MENU

Yesterday


OUR SONS AT WAR

by,
Lee McCollum
1940


War is a man-made holocaust fanned into destructive flames from the ashes of past hatreds. It devastates all that lies in its path, pushing mankind backward to the dark ages, while each new war creates fresh war scars that time will not heal. From the seeds of these hatreds made by war, a newer, more scientific, and deadlier war than the war preceding it, is fought by every second generation of warring nations.

Throughout the history of mankind men have carried that fear in their hearts, until the day comes when they march to new wars made by the minority that rule them. Left to his own devises man seeks only peace and security and a means to escape the ever-present annihilation by war. To gain this he continues his age-old quest for new lands upon which the seeds of war-made hatreds have not yet fallen.

Sailing uncharted seas he reaches out for new frontiers in lands unknown, to build there a surety of life on ideals of peace. From this source, new and peace-loving nations have been created and are peopled today by a new race. A race of the free-born, not contaminated by the poisonous weeds of petty hatreds of their ancestral heritage.

Such is the new nation of America, whose sons of today have yet to learn the devastating and cancerous effects of war-born hatreds. For this new nation has fought only for its existence. It has never warred to take from its neighbors. It has fought only for the right to live a life free of the mistakes of its ancestors. It has fought for a weaker neighbor, that the neighbor might live as free-born peoples. In the World war of 1914-18, it listened to the siren call of the lands of its ancestry and sent the best of its manhood and gave of its great re-sources to fight a war that was supposed to end wars.

The roaring voices of the madmen of Mars have sounded again to direct the movements of great armies of men engaged in mortal combat over the same century -old, blood-stained battlefields. The frenzied insanity of all wars has been brought to the surface once more and the youth of today, who are the progenitors of tomorrow have been sacrificed once again because hatreds born of war will not die.

Those of us, who live in peace, want only peace, and those of us who have tasted of war in those war- mad countries want it no more. How best can we preserve this peace which is our greatest possession today? Shall it be by entangling ourselves in the threads of age-old hatreds of the Old World? By strengthening our national defenses to make ourselves impregnable te nations who will forever be at war? Most certainly a strong defense is our greatest assurance of continuing in the path of peaceful pursuits. This defense cannot come alone from great air flotillas, great navies and armies. Some of that defense must come from what people think and from their attitude toward the menace to national security.

What do the people of America really know of war? How many have felt the full weight of war? Throughout the nation today there are innumerable war-veteran fathers listening to the same questions my son is now asking me about war. No doubt every son is talking to his father in the same vein, for it is the youth of today whose lives are forfeited if we should act without wisdom.

How can one best answer the questions that youth is asking today? The fear of our sons being sacrificed because of the folly of an unjustified foreign war is pounding in the heart of every adult in America. Whether the youth of today shall go to war or not, they should be mentally prepared for all of war's ugliness and brutality.

They should know everything of war that those who have experienced it can tell them. They can learn war's futility from the lips of those who have seen and felt its pain. They can learn of battlefields and what it is like to bleed out one's life before the guns, only from those who have seen it. Such knowledge and mental preparedness for war is as vital a part of national defense as is the armada of modern warfare.

Is this not the story that every veteran who "went over the top," would tell his and his neighbor's son?

SO YOU WANT TO BE A SOLDIER, SON?

Son of mine, I cannot tell all things I should to you,

I lack the words that describe what soldiers will go through;

No words of mine can ever show fresh blood upon a field,

Where warring soldiers meet to fight and neither one will yield.

For I know that war in your eyes is but a dress parade,

That it is a great adventure where heros brave are made;

I know I cannot make you see bodies maimed beyond repair,

Or make you feel the emptiness that comes with war's despair.

I wish that I had words to tell of its filthy slaughter mill,

Where you and all the youth of time has gone at someone's will;

I wish that God would give me thoughts so here I could express,

All that one can learn of war and its barren ugliness.

That you may know war as it is, how little each life bought,

All the empty years that follow after each new war is fought;

So listen son, and listen well, to those who know war's cost,

There are no victors in a war for though they won they lost.

Yesterday

THE blackness of the night cloaked the movements of Lieutenant Snell as he crept closer to the enemy line. When he was well forward, the ghastly light of enemy star shells lit up No-Man's-Land in a dull, unnatural hue. The lieutenant crouched low, his tense body hugging the ground.

He prayed that he might be taken for some debris or tree, rather than a mark for enemy sharpshooters. Hearing the quick rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire directly ahead of him, and the zinging sound of bullets close by, be knew he was the target. Raising his eyes toward the sound of the guns he could see barbed wire entanglements ahead. Outlined against the flare-lit sky, they looked like black strands of some giant cobweb.

The sound of whining bullets ceased. The sputtering machine guns were silent. The flares poised in the air as though festooned there by the hand of fate. The few seconds of waiting time was an eternity to him. Slowly the flares settled earthward. In their fast dimming glow the lieutenant could see why his three missing night raiders had not returned.

