Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fields of the Marne

Sgt. Frank L. Carbaugh

Frank Carbaugh was an American doughboy from Greencastle, a small town in central Pennsylvania.  A non-commissioned officer with the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, Carbaugh was wounded at the Second Battle of the Marne late in July of 1918. While in hospital, he wrote a poem that looks ahead to the war’s aftermath.   

The Fields of the Marne

The fields of the Marne are growing green,
   The river murmurs on and on;
No more the hail of mitrailleuse,
   The cannon from the hills are gone.

The herder leads the sheep afield,
   Where grasses grow o'er broken blade;
And toil-worn women till the soil
   O'er human mold, in sunny glade.

The splintered shell and bayonet
   Are lost in crumbling village wall;
No sniper scans the rim of hills,
Battle of Marne (detail) by Harvey Dunn (Smithsonian)
   No sentry hears the night bird call.

From blood-wet soil and sunken trench,
   The flowers bloom in summer light;
And farther down the vale beyond,
   The peasant smiles are sad, yet bright.

The wounded Marne is growing green,
   The gash of Hun no longer smarts;
Democracy is born again,
   But what about the troubled hearts?
            —Sgt. Frank Carbaugh

The poem imagines a time when peace has returned to the world, yet so many French soldiers have died that women must continue to work in the fields.  They till the land that has been fertilized by the bodies of the slain.  At the site of the Battle of the Marne, snipers, sentries, and sounds of gunfire have been replaced by the song of night birds and the green of newly grown grass.  Though wounded and scarred by battle, the land is healing, and Democracy rises like a phoenix from the ashes. 

But there are some hurts that can never be healed – the broken hearts of those who mourn.

“The Fields of the Marne” was first published in The Stars in Stripes on August 16, 1918. A brief note under Carbaugh’s name simply stated, “Written while lying wounded in hospital; died
August, 1918.”  Franklin L. Carbaugh was twenty-two. Nearly three years later, in May of 1921, his parents met the train that brought their youngest son's body back to Pennsylvania for burial in the family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Franklin County. 

An anonymous source has posted what appears to be an account of Carbaugh’s death and its effect on the men who knew him. The details of the story suggest that it may have been appeared in a newspaper or been sent to his mother by those who were with Frank during the last weeks of his life.

Sergeant loses his last fight.
Soldier wins admiration of comrades through cheerfulness in hospital.
He was game till the end.
Four operations were too much for strength of non-com who was wounded in action at Chateau-Thierry.

An American Hospital in France.
"No, they're not going to bring the sergeant back to the ward, boys."
These were exactly the words the nurse used. But the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes said more.
The little group in the ward, which had been playing cards on one of the beds to forget the tension they felt while the sergeant's operation was taking place, stopped suddenly, all attention, all hungering for good news.
"You don't mean the sergeant's gone, do you? exclaimed one.
"Yes, boys, the sergeant's gone. Four operations were just too much for his strength. He never regained consciousness."

The little group of patients and the nurse were silent.
The chap with one leg gone had half a deck of cards in his hands. Dazed, he relaxed, and the cards fell to the floor, scattering over half the ward. The chap with one leg gone never noticed them.
"Gee, the sergeant's gone," he said huskily, "He sure was a game boy." 

"He was the best fellow I ever knew," said another, "and the cheerfullest, too. I've seen them dressing his leg time and again, and gosh! but it hurt. But did the sergeant ever say anything? Not the sergeant--he never batted an eye."

"Just to think," mused a third, "it wasn't half an hour ago when we saw him go out. I shouted, "Good luck, Sarge," when the stretcher was carried through the door, and he smiled and said, "Thanks, I'll be back in a few minutes with you."

The sergeant was Frank Carbaugh of Greencastle, Pa., a member of the Seventh Machine-Gun Sanitary detachment. No mother ever reared a braver boy.  The sergeant, who was a mathematics teacher before the war, was wounded when his outfit was rushed into action near Chateau Thierry. None of his bunkies knew just how, because, as one of them explained, "The sergeant wasn't the kind of a fellow who'd talk of himself. You can bet he was wounded doing something for somebody, though."

