Monday, September 2, 2013

We Were Only Boys - Red & Blue Makes Purple Blogfest

  A story I wrote a little while ago, edited and cleaned up for the blogfest hosted by Melanie Schultz. Stories were limited to 500 words and have a military theme;  proceeds from a future anthology will go to Operation Purple, which helps send kids from military families to camp for free.


     They came and got us at the theater, because that's where the boys were back then. A bus took us straight to the Navy yard where we signed up to defend country, honor and freedom. It seemed a grand adventure. We knew nothing of the lice, the rot, the mud which swallowed men whole.
     I'd seen blood and death. I grew up on a farm and watched Joe Krazinski lose an arm in a thresher. I shot rabbits and deer for the table when the crop failed. I heard Great Grandpa's stories of bodies in heaps at Gettysburg. But he told of rousing battles and glorious cavalry charges; we ended up crawling in muck and suffocating under clouds of gas.
     Out in no man's land was the wreckage of a German plane, the pilot's body still strapped in. The first time I saw him, I was running by full tilt; later, as we stumbled back through the lines, the plane was still there, surrounded by shell holes but miraculously untouched. And that's the way it stayed, day after day, frozen in time. Some of us took to giving him a friendly wave. Somehow the dead pilot took on a miraculous quality to some; fear breeds superstition, and Hans' (for that's what we named him) continuing immunity to complete destruction became a sort of talisman. 
     That winter of 1917 was a bitter one, and yet like all things had its good elements - the cold discouraged vermin, lessened the stink of unburied bodies, and kept fighting limited to skirmishes and sniping. We knew when the weather broke, the mighty engine of war would start up again with its demand for more men to feed it.
     I got it into my head that Hans should be buried. It seemed the right thing to do; but I found most of the company against it. Why risk our lives for the body of an enemy?  I couldn't explain it, not to their satisfaction, not even to my own.
     Spring came, the ground softened, shells bloomed. The front undulated, writhed, melted and re-formed. When the offensive came, it was almost a relief. After hours of shelling we went over the top in wave after wave, carried along by nerve, scrambling over the fallen, driven on by the press of hundreds more behind us.
We were forced back, slowly, painfully, and I found myself running for the safety of our recently despised trenches. A whiff of gas drove me one way, an artillery shell another; dodging like a rabbit, I headed for the one thing which offered cover. The plane.
     There is more to fear from the living than the dead. Immune to most horror by now, I felt only sadness; you could still tell that Hans, like us, had been only a boy.
     In the morning I buried him, then said a little prayer as best I could. And wouldn't you know, later that same day a shell landed on the plane, blowing it to smithereens.


  1. Wow. Nicely done. Thanks for participating in my blogfest.

  2. Hi Li! I have really missed visiting you and reading all your wonderful stories. I have to admit that I almost didn't read this one. From having wounded Vets in my family I avoid movies and stories that have to do with war. The last thing I read was the detailed report recommending my son for the Bronze Star for Valor.

    There is something to your writing Lisa that makes it all okay. You have a way to make it so real, to make the reader feel like they are there, that amazes me.

    You know I have always been your biggest fan BUT for me, even trusting in you, to read a war story and come away feeling sad, tearful but okay is really something.

    I have to get your blog emailed to me since I miss so much! Big hugs to you and way to go on an awesome, moving, so true to life story! Big hugs!

    1. Hi Rasz! HUGS back! I've been soooo busy the past few months that I've written very little and haven't visited more than a handful of blogs, if that. (Right now I'm painting folk designs on a dozen small decorative benches for a local woodworker.)

      Wow, a Bronze Star! I can't imagine how frightening it must be to have a son or spouse serving in the military. Most of the men in my family have served during wartime, as did my husband and most of his family - so I've heard many stories, sad, frightening, and also funny and touching. Thank you for your kind words; I try to balance war stories and reveal the human side, without gratuitous violence or gore.

  3. This is great. You capture a lot in so few words.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read my entry. Yours is quite powerful and I liked the link to his hunting past and the reference to becoming like a rabbit being hunted himself. Well done.

  5. Powerful story. I loved it. And you're doing it for a good cause, too. Well done. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.