As the last gleam of light faded from the sky he crept wearily from the ground and started back to his own lines. No longer a commander of men, he was just a college boy from home sobbing his heart out in the night.

YOU'RE IN THE ARMY NOW

I'm going to be a soldier tomorrow! Oh, boy! Soon I'll be a lieutenant, or maybe a captain. Who knows? I might even get to be a general! How I have waited for this day!

When war first broke out the marine guy told me I was too short to get into the marines. Then the army man said I was four pounds underweight. I argued that I'd come all the way from Calgary, up in Canada, to enlist. He said it didn't make a damn bit of difference if I had come from Timbuctoo, they weren't taking any scrubs.

I shot back: "They are taking anything they can get in Canada, and glad to get them. If the U.S.A. is in the war long enough they will be glad to take anything they can get too, even us scrubs."

Scrubs! The big mug! Who did he think he was? Just because he had a couple of silver bars on the shoulder of his uniform and spurs strapped on his big fancy boots. I'd show him!

I started to tell him off for proper. Just then a big guy with two stripes on his khaki coat came up and grabbed me, and pulled me out of the line of other fellows trying to enlist. He gave me a hard shove.

"On your way, punk," he said. "Can't you see the captain's busy? He's got a lot on his mind, fellow, a lot."

He gave me another shove. "Get going, punk."

I got, but I was boiling mad. The big tramp! If he didn't have that uniform on, I'd show him!

Today - six months later - it's different. The smart old army is glad to get me. Just like I said it would be. They put my number in a bat and drew it out, along with a few million other numbers. That business of enlisting was a grand bust. Uncle Sam soon found out that everybody wasn't so nuts to get in the Army as he thought they would be.

I am going as an alternate. The guy who was supposed to show up "forgot" to report, so they are sending me instead. That is how I came to get in ahead of time. Wait until I get into a uniform! I'll show that goateed captain who called me a scrub! I'll show him! Boy, but I hope he really is my captain! I'll make it tough for him. The big egg, calling me a scrub! Well, every dog has his day. So far I'm just a pup-but I'll grow.

Today they lined us all up at the armory. I took
a vow and signed some papers. Got shoved around a lot, too. All those smart army guys yelling this and yelling that at you. You would think a fellow didn't have any rights at all. Then they told us to "fall in," and most of us didn't know what they meant. They had us make a big line four men abreast, and started marching us to the depot.

A swell band led the parade. We carried our suitcases as we marched. A big, husky, loud-mouthed fellow who was in the jewelry business was at the head of us marchers. I thought he was going with us. Found out later he led all the parades-as far as the depot. The sidewalks were lined with people, most of them waving at us. It was just noon. There were lots of girls from offices standing there. Some of the people were yelling, "Bring back the Kaiser-bring back the Kaiser." The band was playing "Over There." Boy, were we stepping it! I saw a lot of people I knew, and was I proud! Had a big silly grin on my face. Then we got to the station I saw Mom and Dad there. Dad ran over and shook my hand, patted me on the back, and choked up when he said, "Good luck, son, come back safe." Mom was crying to beat the band. That took that grin off my face in a hurry.

Some soldier guy kept yelling, "Get back in line, you guys . . . back in line don't break rank stay in line ... you rookies."

Then we boarded the train and started for camp. Exit civilian ... Entre soldat! (That "soldat" is a new French word I've learned already.) Boy! I'm in the Army now!

At nightfall we came to the camp and unloaded from the train. It was raining to beat hell. Soaked to the skin, we hiked a mile or two, passing a lot of new buildings. Every few minutes we would hear some fellows yelling from the windows. "How do you like it, soldier?" "Step lively, rookie step lively or you'll get sunburned." "Where you from, soldier?" We would yell back where we were from . . . then they'd all gang up and yell, "never heard of it!" And laugh like hell. It wasn't any joke for us, though, and we were soaked to the skin when someone finally yelled "halt! "

We halted alongside a long army tent that missed the ground by about two feet. It was well lighted, and you could see men's legs from the knees down, shuffling through the tent. The army fellow in charge of us kept yelling out our names. As called, each would start through the door of the tent. Pretty soon we heard a lot of laughing from those who were going through.

Someone was saying in a monotonous drone: "Now say ah! . . . say ah! . . . that's right . . . say it again . . . ah!" Then we would hear someone else say . . . "ah ... ah - . .". - . and start laughing. Soaking wet, we stood there waiting our turn, getting more and more curious about those constant "ah's."

It wasn't long before I knew. Then it came my turn to go through, and I learned that it was just the first of a lot of physical examinations the army put you through before they decided to keep you.

Just as I was coming out of the tent a sergeant at the door said, "Got a cigar, buddy?"

I hesitated for a moment. I only had one.

He bellowed in a hard-boiled voice, "Come on, rooky, give it to me."

I gave it to him. He was putting the old army bee on me and I was too green to know it.

