What I Didn’t Do in 1918

“Like hell you will!”

“I will, I’ll go! And you can’t stop me!”

“You don’t have the balls; you’d fall down crying at first sight of blood. I’ve been through war. I know what it’s like. Just cause you have a little fur on your lip you think you can handle the world all on your lonesome, don’t you?” Pop had been stubborn before about me wantin’ to run in big races, but he ain’t never been this angry, and this time he didn’t even have a bottle in his hand. I knew he’d been through some hard times, but he just thought he knows everything.

“Stop it, both of you!” Emma cried out, “I’m done listening to you two arguen’ all of the time.”

“Emma, stay out of this. It ain’t none of your business,” I snapped back.

“If you go out and die it’s my business. Listen to Pop for once!” With that I felt I had some think’n to do. I slumped my head and began to walk out of the room in silence.

I ran out to the old Tulip Poplar out back of our house and just fell down at the roots. A few seconds later I heard some footsteps behind me. I looked up to find Emma sobbing in front of me.

“Don’t go,” she begged.

“All the other boys are going out to fight for their country, and I’m just sittn’ here. I gotta do my part.”

“And what if you don’t come back Willie?” she continued to sob big ol’ tears.

“I will though. Pa wouldn’t let me run, and now he won’t let me serve. If I keep listen’n to him I’ll grow old and die before I step foot off this mountain.” I was begginin’ to cry now too.

“If you go. . . can you promise me that you’ll come back?”

“I promise,” I replied with a crack in my voice.

Emma paused for a moment then said in a flat tone, “Then go.”

“Not until I talk to Pa.” I slowly trodded my way up to the house with thoughts racin’ through my head at a mile a minute. I stopped on the front porch as I heard Pa cryin’. I reached for the door handle, but I couldn’t do it. I turned around, looked at Emma and said, “Tell him I’m sorry,” before runin’ into town. I ran all the way straight to the little makeshift recruiter’s office. Before I remembered one last thing I had to do. I kept on running up the street into the general store. The shelves looked a little bare. All the flour barrels in the corner were empty and I hadn’t seen a bit of pork since the government started rationin’ everythin’ (Young). I found Mr. Martin sweapin’ the floor.

“You here for licorice or my daughter?” he snapped.

“I’ll take both if you got ’em,” I replied with a big smile on my face.

Just as he was about to respond Grace walked in and said, “I’ll get you the licorice, but if you want a date you’ll have to wait a while. I’m workn’.”

“I only wish,” I replied with a chuckle before asking Mr. Martin, “could we get a moment in private?” He walked into the back room where I’m sure he was still listening. I didn’t care though. I had to get the ok from Grace. That’s all that mattered to me. Even if my father said no, she was all that mattered. “I’m goin’.”

“Will, don’t,” she began to cry. There seemed to be a lot of tears goin’ round as of late.

“Grace, I can’t live with myself if I stay here. I have a duty, and I can’t give that up.”

“Why? You and all these other boys go off to war to do what? Die for some great cause that you don’t know anything about? I don’t want you to become a shell-shocked killer like all them other boys,” she continued to sob.

“Grace, . . . I have been sit’n here for far too long. Haven’t you ever wanted to do someth’n else other than just sit’n here on this mountain? Let me go. . . please,” I begged falling to my knees to look up into her bright blue eyes.

“I guess I can’t stop you, can I. Go, but you come back. You come back to me,” she grabbed my cheeks and gave me a big kiss.

I continued to look into her eyes and with big tears streamin’ down my cheeks I said, “I promise I’ll come back. And I’ll marry you when I do,” I said with a big smile breaking through my tears. We kissed again and I turned around to head out to the recruiting office.

“I’ll hold you to that,” she said as I left.


* * *


The recruiters told me to show up at Fort Sevier in two weeks, so I hitch hiked all the way to North Carolina (“Old). I had a day to wander around in town and get lost before I had to report in. I didn’t have any money on me so I just sat down and slept on my duffle overnight.

In the mornin’ I got to the base bright and early and the sarn’t let me get settled in—little did I know that this was just so that he could dump my footlocker in front of everyone later that day. Most of the basic training was pretty borin’. Just a bunch of men in hats shoutin’ at us all of the time and throwin’ our things around. But I did meet one nice fellow. A boy only about a year younger than me named John Davis. He made the dumb mistake of sayin’ “I’m tired” to the drill Sarn’t. After this I knew I’d want to stick by him. Anybody that gutsy just might be able to keep me alive.


* * *


Three weeks after basic training I was sent out to join theOld Hickory Division in France. They had been through a couple of battles before I got there and I was joining up for another one that would take place in a few days. We were gonna attack the Hindenburg Line near the St. Quentin Canal. To prepare, the Brits fired shells for two days to soften up the Jerrys on the other side. When I arrived with the other “doughboys” the Brits were lookin’ pretty sorry. Half of them and another half of the Jerrys on the other side were dead or sufferin’ from the flu (Billings). They were all covered in mud from head to toe and it was like they were speakin’ a different language the way they was talkin’ to us. I walked into the Brit half of the trenches with Davis to try and make a few new friends. Several of them were sittin’ around kerosene lamps tryin’ to read the Armenian newspapers (“About).

“Have ya got a fag on ya?” one soldier asked, putting his paper on to the side.

