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A Soldier Strips the Romance Out of Life at War

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by JCFalkenbergIII, May 31, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    A great letter. I hope that some of our younger posters take a look and read this.

    From the April 2008 issue: A Soldier Strips the Romance Out of Life at War
    Military censorship and a desire not to worry loved ones at home kept most troops from disclosing the strains and hardships they faced in battle. But when they heard stories of war fatigue on the home front or sensed that the public did not fully grasp the enormity of combatants’ and civilians’ suffering, a spark of frustration could emerge in correspondence home. “Every time you hear somebody say that the war will be over soon,” one soldier wrote to his wife in May 1944—a full sixteen months before hostilities ceased—“look them straight in the eye and tell them that a lot of people are still dying over here.” In the spring of 1944 a U.S. Army major named Oscar Mitchell, who was serving in the China-Burma-India theater, received a letter from a close friend in New York expressing how much she missed him and suggesting it would be exciting to be with him. Mitchell understood the good intentions of her sentiment, but nevertheless felt the need to gently admonish her for romanticizing, in any way, life in a war zone.


    Somewhere in Burma
    15 April 1944
    Dear Helene,
    You say that you wish you were over here. Would you really like to be over here? I don’t know whether you would like it but this I know, I wouldn’t like it for you. There’s more than just danger. That’s the least of all the worries. You are with it so long, it remains about you so close, that it also becomes an impersonal thing. Familiarity breeds contempt you know.
    I will tell you why I would not wish it so. Although most people think that they are War Conscious, are they really?—so far removed from the far-flung battle fronts, can they be? Perhaps I’m wrong but I can’t see how they can be. Not that I would want them to be. Not that I hold it against them but that’s the way it is, that’s the way it will remain. I hope and pray that the time will never come for when bombs are rained down from the heavens and with death and destruction come the real meaning of despair, sacrifice and fortitude. Then you would have to live as we are living now to be, in the true full meaning, War Conscious. You would have to live in a fox hole for days on end. Half filled with water and creeping things. Always the fear of malaria. More fears than the enemy. But then [fear] is the enemy.
    The worse one, waiting in a fox hole, after dark, afraid to move as the cracking of a twig brings on a salvo of firing from Friend and Foe alike. At the front, when darkness comes, you don’t dare move about. When you are caught at darkness, that’s where you dig in and wait for blessed daylight. No one wanders about at night for any reason and I mean for any reason!
    You would have to eat cold food, “C” Rations, canned. What a variety. Meat and beans, vegetable hash, or vegetable stew. That’s our menu. We change and switch them around in eating order to try and fool ourselves. I’ve read that lately a new, better ration has been devised but I doubt we’ll even see it. Not over here!
    It’s said that variety is the spice of life. That being true the spice has gone out of my life. You are really War Conscious when you see the airplanes, in formation, early in the morning, flying to meet their rendezvous with the Japs and with death. To see this formation go out and see this same formation returning in the evenings. But the number is not the same! Twelve went out, nine returned. You stand there, looking up, watching them fly into the distance; into and part of the horizon, then disappear. You wonder what really did happen. Those that went down in flames, how did they die? How those that “sweat it out” on the ground will take it at the inevitable report, “Some of our planes are missing.”
    Do they die as you see them in the movies? I do not think so. Not with a smile on their lips and a happy gleam in their eyes, rather painfully and regretfully with the knowledge that this is it! You’d have to see the wounded streaming back from the front after a battle. The more wounded ones are flown back, others arrive by ambulance. They don’t look like heroes with the “devil may care” look. Just plain Americans or the average Chinese or Indians. Above all, to see the light go out of men’s eyes. Young men shaking from nervous exhaustion and crying like babies. Strong men they are, or were, who did not or will not have the chance, ever, to live normal lives. Theirs is finished. Some have been over here so long that they wouldn’t care anymore whether they go back home, or whether they stay. You get this way when promises after promises are broken.
    All the books written, all the movie pictures produced cannot capture the true light. Reading a book, or seeing a motion picture does not give you the pangs of hunger, the tiredness of body after days and nights without sleep, or the feeling of wet, sticky clothing….Nor can they give you the loneliness, that lonely feeling of being away from home and the ones you love. You paint glowing pictures of what it will be like to be home or when we get home, but all the time we know. I know that conditions there have not changed. People may think they know what War is like. Their knowledge is facts of the mind. Mine is the war-torn body, scared to soul’s depth. When I was in the States, War was far away, unreal. I had read, I had seen pictures, but now I know. And what it’s like, I cannot put it into words. It has to be felt.
    But I would like you to see the pleasanter side. Soldiers singing in the evening at the close of day. Sometimes it’s spirituals that bring back Sunday School days. How I hated to go! Now, how thankful. I can remember the pleasant smell of the church. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. The atmosphere of hush and quiet, the workings of a faith, pure and simple. Other times it’s popular tunes that bring back memories of parties and dances. The good times you had. A return to a normal world by the words of a song. Mostly they’re the old favorite love ballads because of the association to that life they bring.
    I would like for you to see some of the sunsets here, like none other the wide world over. Rainbows at twilight that streak from hill to hill. Row after row of mountains, each with its halo of clouds. As far as you can see there is always another row, a little bit higher, with its ring of clouds, and yet another bursting above the clouds beyond. I wish I could bottle it up and bring it back with me. Or to see the grand trees that reach straight up, above and beyond, to walk on virgin jungle floors where human feet never trod before. A floor of decaying leaves and clinging vines and struggling, growing things. Or to see the tangle masses of green that cover the mountain sides. Or, in the early morning, to see the clouds rising out of the valleys, engulf you and rise above you….These are the things that I would wish to remember….The part that man has never touched!
    So if I must dream awhile, I’ll dream of pleasant things.
    Write soon. Until then, I’ll remain
    Truly yours
    Oscar

    A Soldier Strips the Romance Out of Life at War » HistoryNet - From the World's Largest History Magazine Publisher
     
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I especially hope they read this.


