copyright © 2001 Todd Ristau

Piece for Memorial Day 2001

[lights up on soldier seated against nearly shattered wall, with pen and paper. He is dressed for combat in WW2, rifle nearby, canteen, etc. He picks up a nearby Nazi helmet and begins to write a letter]

Soldier: (speaking as he writes) Ma, I’m writing to you now from somewhere near the front. Its quiet now, and I have a chance to put down some words, but I don’t know if you will get them. Its May 25th, and that’s your birthday. Wanted you to know I didn’t forget, what with all that’s going on. I love you. And I miss you.

I won’t lie to you, the fighting’s been hard. Real hard. Today we linked up with the 2nd Corps. The weird thing is here we are in Italy and I’ve fought nothing but Germans the whole time it seems like, but we’re pushing toward Rome and I bet we see some Eye-Talians then.

I can’t hardly describe the battles, Ma. You gotta be there. But you should pray to God how glad you are you ain’t. I think the only way you could describe war to somebody who never was there was to take a gun and shoot them in the belly and say, "That’s war, pal. How do you like it?"

I don’t like it for beans.

When we come up on Anzio they say there were 45,000 Nazis on a front of about 1,000 yards. Three divisions. After a while you didn’t touch the ground when you walked, you walked on a carpet of bodies. Ma, I never seen so many bodies as was on that field.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of bodies. Dead guys, just like yourself except they’re dead and you ain’t. They’re stacked up like wood. Some of them rolling in water, some hollering for their wives, mothers....some of them just wanting a living person to sit there with ‘em while they die, so that a blown apart corpse ain’t the last thing they see in this world.

But you can’t sit, you gotta keep moving forward. Forward.

In the movies its all these guys walking around with clean uniforms and big smiles saying "Yeah, I killed that guy and did you see how I killed that other guy?" Well, killing a guy ain’t what is exactly something you celebrate in a bar over a beer.

Most of the time, you don’t know if you killed the guy or not, you just figure you have when they stop shooing back at you but other times....we took these prisoners, you know?

About three guys in a machine gun nest. This corporal says to me, "take these men back to headquarters" but there ain’t no headquarters. But I got ordered to deal with them so I had to feed them and give them water and keep an eye on themm me and my buddy Richie. He got stuck because he can speak kraut. I was so goddam mad at these guys, like they were personally responsible for all the bodies I’d tagged that I didn’t want to watch them or take them anyplace.

Then we got our orders to move on forward again, and since there wasn’t anyplace to take these prisoners to, there was only one thing to do with them. A sergeant come by and says to Richie, "Kill them fuckers, we’re moving out." He didn’t stick around, he just kept walking and smoking his Lucky Strike. Richie just stood there staring at me, and them prisoners maybe didn’t speak english but they knew what was coming because they started talking a mile a minute to Richie.

I says, "Richie, you gotta kill them."

He says, "I can’t."

I says, "Why the Hell not?"

He says, "Because I can understand everything they’re saying."

"Bullshit" I said, and I let one of them have it.

That was the first time I ever saw the face of somebody I killed.

The other ones were yelling at me now. I don’t know much kraut, but I could tell they were begging me not to kill them. But I did. I killed every last one of them.

And Richie was crying. I don’t know why, Ma, but that made me madder than anything and I swear to God I almost turned around and shot him too.

Ma, I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t feel bad about it. I didn’t feel nothing until Richie started to cry and then all I was madder than hell. I think maybe I was mad because he could still feel something after everything we done since we got to Italy, and I couldn’t.

I don’t ask myself what I’m doing here, maybe I should. I don’t think about making the world safe for democracy or anything else. I think about not getting myself killed and keeping that one thought in front of me maybe makes it easier to do some pretty damned evil shit. Like I’m just one zombie in a great big goddam army of zombies.

Sure, I live in a great country--sure I love my country...and if we can get this one ended I hope we never have no more wars at all.....

[Long pause. Soldier wads up the letter and throws it away.]

Maybe what she don’t know won’t hurt me.

[lights out]


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