During the Civil War, a farm boy from Ohio set down his plow and enlisted with his two brothers to fight. He fell after being tested at Shiloh, dying young and childless.
By ZOLTAN KROMPECHER
Special to The Star
Years later, another man left an Ohio River town to fight on the battlefields of Europe. He came home, rarely speaking of the war.
Why they went, what they witnessed and discovered within themselves, nobody will ever know. The young farmer was my Great-Great Uncle Eli. The second man was my Grandpa Austin.
My grandpa returned to the Appalachian Foothills, but they could no longer contain him.
He spoke once of the war: my aunt had chastised him on his driving and he shot back with, I drove all over Europe at night with no headlights on and Nazis shooting at me. Dont tell me how to drive.
That was it. No letters or conversations left to share. His dog tags and a picture hang in my office.
Insight sometimes arrives in the form of a soldiers letter, written when the world around them grew desperate and small.
Recently, New York Times bestselling writer Andrew Carroll came to speak to an auditorium full of soldiers. Carroll has appeared on major news networks, in periodicals, on Oprah, and in an Oscar-nominated documentary based on his work.
On this July Fourth, we should do well to remember the voices of those who served in Americas wars. Their stories are pieces of the puzzle that compete our national identity. It is in this vein where Carroll presented a gift to the American people.
Carroll does not write novels. In fact, most stories in his books were written by the hands of those who served our nation. The thousands of letters he has collected through his Legacy Project some written eloquently, others hastily scribbled reveal moments from other lifetimes, before memories became clouded with age.
Their experiences are burned into our collective thoughts.
Combat provides fertile ground for stories with innocence stripped away, men and women write in unvarnished prose. Their letters speak of friendships forged between men who bared their souls in foxholes, anxious civilians trapped between fighting armies, wives made widows or children orphans, messages from the home front to the front lines and men and women returning to a world somehow different than when they first left. The letters cover a galaxy of war stories.
Written with clarity and honesty, their testimonies spin thoughts into a tapestry which transport us to moments when the world exploded in a violent spectacle, betraying innocent eyes. Carrolls letters are textured with emotion where we dwell with soldiers, before time or a bullet claimed them for eternity.
Somewhere in those lines is my friend Dave who died in Tal Afar, my grandfather in the Bulge, and my Uncle Eli before his life spilled out and he slipped the bonds of this earth. They are resurrected when I read War Letters, even if it is only transitory.
Carrolls works provide bridges to past generations that evince a re-evaluation of our views on past service members.
They are their stories, but ours, too. They are threads in our identity that have helped heal a wounded nation. In them, we discover something of ourselves.
Zoltan Krompecher, an Army lieutenant colonel, was raised in Ohio and serves in the Army in Texas. He is a Green Beret who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a past Midwest Voices columnist, contributing when he was at Fort Leavenworth. These views are his own.