    "Do they die as you see them in the movies? I do not think so. Not with a smile on their lips and a happy gleam in their eyes, rather painfully and regretfully with the knowledge that this is it! You’d have to see the wounded streaming back from the front after a battle. The more wounded ones are flown back, others arrive by ambulance. They don’t look like heroes with the “devil may care” look. Just plain Americans or the average Chinese or Indians. Above all, to see the light go out of men’s eyes. Young men shaking from nervous exhaustion and crying like babies. Strong men they are, or were, who did not or will not have the chance, ever, to live normal lives. Theirs is finished. Some have been over here so long that they wouldn’t care anymore whether they go back home, or whether they stay. You get this way when promises after promises are broken."
     
  3. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    And this Also,
    "
    All the books written, all the movie pictures produced cannot capture the true light. Reading a book, or seeing a motion picture does not give you the pangs of hunger, the tiredness of body after days and nights without sleep, or the feeling of wet, sticky clothing….Nor can they give you the loneliness, that lonely feeling of being away from home and the ones you love. You paint glowing pictures of what it will be like to be home or when we get home, but all the time we know. I know that conditions there have not changed. People may think they know what War is like. Their knowledge is facts of the mind. Mine is the war-torn body, scared to soul’s depth. When I was in the States, War was far away, unreal. I had read, I had seen pictures, but now I know. And what it’s like, I cannot put it into words. It has to be felt."
     
  4. diddyriddick

    diddyriddick Member

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    This is a powerful letter/post. Do we know what became of Oscar, JC?
     
  5. machine shop tom

    machine shop tom Member

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    Powerful stuff.

    tom
     
  6. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Unfortunately the article doesn't say anything as to what happened to him :( .In the APR/MAY issue of World War II Magazine It suppose to have a picture of him.But it looks like an enlisted African American not a Major.
     
  7. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    I agree very powerful, I had shivers reading it.
     
  8. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter of a Canadian WWII Veteran

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    Thanks for posting, JC. I hope the young people read his letter and some of the other first-person accounts by the average soldiers.
     
  9. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Thanks all. I am always impressed when you can read first hand what it was like from those who were there and experienced what the war was truly like. As I have said I hope that others will read this and hopefully get a better idea.
     
  10. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Unfortunately as with the thread on oil I think that they wont check this thread out. Its not exciting or "sexy" nor talks about cool weapons or uniforms, and ect. I think that they tend to not think about the human aspects of the war. Its about the weapons and tactics and battles and uniforms.
     
  11. wtid45

    wtid45 Ace

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    Well done JC powerful emotive words from a soldier who said it as it was. The best articles or books are those from the soldiers who saw it smelt it and felt the raw edge of war nothing sexy or cool as you say but given the culture of knive crime killings in the uk right now why are(some) kids ever gonna worry about the men that died so they could live the life they live, they see life as cheap:eek:
     
  12. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I appreciate the responses so far everyone :). LOL And btw witid45 I was just discussing the subject of the UK "Knife Culture" on another discussion forum :).
     
  13. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Some of the younger generation base alot on what they see in games and the TV and Movies. I think it warps the view of what war is really like :mad:. There is no extra lives and unlimited ammo in real life. You don't know what it is like to live out of a foxhole in the rain and snow or to eat cold rations everyday. As a reenactor I experience perhaps 1% of what it was really like. What Major Mitchell was writing home about is what war really is.
     
  14. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I would hope that others may add to this so that some here can read about what the war was truly like on a personal basis.
     
  15. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    :_achtung::bump:
     
  16. Onthefield

    Onthefield Member

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    Great letter JC. Wow, I guess you can call me one of the younger members of the forum, being 22, and it's so true that my generation is a movie generation. They believe everythign they see and don't do the research in the eyes and stories of men/women who have been there. Thank you for sharing that. I've printed it out and will read it again and again to remind myself why I do this research.
     
  17. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Thanks. And thanks for responding :). I tend to refer to some of our fellow posters that are in their teens LOL. They have been brought up on videogames and movies and TV. As most here know that those mediums tend to not express or portray what war is really like.And based on that type of knowledge thieir veiws and opinions are somewhat biased and misinformed. Only those who have seen the Elephant can really know what war is really about. But reading about it in the words of those who were there can at least show that war is not glorious and awesome and cool. It is a period of insanity,death,destruction and starvation and cruelty.
     
  18. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    What does our fellow posters think?
     
  19. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Speaking of "seeing the elephant".
     
  20. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter of a Canadian WWII Veteran

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    JC, I think that for many of the regular posters they have expressed themselves often in other threads that they see no romance in war. It is why we venerate those who endured it, gave their lives or their youth to survive it. The younger posters who post here regularly in threads other than the What if area, do seem to be more well-read or willing to learn more about the reality of war rather than the game version. The gamers and many of the what ifers (particularly the hit and run ones) are another story...

    Anytime you find something like the original letter, I want to read it.
     

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