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[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o k]

Sketches of Those We Have Known:

"You've never known anything until you have seen the man who you have killed. Yes, well, that is hard to say and I wouldn't have said it for many years because, well, I was ashamed of it; indeed, I was ashamed for many years no matter what the stupes who send these fellows to war say. He was laying with his arms thrown violently back, his mouth open, a small but perceptible hole near his temple. He was laying near a farmhouse, god only knows how that house survived but it did and there was a horrendous fight surrounding it. I saw men with their heads broken open, with their legs and feet blown off; I heard the screams of the wounded, the blast of the gun and cannon. I felt so much fear that for years after I could not feel. They called me a hero later on because I ran up to this pillbox that had us pinned down and threw a grenade into it and then saved some men who were standing like naked trees out in an open meadow. I didn't know what I was doing. I was young and scared and just did what I thought necessary to do to keep alive. They gave me a medal for that?!"

He turned away. He was not crying but staring blankly out into the room for a moment. I felt uncomfortable because I had never seen combat. I had seen endless movies of many wars. I had been a buff of the Civil War in which members of my family served. But the sort of experience that this old man was relating was beyond me. I did not know what to say.

"I wasn't going to be solider you see. I wanted to be in the Navy but I didn't have the eyes for it. Before I knew it the war was on and I got drafted. I spent time in southern England. We drank and fucked the women, excuse my language. They wanted it. Then we collected together and old Ike came by. I was no more than fifteen feet from Ike. Then they said it was time to go and I will never forget any moment of those few days. And, sir, how many men have you killed?"

"Fortunately, I have killed no one."

"Hmp. Well, you are one of the lucky ones I guess. You kill a man, and see him close up, that man enters you like nothing else in this world. He becomes a part of you and lasts longer than a lot your own relatives. You think, who was his mother, did he have a girl or wife, maybe he had children you never know. To me he looked like he was 20 or 21 years old. I didn't go through his clothes or anything like that; we were fighting a battle. There were tanks and machine guns so you couldn't have the privilege of knowing the personal stuff of the man you killed. So, all these years I have thought about that. It's as though the body is resurrected in me from time to time and I live out, somehow, what that man wanted as his life. That don't make sense. I'm just telling the truth of the matter."

"That's quite all right. I am here to listen."

"Well, I don't mean to bore you. Are you bored of men and their tales of killing? Well, I would be. Men should love and build not kill. Killing does in the survivors let me tell you. But, we had to do it don't you think? You weren't around at the time but you'll see it again. Oh, you will be an old man when it happens again but it will. I will be dead and the burden of it will be gone but you will see. You will see."

He faded off again. I had returned to help him but I was lost as to what I should or could do. Finally, I thought that I will do nothing, I will simply be there and listen if he decides to ramble on. He had been rambling on for days. I thought he was hallucinating. It was not the war, it was something else. I caught the image of a woman and a car; a woman and a car, it was that over and over again but beyond that I could not make sense of it. And then he was up wandering around at night. I thought he was sleep walking so I decided not to wake him or disturb him but he could have been fully awake for all I know. I was hoping it would not linger on for a long time since I had business to attend to later in the month. He thought nothing of time now.

"In those days, of course, war was something honorable. We were called on to kill the aggressors. When I used to read history books I used to read about Attila the Hun or the great battle of Chalons and I thought, by God, it was as if I was at the battle of Chalons except that instead of swords and lances and arrows we had machine guns and grenades and planes helping from above and the like. The sons-of-bitches used to say, "you men are honorable and doing what is honorable and the society will love you the women will want to lay you" and so forth. That's how they kept the morale up. They did not tell you that when you killed a man you had to see him laying there lifeless like an animal you ran over in the road. He looked so orderly. The wind blew over his soft hair, it raised up a bit, ruffled and fell back. I felt someone thump me on the back and it was the Sargent who wanted me to keep going forward. Before us was thick smoke. You know you look at those films, those black and white films and they don't really carry over the feeling of how it was. It was all in living color, in the dimension of life, in a sort of dream state. That's how the world passes isn't it? It's not the black and white films that you see in movies and on TV, it is the real thing it always has been. Even back at the battle of Chalons it was not as we picture in our minds it was the real thing, in living color, in the dimension of life, in a sort of dream state. And then we were on a long road that was not very wide."

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David Eide
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