1917: Battlefront

Erin Yoon, guest writer

“Just come back home, okay?” Sophia pleaded earnestly.
My life seemed to be quite ordinary: I was born and raised in a small town called San Luis, Colorado. When I finished my morning shift working at The Hampton Factory, I assisted my father, Jason Evans, at the family’s farm.
It had been three years since World War I began, but the United States had not been involved yet. I had a distant dream that I would one day join the military and fight for my country. I wanted to help put an end to this seemingly pointless war. I wished that all conflicts could be resolved without having to hurt anyone. I would soon discover that my wish was nearly impossible to achieve. However, my little sister, Katie, and my mother, Katherine, who was unemployed, depended on me. On April 6, the United States declared war on Germany after they sunk several U.S. ships.
In about three months, I was enlisted to serve in the army and to be shipped off to war. It was tremendously difficult for me when I had to bid my family and my dearest, Sophia, farewell before going to war.
“Tony, how long will you be gone for?” Sophia inquired.
I responded with a shrug, “I honestly have no idea.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter as long as you come back home, okay?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
On June 26, the first batch of U.S. soldiers, including me, was dispatched in France for training in military combat. As I walked off the plane, I drew in a deep breath of foul air and vowed to myself that I would get back on a plane someday and return home.
“Get used to this, it will soon become your home,” General John Pershing stated blandly.
There was no way I was ever going to call this dreadful place my home. How were we supposed to live knowing we could die at any moment?
* * *
One day in boot camp, we were training to “keep watch.” After several hours passed, my eyelids felt heavy, and my head drooped. Big mistake.
“Evans, what do you think you are doing?”
“I’m sorry sir, I’m getting a little tired here.”
“Get down and give me twenty!”
Two more hours passed, and I thought to myself, What am I doing? Maybe this isn’t for me. I can’t even do something as simple as staying awake. How am I going to survive if I go to war?
No, this is what I came for. No one said it was going to be easy. You just have to get through this and get stronger. Do it for Sophia and Katie.
After what seemed like an eternity, five hours passed and we all collapsed on our beds. Right before I fell into the sweet relish of sleep, Josh said to me, “Tony, you’re different from everyone else here. How do you have such a focused determination?”
“Find something worth fighting for. I’m only making it through because I have people that I love at home waiting for me to come back.”
* * *
Today was the big day. After two months had passed, we were deployed onto the battlefield in France. I soon came to realize that life on the battlefront was far more rigorous than I thought it would be. It was harder because “food was scarce and staying healthy was difficult due to the conditions of the camps and the trenches” (Rivera).
A month passed, and living conditions worsened. Everyday held its own chores for every soldier. From draining the filthy trenches, to filling up dirt bags, gave each of the soldiers a duty to accomplish (Rivera). Having something to do instead of thinking about the worst made us feel slightly better. Most of the deaths were not caused by being shot, but by “the disease and infection that could be acquired from a wide variety of things took the role as the main killer” (Rivera). Even a small cut could lead to death if it became infected. Even though I was living in the worst conditions, I remained somewhat healthy and maintained my survival mentality.
One night, Josh and I were assigned to keep watch. To pass time, we talked about our families at home while keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.
“I wonder how Sophia’s doing. You think she misses me?”
“Evans, are you kidding me? She probably cries herself to sleep every night, wondering if you’ll make it out the next day.”
“I don’t wanna put her through that.”
“None of us want to hurt our loved ones, but what must be done, must be done. At this point, being healthy is a privilege.”
“When’d you get so solemn, man?”
We were talking when I heard unsubtle rustling in the bushes nearby. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. My heart skipped a few beats. I was confused, however, because whoever was making the noises was not trying to hide it. I stiffly held my heavy Winchester rifle up and put my finger on the trigger.
“Hey, ya’ll got something to eat?” Brandon jumped out of the bushes.
I pointed my gun towards the trees at the last second. “Brandon! I could have killed you! What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean? I just asked if you had food.”
Josh bursted out laughing.
“Hey, what do you think you’re laughing at?” I started to relax.
“I’m so sorry Tony, I know I should be sleeping but I was so hungry I had to eat something.”
“When aren’t you? And I understand it’s difficult to sleep when you have to, and wish you could sleep when you shouldn’t.”
“Alright, I’ll see y’all later.”
Ten minutes later, we heard nervous rustling, but from the opposite direction.
“Brandon, why is it so hard to get something in your head?”
“Wait, get down, I don’t think he’d be that stupid to be playing games with us right now.” Josh whispered.
