Ken Beaton: Letters from the war front
A hundred years ago, the Great War, AKA World War I, was in the final seven months. I had the good fortune to read the book “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars,” edited by Andrew Carroll. His book contained letters from soldiers who served in the Civil War, World War I and II, and Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf wars. All their letters were similar except for the salutations and closings.
“Dear Old Bunkie, My Dearest and beloved parents and brothers & sisters, Snookie Darling,” were a few of the salutations to a relative. Some of the letters closed with “Your devoted Hubby.” The best letter began with “Dearest Girlie” and closed with “Heaps of love for you wifie dear, Ed.” Maybe it’s me, but I’m not feeling the love. In 2018 I would love to read the grave marker of a male who addressed the woman in his life as “Girlie” or wifie dear.”
On a serious note, most of the World War I letters written to folks back in the U.S. have a similar tone. The male writer always was vague. Growing up, guys became experts at being vague. They spared their mothers from having “crow’s feet” by being vague. They never wrote about the horrific details of battle because they didn’t want to worry the person(s) reading the letter. “I’m doing well, this country has beautiful scenery, the food is not as good as your cooking or please send more cookies.”
During the Great War, more than 25,000 young American women volunteered to support and care for our troops. These women served as devoted nurses in the Red Cross, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, some of these brave women became collateral damage becoming either wounded or dying from an air raid bomb or an artillery shell.
Those nurses were “angels” as they comforted and gave emotional support to our wounded boys. When asked by a critically wounded 18- or 19-year-old soldier with freckles and peach fuzz on his face, “Nurse, am I going to die?” It took a command performance from that nurse to hold his hand, look into his eyes and smile as she told him, “You’re going to be just fine.” All the time her gut was telling her, he has only a few moments before he passes. The most important thing was for her to comfort that soldier. He needed the next best thing to an angel beside him, holding his hand comforting him as he passed from this world to the next world.
Imagine yourself as this soldier. You survived the Great War without a scratch. Two days after the Armistice was signed, Nov. 11, 1918, you’re admitted to the hospital with influenza on the 13th. Despite receiving the best nursing care, you pass away 12 days after being admitted, Nov. 25, 1918. That wasn’t supposed to happen! It’s not fair to survive the war and 14 days later die of influenza!
One of the most beautiful letters I’ve had the privilege to read was written by Red Cross nurse Maude B. Fisher to Mrs. Hogan, the mother of the American soldier Richard Hogan, who died on Nov. 25.
A total of 108,000 Americans lost their lives in World War I. An interesting fact was about half of the 108,000 died of influenza. The 1918 to 1920 pandemic of influenza took the lives of 500,000 in the United States. Influenza took a total of 20 million lives worldwide.
Maude’s closing two paragraphs were: “The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it, and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy, but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it. From the whole hospital force, accept deepest sympathy and from myself, tenderest love in your hour of sorrow. Sincerely, Maude B. Fisher.”
In closing, Professor Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D., wrote several books on relationships before he passed away on June 13, 1998, at Lake Tahoe. My favorite Leo quote is, “No matter what the question, love is the answer.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.