They did know that the sergeant lay out in the open a long time after he was wounded. Medical records show that his left leg was badly slashed, and they operated at the first hospital he reached. But gangrene had set in, and four operations had followed in an effort to save him. They have had lots of brave patients that doctors and nurses and patients admired alike in that hospital, but never one just like the sergeant, who said little, was always joking and cheerful, and never had a complaint. The rest of the boys in the ward would do anything in the world for "the sarge."
The little group sitting on the cots, with the nurse, had been talking of the sergeant for a long time when one of the boys said, "You ought to write to his mother, Miss Cutter. The sarge thought the world of his mother." " I'm going to," replied the nurse. "You boys write out what you think of the sergeant, and I'll send that, too."
Maude Betterton at her son's grave 

The boys did, and here are a few lines from them:
Private Elmer Hyland wrote, "I was with him as soon as he came from the operation, and I cried when he went. He was a great boy--a clean fellow through and through. I wish my foot was so I could walk with him to the cemetery."

Wagoner John Trask wrote: "Our sergeant is gone. Why, I loved that fellow like my own brothers. I've seen other fellows go, but I never felt like this."

Sergeant Vincent Sauer wrote, "I never felt worse since I came in the night. He was game to the last; always cheerful, and when I called 'Good luck to you,' he answered, "Thanks, I'll be O.K. soon." We always had fun around his bed; he was so cheerful. He was one of the finest fellows I ever knew."

Arthur Stein, who knew the sergeant better than the rest, the boys say because he and the sarge liked to dabble in poetry, wrote a poem to send the sergeant's mother.

They buried the sergeant in the little American graveyard in a pretty Lorraine valley with an American flag over the coffin, as 18 soldiers fired three shots over the grave and the bugler gave 'taps.' Then some of the boys whose injuries permitted their attending the funeral gathered flowers in the valley, and the nurses placed them on the grave with red, white, and blue ribbons around them.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Rouge Bouquet

Rouge Bouquet Memorial Service, Fighting 69th, March 1918
On March 7, 1918 in a wood in France near Baccarat, German shellfire buried 21 American soldiers. The men of the regiment were unable to rescue their comrades immediately due to the heavy artillery bombardment, and by the time they were able to excavate those who had been trapped, 19 had died—only two soldiers of the Fighting 69th were rescued alive.

Serving with the Irish heritage regiment was one of the best-known writers and poets in America: Joyce Kilmer (known for his poem “Trees,” written before the war). Immediately after the tragedy, Kilmer composed a poem to honor those who had died, and “The Woods Called Rouge-Bouquet” was read at their memorial service. Less than five months later, it was again read over Kilmer’s grave by the regiment’s famous chaplain, Father Duffy. First published in The Stars and Stripes military newspaper on August 16, 1918, the poem included here differs slightly from the version anthologized in collections of Kilmer’s poetry.

The Woods Called Rouge-Bouquet

In the woods they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave today,
Built by never a spade or pick
Yet covered by earth ten meters thick.

There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Or taste of the summer time.

Joyce Kilmer's original grave
For death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey—
 And left them there—
Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they sought to free,
And fled away.

Now over the grave abrupt and clear,
Three volleys ring:
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear:
The bugle sing:
Go to sleep—
Go to sleep—
(Taps sounding in distance)

There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.

Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.

St. Michael’s sword darts through the air
And touches the arrival on his hair,
As he sees them stand saluting there,
His stalwart sons;
And Patrick, Bridget and Columbkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
The Gael’s blood runs.

And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
(Taps sounding in distance)

Comrade true,
Born anew,
Peace to you;
Your soul shall be where the heroes are,
And your memory shine like the morning-star,
Brave and dear,
Shield us here—
            —Joyce Kilmer
Joyce Kilmer

At times, the rhythm of the poem echoes that of the American bugle call played at military funerals, and the Stars and Stripes reported that during the first reading of the poem at the men’s funeral, “Taps” could be heard echoing “from a distant grove.”* When the poem was read at Kilmer’s funeral, a friend of the poet’s reported, “those who were there told me the tears streamed down the face of every boy in the regiment.”**

When the U.S. entered the war in the spring of 1917, Kilmer was thirty-years old with four children, and his wife was pregnant with their fifth. Yet Kilmer was not drafted, but volunteered to join the American Expeditionary Force. The couple’s young daughter Rose, who had been paralyzed since 1913, died just weeks before Kilmer departed for France with his unit in 1917, and he left for war in mourning before ever reaching the front lines. In one of his last letters home, Kilmer shared with the Reverend Edward F. Garesché how the war had changed him:
I have written very little—two prose sketches and two poems—since I left the States, but I have a rich store of memories.  Not that what I write matters—I have discovered, since some unforgettable experiences, that writing is not the tremendously important thing I once considered it.  You will find me less a bookman when you next see me, and more, I hope, a man…. Pray for me, dear Father, that I may love God more and that I may be unceasingly conscious of Him—that is the greatest desire I have.***

