1917: A Year to End All Arrogance


“Stay with me, Will! We’ll get you home to see Evelyn . . .” were the last sound I recall from that day.

.  .  .

“Hey, Grandpa. I know it’s late, but we was havin’ so much fun I lost track of time.”

“Son, ‘lost time is never found again'” (Wise).

Ever since Mom and Dad past away, Grandpa has only said stuff that makes no sense and has no relevance to my life. He thinks just because I live with him he can tell me how to run my life. He has no interest in the way I feel, just what I do—and it grates on my nerves.

“Whatever, Grandpa. I’m nineteen now, so I think I can manage my own life,” I replied with a sarcastic tone.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. There wasn’t much for excitement until the year 1917.

.  .  .

“That will be seven cents,” I groaned.

“Seven cents? But a loaf of bread was just six cents last week,” she replied with a whine.

“Mrs. McNeill, I don’t set the prices. I’m just an employee. I wouldn’t even be workin’ here if I could help it. Now, have a good day Miss.”

Really, the only reason I was working was to save up for a car. I had looked around town for an easy job that paid decent, but the best I could find was this Piggly Wiggly

that paid only fifteen cents a hour. I did the math and if I worked for two years—six hours a day—I would have the four hundred dollars I needed to buy that Monroe M3“equipped with the Sterling 3 x 1/4 inch bore and stroke engine” (Monroe).

.  .  .

“Here’s the milk and eggs you asked me to pick up from work, Grandpa. I’m goin’ over to Evelyn’s house for a while.”

“Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely” (Wise).

“You know, Grandpa, it kinda irritates me that the only time you talk is to blurt in your two cents. And even then, you don’t ever look me in the eye. All ya ever do is sit in your rocker and stare at that wall!”

I slammed the door—not wishing to hear another one of his know-it-all comments. Grandpa was referring to my girlfriend, Evelyn Pearce, who had to be one of the prettiest girls in town. I think he’s just jealous because when he was a kid he couldn’t pick up a cute blonde like Evelyn. Thankfully I wasn’t Grandpa: I was actually blessed with good looks and was pretty smooth when it came to the ladies.

.  .  .

“Evelyn, why are you still dating William Pike? I thought your Ma and I warned you about boys like him. He has no respect for you, me, or God for that matter.”

“I know, Pa, and that’s why I’m careful, but I also see potential for Will to be a great man.”

“Evelyn, I don’t believe a boy like Will will ever become a great man worthy enough for you.”

“Pa, I see why you’re worried, but I feel as if it’s my duty to positively influence Will. I know he has potential; I just have to help him realize who he truly is deep down.

“Evelyn, I know you are a smart young woman and you have a bigger heart than anyone I know, but I hope you can recognize the dangers of dating a guy like Will. Just promise me that you won’t put yourself through heartache for Will’s sake.”

“I promise Pa, and thanks for watching out for me. If I need any more help, you will be the first person I come to!”

As I creaked up the wooden steps to Evelyn’s house I could hear her and her Pa was havin’ a conversation, but I couldn’t make out what they was sayin’. On the contrary, I could definitely make out with Evelyn if she would only let me. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what Evelyn sees in me besides my looks, but I’m not complaining.

               Knock, knock, knock,

               “Hey Mr. Pearce, is Evelyn around?”

“Yes, she . . .”

“Hey Will!” Evelyn exclaimed as she cut her Pa off from the door. “So what do you have in store for us tonight?”

“A new movie I’ve been wanting to see comes out tonight,” I replied.

“Alright,” Mr. Pearce said reluctantly, “keep her safe, and I want her home by a decent hour.”

I bought two tickets to see The Tanks in Action at the Battle of the Ancre

. I was ecstatic to watch this war film. Ever since President Woodrow Wilson had declared war in April, posters and war propaganda were posted everywhere. My favorite was a poster of Uncle Sam pointing at me saying, “I want you for U.S. army.” These posters stirred something within me and I had a desire to fight for my country. I hadn’t talked to Evelyn about the way I felt because I got the vibe she wasn’t too thrilled with the whole idea of war.

