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Journal Writing Project - Eric Leitzen

Fri, Nov 8th, 2002
Posted in Columnists

An excerpt from the diary of Corporal Peter Swenson, of Red Wing, Minnesota.

How much Longer will it last? Three days I have laid here in this dug out hole, this muddy, barbed wire studded bunker that has been my home for the past year. Another shell bursts overhead. The roof shakes, and it is all I can do to keep my sanity. Three days they have been bombarding us. Three days we have had to live like moles in these bunkers. How much longer will it last? How much longer will they prolong this, before that horrible whistle sounds? That blasted whistle. I hate it. Every time it blows, I realize that I may not be alive at the end of the day.

Another shell explodes, the boy in the bunker next to me shudders and whimpers on his pitiful pallet bed. He was just brought into our company yesterday, fearful and trembling, his oversize Doughboy helmet rattling on his youthful, blonde haired head. I remember my first day at war. My heart goes out to the kid as I introduce myself. Im hoping that some gentle conversation will take his mind off the German shells thudding above.

Hi, my names Peter. Whats yours? J-j-oey. Joey Clark. F-from Boston.

Boston, eh? I got a sister living there. I tried to sound as genial as I could. The boy seemed to loosen up a bit.

So what do you do in Boston, Joey?

I just graduated, I could hear the tear in his voice as he thought of home, I was going to be a writer.

A Writer? Really? Well maybe you can write about this whole mess when its finished. Just make sure to mention your old pal Peter.

He even managed a small laugh. Okay. he said timidly.

Another shell burst above our heads. The Germans must have packed a little more powder into that one, it made a resounding crash, sending pounds of loose dirt raining down upon our heads. Then suddenly, silence.

Why aint the shells dropping anymore Peter? Joey asked. His helmet began to rattle again. He feared the same thing I did. That soon wed hear that whistle, and after that it would be the cries of Over the Top, Boys! and we may both possibly die. I could see the absolute fear stamped on Joeys face.

P-peter? he stammered. Yeah Joey? I was beginning to shake also. It was nice meeting you, he smiled and reached out to shake my hand. Huh, the kids made of sterner stuff than I thought. Hell do fine. After our hands parted, we waited in our bunks for the whistle. Five minutes passed. Ten. Twelve.

Joey began to moan. Oh no! The Huns have gotten to us! Were overrun! Theyll gas this hole for sure!

No Joey, that aint it, I assured him, there would have been some kind of noise for that. Follow me.

Gripping my rifle tight, I crawled out of the bunk. Joey followed suit. I fondled the bolt of my rifle. Old Jack. He had become my best friend through this horrible war. Always did what he was told, Old Jack. And never missed a target.

With all the resolve left in my body, I thrust my head out of the bunker. I saw the most bizarre sight. There stood my entire company, straight as arrows, looking out over No Mans Land, that tangled mess of barbed wire and shell holes between trenches. I crept up to my commanding officer, a Virginian by the name of Barksdale, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned sharply to face me.

Beg your pardon, Sergeant Barksdale, but whats going on?

Didnt you hear? The Armistice has been signed! Its peace!

Peace. Whats that? The word had nearly been driven out of my vocabulary.

The Armistice... I mumbled. I had heard talk about it round the camp for a month or two, but I didnt think it was real. I walked over to Joey to tell him the good news.

Peace! Thank God! His eyes brimmed with tears of joy. We heard Barksdale call for attention as one brave soldier climbed atop a medical truck and began to wave the American Flag. Somewhere, softly on the cool breeze, I heard someone begin to sing God Bless America. Soon the whole company as singing it softly, reverently. When it was finished, even old Barksdale had tears in his eyes. Peace. What a beautiful word.

I once again riveted my eyes to the flag, being waved triumphantly from atop that truck. I heard Joeys voice behind me, clear and light.

November eleventh. The Day of the Armistice. This is gonna be a day they remember for a long time, Peter. When they see that flag waving back home theyll think of us, and what were here for. Some will cry, some will laugh, some will do both. But I guarantee that they will all stand to the flag like we are now, to honor us in the years to come.

This fictional piece is dedicated to every American who has taken up arms to defend this country and the freedoms upon which our lives are based.

Eric Leitzen is a student at Mabel-Canton High School.

The Journal Writing Project focuses on the writing of area young people.

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