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A Soldier Strips the Romance Out of Life at War


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#1 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 08:38 PM

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
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#2 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 08:56 PM

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."
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#3 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 12:42 AM

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."
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#4 diddyriddick

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:00 AM

This is a powerful letter/post. Do we know what became of Oscar, JC?
David

"It is history that teaches us to hope"
Robert E. Lee

#5 machine shop tom

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:18 AM

Powerful stuff.

tom

#6 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:19 AM

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.
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#7 Tomcat

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:31 AM

I agree very powerful, I had shivers reading it.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe the horse was lost, for the want of a horse the rider was lost, for the want of a rider the battle was lost, For want of a battle the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Robert,


#8 macrusk

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 02:54 AM

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

Oliver Goldsmith, "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines." :flag_canada_ww2: :flag_canada: :flag_uk:
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#9 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 03:25 AM

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.

Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 01 June 2008 - 05:23 AM.

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#10 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 04:52 PM

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.
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#11 wtid45

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 05:34 PM

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:o
WHEN YOU GO HOME, TELL THEM OF US AND SAY, FOR YOUR TOMORROW,WE GAVE OUR TODAY. Epitaph on the Kohima memorial .

#12 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 08:04 PM

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 :).
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#13 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 10:38 PM

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:o


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.
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#14 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 12:27 AM

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.
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#15 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 12:54 AM

:_achtung::bump:
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#16 Onthefield

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Posted 12 June 2008 - 06:47 PM

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.
Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it- Sun Tzu

#17 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 13 June 2008 - 12:12 AM

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.


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.

Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 31 July 2008 - 05:36 AM.

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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#18 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 05:06 AM

What does our fellow posters think?
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#19 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 12:57 AM

Speaking of "seeing the elephant".
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#20 macrusk

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 07:12 AM

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.
Regards, Michelle

Oliver Goldsmith, "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines." :flag_canada_ww2: :flag_canada: :flag_uk:
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#21 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 07:18 AM

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.


Thanks Michelle. I think that perhaps there should be a section for things like this with the experiences of those who were there.
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#22 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 05:58 AM

:bump: For all the young ones joining up.
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#23 Za Rodinu

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 07:47 PM

At 5 am, the first wounded came back, cheerful, optimistic. We splintered fractures, covered wounds with sterile dressings and relieved each other for breakfast at 6.30 am. As the day wore on, sunny and scorching hot, the tide of casualties rose. Dozens and dozens were carried in. Our treatment centre always had 3 upon the trestles being attended to and soon the approaches were lined with a queue. Hour after hour we worked and evacuated and still the flow continued. Ghastly wounds there were, of every type and state of severity. Heads with skulls so badly smashed that bone and brain and pillow were almost indivisible; faces with horrible lacerations; jaws blown completely away leaving only two sad eyes to plead for relief from pain. Chests pierced through with shrapnel and lungs that spouted blood from gushing holes. Arms were mangled into shapeless masses left hanging by muscle alone and waiting the amputation knife. There were abdomens pierced by shell splinters and displaying coils of intestine, deadly wounds. Buttocks were torn and in some cases spinal injury had followed bringing paralysis. But the leg wounds! Thigh bones splinted; knees without knee caps, legs without feet red, mangled flesh and blood flooding the stretcher. And others trembling uncontrollably, sobbing like children, strapped to the stretcher and struggling to be free; screaming and, when a shell landed near the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), shouting, 'They're coming again, O God they're coming again.' Not heroes, but sufferers nonetheless. We ate our lunch of biscuits and corned beef with bloody fingers and when relieved by 9th Field Ambulance at 6 pm we had treated 466 British soldiers and 40 Germans.



Private Jim Wisewell, 223 Field Ambulance, RAMC, describing the carnage wrought upon 185 Brigade of 3rd (British) Division during 8th July, 1944 in operation Charnwood.


Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra...


#24 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 31 July 2008 - 05:03 AM

Thanks for the addition Za :).
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#25 Mortman2004

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Posted 31 July 2008 - 05:33 AM

Why do you think so many decent young men come home from Combat changed.... I know its changed me... im far less tolerent of BS... i hate driving to this day im still paranoid of IEDS... and frankly im not a fan of being around arabs...
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