My heartbeat rapidly increased in two seconds.
All of a sudden, they all came out at once. We hid behind a boulder as the gunshots poured out around us. I called for immediate assistance as we were being ambushed.
My fingers fumbled on the rusty keys of the old telephone as I tried to remember the number. “Sir, this is Rover 1. Call for fire. Immediate assistance needed. Please hurry!”
“I don’t think there are that many of them!” I yelled to Josh.
“No, maybe six at the most! But they still outnumber us. Let’s hope help comes soon.”
After a couple minutes went by, backup came and supported us. We barely made it out that night with only a few cuts and bruises, but if it were not for the quick response of our friends, we would have met our demise.
* * *
“Hey, how are you holding up?”
“I could be doing better,” Josh said jokingly.
“Yeah, that goes for all of us here. Sergeant Pershing gave orders to prepare for a possible raid at dawn. Do you think you will be able to manage?”
Josh took in a deep breath and replied with a smirk on his face, “Evans, who do you think I am? I got this.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
I came to realize that having faith and putting trust in your fellow comrades was crucial to survival. Fighting at that battlefield brought me out of my comfort zone and taught me not to take the little things for granted. I thought of the times when I felt safe and loved. I thought of when Sophia would bring me lunch to eat together at work. My heart ached. Something as simple as having your family beside you was such a blessing and a comfort.
At dawn, everyone was restless and nervous for any sign of a raid. We waited and waited, our senses sharp, but we did not even hear a single gunshot. By midday, we were more uneasy than before because the expected became the unexpected. I started to wonder what the enemy side was planning. Is this a trick? Are they trying to catch us off guard? Everyday is full of surprises. How I wish this was all a dream.
That night, as some of us got ready to get some rest, we heard it. The first crack of gunshots went off, and bombs exploded all around us. This was it. This was where the nightmare had started. No, what if it started the day I got drafted? I got down and tried to remain calm. Everywhere I looked, people were calling for help or yelling in agony as they suffered from wounds. I found Josh, and seeing that he was alright made me feel less anxious.
A few minutes went by and then all of a sudden, everything went black. A shell had exploded right where we were, throwing debris into the air and obliterating our side of defense. I somehow regained consciousness and my hand immediately held my throbbing head. When I removed my hands and looked at them, all I saw was a pool of red. Oh no. This is where I die.
I pulled myself together and searched nearby for Josh. Through my hazy thoughts and blurry eyes, I scanned the brown hilly terrain for any sign of my friend. I did not bother to look at the murky trenches for I knew Josh would be buried alive by the explosions if his body was flung across the vast cavern. Only a minute ago, he was smiling beside me; assuring me that everything was going to be okay. I dragged myself around, and saw him lying facedown a couple feet away from me. Putting my pain aside, I ran to his side. Warm, dark pools of red gushed out all over his body, and his legs looked terribly shattered. His right leg was twisted the wrong way and splinters jutted out all down his left leg. I shook him and prayed that he would at least be able to acknowledge me, but to my disbelief, he would not even stir.
“Hey, Josh, Josh!” I screamed. “Please God, let him be alive. I will do anything. Please dear Lord, just let him come back to life. He does not deserve this. I believe in you and the miracles that you can perform. Please just let him be alive.” This was the first time I had ever called out to God; I wasn’t sure He existed.
Five seconds later, I felt the slightest movement from Josh’s feeble hand.
“Josh! Are you okay?”
I got a medic to help Josh, and something on the corner of his uniform caught my eye. I saw that, “there was a star in a box on his sleeve because he was a major” (Hemingway). As they took him away on a stretcher, I said one more prayer, “Dear God, thank you so much for saving my friend. Please help all of us to get through this and put an end to this fighting.”
As I got back on the battlefield, still shaken by what had just happened, I thought to myself, When will this nightmare ever end?
Works Cited
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Collier Books Macmillan Publishing Company, 1929. Print.
Rivera, Daniel. “Conditions on the War Front.” Fdresa. 20 March 2009. Web. 22 January 2018.
“Basic Training Frequently Asked Questions.” Army. n.d. Web. 31 January 2018.
History.com Staff. “America Enters World War 1.” History.com. A+E Networks, 2010. Web. 15
January 2018.
History.com Staff. “John J. Pershing.” History.com A+E Networks, 2009. Web. 15 January 2018.
Pike, John. “Call for Fire.” Global Security. 2017. Web. 11 February 2018.
“World War 1: 1914-1918.” Striking Women. GreenNet, 2014. Web. 21 January 2018.