Finally we were taken to one of the new buildings that turned out to be our barracks. Dog-tired, we rolled into the line of army cots, without taking time to undress. Wet as I was, I slept soundly, until awakened by a voice with the roar of a cannon, "Come on, you rookies . . . roll out . . . roll out you're in the army now!"

I rubbed my eyes and saw that it was not yet daylight.

We had breakfast, then started through a series of physical tests. First they tested our eyes, then our ears, then our teeth. They made all kinds of notes on paper. I never did find out what for. Then they took us into a room and ordered us to strip off. Without a stitch on we started hopping around. First on one foot, then the other. It was a stiff grind. As we finished they would take our pulse and heart beat. We sure got a going over. Many of the fellows failed to pass the test and we never did see them any more.

If you passed the test and were pronounced fit and sound, then you would swear allegiance to the flag and You were in the "Army Grand." Oh, boy, what a grand and glorious feeling! Bring on your Germans!

No sooner had they told me that I was in the army for sure than two soldiers with tape measures grabbed me and started measuring me. And bow they measured me! I'll bet they measured my feet ten times. When I asked them why, the sergeant said, "It's the most important part of you, dummy." They never had any respect for us rookies. They would take us out and drill us for hours over rocky fields without even asking if we wanted a rest.

If we complained they put us on some kind of "duty." Mostly "fatigue" and "policing up" duty. "Policing up" meant chasing elusive bits of paper, burned out Fatimas, Chesterfields, Camels, and Lucky Strikes around the big grounds of our new home. I never picked up so damn many cigarette and cigar butts in my life.

They gave us all kinds of shots in the arm. We would walk down a long line of men with both arms bare to the shoulder, and two soldiers would grab us, one on each side, jab two needlefuls of some kind of germs into us, to keep some other kind of germs out. Every time we turned around for the first few days we would get another shot in the arm. At reveille many a soldier standing there fell flat on his face from the effects of these shots. After the first week the effects wore off and we were all right again.

By that time my tired and aching muscles were beginning to harden a little. But I needed shoes badly. My patent leather "bests" that I had worn to camp were done for. So after all those careful foot measurements they threw a pair of shoes at me two sizes too big, and heavy as lead. I had got hold of a pair of army pants about one size too big. Finally I got a coat. It was too small. My arms popped out, with the end

of the sleeves about three inches above my wrists. And the bat! That was murder! It sat on my head like a peanut. If I wasn't a pretty sight when my folks and my girl came over to see me!

Right away Susie said, "Well, where in the world did you get that outfit ... !"

I felt like a plugged nickel.

We are getting a little "army wise" now. I am getting so I can take it, and the army ain't so bad. The sergeant made me an acting-corporal. I am the same as a superintendent over seven other men. Boy, do I
make them rookies step! And how! We all wonder when we are going overseas. In the meantime I have learned how to play "black jack," and give the dice an "army roll" on a blanket.

Every fifteen minutes there is a rumor in the army.

Most of them came from a long building that isn't the guard house. The woods are full of those rumors. First we hear that "we are going to leave for France tomorrow" . . . then . . . "we are going to be sent to the Spruce Division at Vancouver, to cut spruce logs for making airplanes" . . . then . . . "we are going to be shipped to France by the way of Russia. Sailing orders are waiting for us to take the transports from San Francisco to Vladivostok." Nothing happens, except that they take us out on the field and drill hell out of us each day.

Finally we do get moving orders. This time they are on the level. We are to leave Camp Lewis in twenty-four hours. I got word to my folks and they came over to tell me goodbye. Then we were off on the train, but not for France as we supposed. It is for another camp, Camp Kearney, California. There we became a part of the 40th Division-the Sunrise Division-in name as well as in fact. They would get us up before the moon went to bed and start us on long hikes. Once they sent us on a ten day hike, over the scorching sands of Southern California. I'll never forget that if I live to be a million.

IT AIN'T NO FUN IT AIN'T

It ain't no fun a-marching in the blistering white-hot heat,

Keeping pace to sergeants' cadence with your tired and aching feet;

With the sweat a-rolling from your brow, a pack upon your shoulder,

And the sun a-beating down on you in a ball of red-hot smolder.

It ain't no fun a-thinking of the girl you left behind,

With your mind a constant wonder if her love's the lasting kind;

While all the time you're marching, toughening up to be a soldier,

And with every step you're taking,
you feel ten or twelve years older.

It ain't no fun a-sleeping
'neath a sky that's wet and dreary

When you're bones are all a-creaking
and your body's sore and weary;

It ain't no fun a-learning
how to be a soldier true,

When all the time you're wishing
that the war was done and through.

It ain't no fun to do "K.P.,"
while other soldiers dance,

It ain't no fun a-wondering
if we'll ever get to France;

It ain't no fun to do things
that you never understand,

It ain't no fun a-soldiering
in the tough old "Army Grand."
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2019 West Corporation. All rights reserved.