“A what?” I questioned.

“Acigarette,” he replied, slightly frustrated by my lack of understanding.

“Uhm, no,” I answered slightly confused.

“At’s fine, I’ve got some,” said another soldier as he walked into ourcubby hole. “Anyone

‘ave a match?”

“Uhm yeah, I got a couple,” Davis responded as he began to search through his bag. He lit their cigarettes and then asked for one for himself. I also asked for one.

“Oh not off that match. You want to be thethird man?” he said to Davis, “You’ll bepushing up daisies by daybreak if you light off that match.” Davis looked at him puzzled, with the match still burnin’ in his hand. The soldier sighed, grabbed the match, threw it in the mud, and handed us both cigarettes.

“It’s your match this time,” said Davis turnin’ to me. I was upset at having to use another match for our cigarettes.

The other soldier tossed me a bottle as Davis lit his cigarette, “Here, take this. You’ll need it tonight.”

I handed it back, “I don’t drink.”

“Your loss. Ya betta getdug in for the night. Tomorrow we goover the top,” he said with a chuckle as he began to settle down on his rain poncho.


* * *


I had woken up early cause of the big guns down the line. I hadn’t been able to get much sleep anyhow. I found a few of the soldiers rubbin’ ash on their faces, so I decided to do the same. I figure anythin’ that will improve my chances ought to be good to have. A trench runner came down the line wakin’ everyone up, quietly tellin’ them to get ready to attack. I grabbed my rifle and looked it over carefully to make sure it was in good order.

Today’s attack was supposed to be pretty tough. The Russians had left the fight to go fight each other and now the Jerrys had a g few men to spare (Trueman).  I could see a few bunkers and a whole lotta hell in the moonlight when I peeked over the edge. This was supposed to be the Kaiser’s last stand. “The Hindenburg Line” they called it.

I began to get a little shaky, so I joined Davis and a few of the other boys in a prayer. I suppose it was up to God if I lived or died now.

Then all of the sudden hell broke loose. “Go, go, go!” shouted the division commander between blowin’ his whistle. I jumped over the edge of the trench to see the hell-scape that was before us in the early morn’n moonlight. Rottin’ corpses, limbs, and horses littered the field. Machine guns fired in all directions cuttin’ us down like wheat. There were several gaps in the bob-wire that a few boys had gone out and cut for us the night before. I ran as fast as I could for the nearest gap. As I crossed through men dropped all around me from machine gun fire. They screamed in pain. Those that could lobbed hand grenades at the trenches. Just as a machine gunner started turnin’ to me a grenade went off at his feet and he flew into the air with both legs gone. I leapt into a nearby crater and landed on a body. I shoved it away and rolled to the side.

Breathing heavily I looked over the edge of my foxhole to try to get my bearings. A flare went up over head and I saw a clear area just ahead. I jumped up and ran for it. Just as I neared the trench a German jumped up and ran at me with his bayonet.

The ground erupted into a plume of hot mud and ash all around me as I flew through the air. My head was spinning as I stumbled to my feet. The Krout that had charged me waswalkin’ around aimlessly. I pulled out my sidearm and walked toward him and he dropped on his rear shoutin’ at me in German. I aimed my pistol at him. Sweat formed on my brow. My head was still spinnin’ and I felt nauseated. This was the definin’ moment. My Pop told me that I couldn’t do it and I had to prove him wrong. I cocked back the hammer and a tear rolled down my cheek. The boy cried out in fear raisin’ his hands in front of his face beggin’ me not to do it.

I dropped the pistol, fell to my knees, and vomited. The boy jumped up and stumbled his way back to his line. I fell over and he battle seemed to fade out as everythin’ went black.


* * *


A little over a month later the war ended and two months after that we headed home (“Old). I walked up to the house and Emma ran out to give me a big hug. She had a huge smile on her face. As I walked into the house Grace gave me a big kiss and Pop asked me from across the room, “So how was your little vacation?”

Grace looked at Emma, “I think we should give them a moment.”

“I’m sorry Pop, I couldn’t do it.”

He stood up, walked over to me, and embraced me with tears in his eyes, “I know. And you’re better for it too. I’m just glad you’re home safe, Will.”



Works Cited

“About this Collection – Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers’ Newspaper of World War I,                 1918-1919.”The Library of Congress. n.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

Billings, Molly. “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.”Stanford University. Web. June 1997. 12                     Apr. 2017

“Old Hickory Division.”Old Hickory Division | NCpedia. n.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Young, Lauren.”The Meatless, Wheatless Meals of World War I America.”Atlas Obscura. n.p.,                 10 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.


Great Events from History: The 20th Century 1915-1923. Robert F. Gorman, ed. 2007. 27 March             2017.

Hanlon, Michael F. “Words, Expressions & Terms Popularized 1914 – 1918.” The Legends and                 Traditions of the Great War: Words and Expression Popularized, 1914-1918. n.p., n.d.                        Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Jones, Edgar. “Shell Shocked.”Time Capsule. American Psychological Association, June 2012.                 Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

“Picture Postcards from the Great War.”Cigarettes & Tobacco and WWI Soldiers. n.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Trueman, C. N. “The Russian Civil War.”History Learning Site. n.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 12                      Apr. 2017.