Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sure, It's Fun!

US WW1 poster by Gordon Grant
The United States entered the Great War in April of 1917, but spent much of that year recruiting and training troops. Most American doughboys didn’t begin to head “Over There” until the spring of 1918, yet by the end of May, over one million American soldiers were in France. On May 28th, American 1st Division troops attacked the Germans at Cantigny, taking the town and then resisting seven German counter-attacks, at the cost of 200 American dead and over 1600 casualties. Less than one week later, American 2nd and 3rd Division troops, including a brigade of U.S. Marines, repulsed the German spring offensive in ferocious fighting at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood. American casualties neared 10,000, and of those, 1,811 died. Marine Sergeant Major Dan Daly reportedly said to his men prior to charging German positions at Belleau Wood, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”*

US Marines Memorial, Belleau Wood
photo Battlefield Historian, via Flickr 
The formidable gap between the glorious ideal of war and the reality of battle yawned wide, but in 1915, two years before America entered the war, New York City writer Richard Butler Glaenzer had warned against naïve militarism.

Sure, It’s Fun

What fun to be a soldier!
            -- Everykid

Sure, it's fun to be a soldier! Oh, it's fun, fun, fun,
Upon an iron shoulder-blade to tote a feather gun;
To hike with other brave galoots in easy-going army-boots;
To pack along a one-ounce sack, the commissary on your track;
To tramp, tramp, tramp, to a right-and-ready camp!
Fun? -- Sure, it's fun, just the finest ever, son!

Yes, it's fun to be a soldier! Oh, it's fun, fun, fun,
To loaf along a level road beneath a cloudless sun
Or over fields of golden grain, kept cool by puffs of wind and rain;
Then richly, more-than-fully, fed, to stretch upon a downy bed
And sleep, sleep, sleep, while the stay-at-homes weep!
Fun? -- Sure, it's fun, just the finest ever, son!

Oh, it's fun to be a soldier! Oh, it's fun, fun, fun,
To catch the silly enemy and get 'em on the run;
Lyle Justis illustration from
Toward the Flame
To here and there blow off a head with just a bit of chuckling lead;
To bayonet a foolish bloke at hide-and-seek in trench and smoke;
To shoot, shoot, shoot, till they've got no legs to scoot!
Fun? -- Sure, it's fun, just the finest ever, son!

God, it's fun to be a soldier! Oh, it's fun, fun, fun
To lie out still and easy when your day's sport's done;
With not a thing to worry for, nor anything to hurry for;
Not hungry, thirsty, tired, but a hero much-admired;
Just dead, dead, dead, like Jack and Bill and Fred!
Fun? -- Sure, it's fun, just the finest ever, son!
            —Richard Butler Glaenzer

A sergeant from the 1st Division, Boleslaw Suchocki, recounted his experience of soldiering:

Lyle Justis illustration from
Toward the Flame
Into the village of Cantigny we go.  There remained nothing but ruins.  We passed on through to the other side of the village.  Here we encountered barbed-wire entanglements, but it was our good fortune to get through these without any mishap.  But once across I noticed that the boys were falling down fast. A shell burst about ten yards in front of me and the dirt from the explosion knocked me flat on my back.  I got up again but could not see further than one hundred feet.  I heard someone yell “Lay down.” I knelt on one knee and wondered what would come next… We laid down and started to shoot, and it was our good fortune that the second wave reached the place at this time.  About twenty Dutchmen came out of the holes, threw down their rifles, and stood with their hands up.  The doughboys didn’t pay any attention to this, but started in to butcher and shoot them.  One of the doughboys on the run stabbed a Dutchman and his bayonet went clear though him.  The German artillery was in action all the time…. I stopped at a strong-point and asked the boy in the trench if there was room for me to get in. ‘Don’t ask for room, but get in before you get your [!#%&] shot off,’ a doughboy said.**

And Hervey Allen, a 2nd lieutenant with the 28th Division who fought in the July attack at Château-Thierry, concluded,
Men who have faced death often and habitually can never again have the same attitude towards life.  It is hard to be enthusiastic about little things again. The fact that everybody is soon going to die is a little more patent than before.  One sees behind the scenes, the flowers and the grave-blinds, the opiate of word read from the Good Book, and the prayers. For there is Death, quiet, calm, invincible, and there is no escape.†

When Glaenzer published his first book of poetry in 1917, reviews were mixed. The Boston Transcript named “Sure, it’s fun” as “one of the recent flashing bits of verse brought forth by the war [that] shows how well Mr. Glaenzer can succeed in being poetical,” while the Springfield Republican criticized the volume, writing, “Mr Glaenzer delights in cynicism.  His lyrics are tinged and also tarnished by this trait.”††
* The quote appears in Floyd Gibbons, And They Thought We Wouldn’t Fight, George H. Doran, 1918, p. 304, and it is attributed to an unnamed gunnery sergeant. Daly himself claimed his actual words were, “For Christ’s sake men—come on! Do you want to live forever?”
** Sergeant Boleslaw Suchocki, 28th Infantry, 1st Division, quoted in Lost Voices: The Untold Stories of America’s World War I Veterans and their Families by Martin King and Michael Collins, Lyons Press, 2018, pp. 167-168.
† Hervey Allen, Toward the Flame: A War Diary, Farrar & Rinehart, 1926, pp. 120-121.
†† Both reviews appeared in Book Review Digest, vol. 13, edited by Margaret Jackson and Mary Katharine Reely, H.W. Wilson, 1918, pp. 220-221. 

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