The movie started and short films about The Western Front called for young men to go to war to honor the U.S. The front lines were all I thought about while the movie played. When it finished, I had convinced myself that my country needs me.

“We need to talk,” Evelyn said.

“I was thinkin’ the same thing. I’ve decided I’m going to enlist tomorrow.”

Evelyn began to cry. I wiped her tears and to my surprise she pulled me in and kissed me. She kissed me as if she was saying goodbye.

After dropping Evelyn off, I proceeded home to tell Grandpa about my decision. As expected he didn’t say much, but this time he turned to me and looked me in the eye as he said, “War is sweet to those who haven’t experienced it” (Wise).

June 5, 1917, I enlisted into the U.S. Army.

.  .  .

While the sun brought a sense of hope, even it had a bite in this hell hole, as if the rats and bullets didn’t bite hard enough on their own. The rats could be mistaken for cats due to the feast provided by the decaying bodies. Ears and noses were eaten clean off and some carcasses eaten clean through the stomach. Bodies were stacked taller then I was. Slicing the still, stagnant air, the soldiers’ cries from No Man’s Land echoed through the trenches. It’s called No Man’s Land for a reason; completely barren because of the bombardment of artillery and littered with barbed wire and the dead—few return. As the dense fog is melted away, the puddles’ reveal their contents: arms, legs, fingers, feet, and chunks of brain bob in the mucous, blood puddles.

I’m ready to go home. Grandpa was right.

“Private Pike! Pike! Get on your ladder!”

I was shoved on my back and my bosom pressed against the cold, blood-saturated embankment. The Battle of Cambrai was about to commence. I looked to either side of me, and a farm boy I met in training was on my left. I tried speaking, but nothing came out. My hands trembled from the lack of sleep, dehydration, and adrenaline pumping through my body. He didn’t look too strong, but that kid could lift almost anything. Finally I managed to get a few words to role off my tongue.

“Trent, you think we’ll make it back?” I asked with tears in my eyes.

“I hope so . . . ”

An awful smell socked my nose and I realized Trent had soiled his trousers. The whistle blew and the men poured over the trench lip like ants coming from their nest. I looked to my left to see Trent’s head explode. His brain was now plastered on my uniform and in my hair.

Frozen, I stood there in shock. It felt like a thousand bees bit into my leg at once and I fell to the ground. My leg was squirting blood profusely and was only attached by the bone.

“Stay with me Will! We’ll get you home to see Evelyn . . .” was the last thing I can recall from that day.

The plan was to follow closely behind our guardian angels—”376 Mark IV fighting tanks” who would lead the way; knocking down barbed wire or any other obstacles in our way (history). The infantry, such as myself, was supposed to lay down suppression fire. The plan was a success, but I wasn’t apart of it.

.  .  .

“Hey Grandpa. I know it’s late, but how are you doing?”

Grandpa stood up out of his rocker, gave me a huge smile, and hugged me tight without saying a word. What I didn’t realize when I was younger, is that every word Grandpa ever said was something he had learned in his life. I was just too prideful, arrogant, and selfish to take his word and unfortunately I had to learn the hard way—having war crush, tare, and mold me into my potential.

.  .  .

Knock, knock, knock,

               “Good evening Mr. Pearce, is Evelyn around?” I asked as I shook his hand.

“Yes, she . . .”

“William Pike?!” Evelyn exclaimed as she cut her Pa off from the door.

“Evelyn, I wanted to apologize for the way I treated you. I have no excuse and I was a selfish, prideful, and an arrogant boy. I hope you can for giving me . . . You deserve a better man then I am.”

I hung my head in shame, but Evelyn gently lifted my chin as she said, “I forgive you.” She pulled me in and kissed me. This time with a kiss that said I will love you forever.



















Works Cited

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