. “Come feel him. He’s moving.”
Her two best friends leaned forward on the soft leather seats and put their hands on her stomach.
“I felt it,” one of them said. “I felt it.”
Outside, the whine of jet engines swelled.
“Oh, sweetie,” her friend said. “I think this is his plane.”
As the three young women peered through the tinted windows,
Katherine squeezed a set of dog tags stamped with the same name as her unborn son:
James J. Cathey.
“He wasn’t supposed to come home this way,” she said, tightening her grip on the tags, which were linked by a necklace to her husband’s wedding ring.
The women looked through the back window. Then the 23-year-old placed her hand on her pregnant belly.
“Everything that made me happy is on that plane,” she said.
Linton pushed the casket the rest of the way off the ball mat onto the lift. Jones pressed a button to lower it to pallbearer height. During his first few flights, Linton had stayed in the open door, but that was before an immigrant family in California whose son had been killed in Iraq rushed the casket when it was still on the lift. The family had angrily opposed their son’s decision to enlist, and now they let loose on him, beating the sides and top of the casket and screaming at him through their tears. Linton didn’t want to turn his back to their suffering, and so he stood statue-still in the door for five minutes, ten, and then fifteen, watching from above while this family aired their last grievances with their rebel son. On the flight back to Dover, Linton told Jones, “I’m never standing there again,” and he never has. After he centered Sergeant Montgomery on the lift, Linton stepped back into the shadows inside the plane.
Sometimes, Steve Greene said, the phone rings in his trailer and he hears from dispatch that the pilots need a little extra time before they lift back into the air, although that happens less than it once did. Now they have delivered hundreds of dead soldiers back to their families, and their recollections of the flights have begun to run together. But some Jones and Linton remember more clearly than others. They can remember the thirty-year-old father of five they brought in south of Omaha and seeing the dead man’s youngest son, maybe two years old, toddle up to the casket and twist the bottom bar of the flag in his tiny hand. They can remember dropping out of the low clouds over Juneau, Alaska, on their way to Fairbanks, and seeing the light reflecting off the mountains and the water. And they can remember their approach to Seymour, Indiana, when they circled in the sky and there were so many people below, waiting in a hangar in the heat, including a girl in a pretty flowered dress.
“The Veteran,” from David Finkel’s new book, Thank You for Your Service, excerpted in Slate:
She hands Tausolo a certificate for completing the program, and after mumbling a few thank-yous, away he goes with his certificate and 53 pages of writing about what happened after the boom. The Humvee rising in the air. The concussion of the bomb. Opening the door and trying to run. Collapsing with a broken leg. Limping back to the Humvee and pulling out a bloody soldier. Pulling out a second one who was moaning and even bloodier as the Humvee sparked and burst into flames. Collapsing again, relieved that everyone was out, and then hearing someone yelling Harrelson’s name. “And it hit me ohh shit Harrelson. I forgot all about him,” he had written. “I looked over and all I could see was flames and the outline of a body where he was at in the driver’s seat.” Over and over he had written about it all, except for one thing that he has told no one, a dream he has been having ever since:
Harrelson, on fire, asking him, “Why didn’t you save me?”