Aline Kilmer
After his death, Joyce Kilmer’s wife, Aline, published her first collection of poetry in 1919,  dedicating Candles that Burn to her husband.  It includes her poem “In Spring”:

I do not know which is worse when you are away:
   Long grey days with the lisping sound of the rain
And then when the lilac dusk is beginning to fall
   The thought that perhaps you may never come back again; 

Or days when the world is a shimmer of blue and gold,
   Sparkling newly all in the dear spring weather,
When with a heart that is torn apart by pain
   I walk alone in ways that we went together.
            —Aline Kilmer
* “The Woods Called Rouge-Bouquet,” The Stars and Stripes, 16 Aug. 1918, p. 6.
** Alexander Woolcott letter, quoted in Joyce Kilmer: Poems, Essays and Letters in Two Volumes, Volume One: Memoir and Poems, edited with a memoir by Robert Cortes Holliday, George H. Doran, 1918, p. 100.
*** Joyce Kilmer to Rev. Edward F. Garesché, quoted in Joyce Kilmer: Poems, Essays and Letters in Two Volumes, Volume One: Memoir and Poems, edited with a memoir by Robert Cortes Holliday, George H. Doran, 1918, p. 90.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Baptism of Fire

August Stramm
Writing to friends from his front-line position with the German army, August Stramm wrote,
There is so much death in me death and death. Inside me, there is crying, and outside I am hard and rough… Words fail me because of terror… I no longer compose poems, everything around me is poetry.  Miserable cowardly sinister horror and the air giggles tauntingly and gargles thunderingly down the mountains….*
Before the war, Stramm had been an inspector of postal services and an aspiring dramatist. He is now best remembered for his war poems that communicate the chaos and fear of battle in halting, broken rhythms. 

Baptism of Fire

His body shrinks its loosely-fitting tunic.
His head creeps down into his boots.
Throttles his gun.
Rattle shrill,
German soldiers on the Eastern Front
Rattle swathe,
Rattle stumble,
Trigger off
His eye
A shot.
Hands grip schnapps.
Defiance loads.
Determination aims
A steely look
Another’s fate.
            —August Stramm, trans. Patrick Bridgwater

Thrown into combat, the soldier shrinks into himself until he is more uniform than man, trying to present as small a target as he possibly can. The first two lines are the longest in the poem, and then in the third line, the word “Fear” stands alone, a visual reminder of the way in which it halts and interrupts all of reality. And then the word is repeated—it returns in its plural form.  Fears and shrill noise push everything else aside. 

Stramm's poem communicates the din and confusion of battle by repeating the word Rattle five times – this is the sound made when something is loose, unmoored, and unsteady. Everything that happens seems disconnected and random, and the constantly changing conditions of the fighting are mirrored in the short, staccato lines.  Spying an enemy soldier, the man depicted in the poem seems to stand outside himself as he watches abstract emotions kill Another: Defiance loads the gun and Determination aims.  The entire encounter is summed up as if this is merely a hunter bagging game. 

Many found it necessary to distance themselves from their emotions if they were to remain sane.  In the winter of 1915, Stramm wrote to his friends Herwarth and Nell Walden about the conditions he was experiencing at the front:
German dead at Guillemont, 1916
Have you ever seen a butcher’s shop where slaughtered people are laid out for sale, with machines making a terrific racket as they slaughter more and more people with their ingenious mechanism? And you lie there mute, thank God you are mute, at once the butcher and the beast. And then suddenly black devils are everywhere as they make their way up from the depths—the butchers, the grenades… bustle about…. Yesterday one of those butchers smashed the person next to me into pieces with one blow and mockingly covered me with blood and flesh and guts.**

Stramm was aware that the war had dramatically changed everything – language, relationships, emotions—as well as himself.  In another letter home he had written, “War. Everything is behind me.  Hope friendship and love.  I love you but you are behind me far far do not be angry but another knew you another not I.”*** August Stramm was killed in hand-to-hand combat on the Eastern Front on September 1, 1915.
* August Stramm letter to Herwarth and Nell Warden, quoted in Martin Löschnigg’s “Expressionist-Artillerist: ‘Poet’ and ‘Soldier’ as Conflicting Role Models in German Avant-Garde Poetry from the First World War,” in Bearing Witness: Perspectives on War and Peace from the Arts and Humanities, edited by Sherrill Grace, Patrick Imbert, and Tiffany Johnstone, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012, p. 85.  
** August Stramm letter to Herwarth and Nell Warden, quoted in Maria Tatar’s Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany, Princeton UP, 1997, p. 119.
***August Stramm letter, quoted in Geert Buelens’ Everything to Nothing, Verso Books, 2016, p. 76.