Back in ’39, I was 17, and thought that joining the army would be a great way to earn some dough, see the world, and impress the dames. Women love a man in uniform. Besides, life was goin’ nowhere fast, living on the farm just outside Bolton, Ontario.
Of course, you got to be 18 to join the Forces, but being as I don’t have a birth certificate, my word was good enough for the recruiting office. I was pretty damn near sky high when they approved me for basic training. And basic training wasn’t all that bad. I mean we got yelled at a hell of a lot by the sergeant. And we had to carry heavy packs around and march like crazy in all kinds of weather. But I was young and full of piss and vinegar so it wasn’t half bad.
I never thought things would turn out like this though. Here I am, hunkered down on the front lines, somewhere in France. It’s cold and it’s wet and I haven’t slept more than two hours in a row for more than three weeks. Goddamn shells are landing all around us. Sometimes it gets so loud I can’t hear no more. All I hear is a ringing that seems to come from deep in my head, but I know there’s noise because the ground is shakin’ somethin’ fierce. The other day a shell landed on the bunker beside mine. Just a head splitting whine from the sky a second before Hell itself exploded on us. I had to be fifty feet from where it landed, but the shock from it blew me off my feet and set me on my ass. I heard pieces of shrapnel screamin’ through the air above my head. I got off lucky with a bruised ass, but those poor bastards in the bunker are gone. Fucking gone. I’m talking pink cloud of blood gone. All that was left of them was a few shreds of bloody uniform and some small scraps of meat. This ain’t something new to me now. I seen all kinds of guys blown to pieces in the month that I’ve been here. The first time I saw death it was when Billy Lewis stepped on a landmine and got shredded into a million pieces by TNT and shrapnel. Billy was a private just like me. He had told me just the night before how he missed his Ma and Pa and some girl named Jenny who was waiting for him to come home. When I thought about it I puked on my boots. Now I guess I’m kind of desensitized to it. Fellas are dying every fucking day. I just keep my head low and follow orders and pray that I’ll get out of here some day.
My standards for what makes a good day have changed. I used to think I was having a good day if I got all my chores done in time to toss the ball around with the fellas. It was a good day if Ma cooked a roast beef for dinner. In the evening I’d sit down with Pa in the parlour and watch him smoke his pipe as we listened to a detective play on the RCA. That seems like a thousand years ago now. It’s got to be a hundred thousand miles away too. Now it’s a good day if none of my pals dies with Kraut lead in his gut. It’s a good day if my socks don’t get soaked with blood, and if I don’t have to hear the screams of the wounded and dying. It’s a good day if we don’t have to fight the Krauts hand to hand for another goddamn useless yard of soil.
And speakin of the Krauts, I hate them. I never used to hate nobody, but now I hate the Krauts. And I know in my head that they’re just boys like us. I seen ’em. They look just like us, they got fear in their eyes just like us. They just talk German and wear different uniforms. But they’re settin’ out to kill us just as surely as we’re settin’ out to kill them. And that turns something deep inside you that nothing in your head can get you past. I’ll kill any Kraut that comes within sight.
If and when I ever get to go home, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to the farm. How will I ever milk a cow again when the smell of blood won’t leave my nostrils? How can I plough a field when all I can hear is the screams of my pals as their life bleeds from their torn off limbs? How can I feed the fucking chickens when my eyes are filled with blood-red rage? None of that matters to me now though. I’m just gonna keep soldiering on. I’m just gonna keep marching until they tell me to stop. And I’m just gonna keep killing until there’s no more killing to be done. Ain’t war glorious?