YOU'LL NEVER GO HOME
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division
Post-war year of writing unknown
||Up in the Bulge I met a guy who said he'd never
go home, and that was true because he died the next day. How
he died is not at all savory and it doesn't figure in the story.
The main thing to remember is that this Joe called his shots.
At least that's what I used to think.
But then I met another dogface driving a 3rd Armored Division
tank through Cologne. He chuckled bitterly and said: "I'll
never go home, Buddy, I've had it."
You get to thinking about things like this. Your mind circles
the fact and tries to make allowances for coincidence. But, still,
there's the ugly possibility, the unbelievable and yet quite
clearly defined evidence of prescience.
I watched the guy. Naturally I didn't shadow him or anything
like that; but every week or so I'd see the outfit moving up
or back and I'd say casually: "What's with Drawbridge? Is
he still around?" And he was always around, so I began to
lose that nasty feeling. When they told me that he'd gone back
to the states on a merit furlough I actually heaved a sigh of
relief. The kid was wrong and I was wrong. Good deal.
So then I forgot all about the matter, excepting for an occasional
snow job on the new men. I went about my business. We moved across
the Rhine at Honnef and chased Jerry right up through the Hohe
Venn to Paderborn. There was a big day when the Spearhead clipped
off 101 miles. It was hot and sunny. There were clouds of dust
in the air. There was the stink of Nazi vehicles burning. It
was just like Normandy. You felt good for a little while and
you loved the long, green hills: they were like Pennsylvania
farmlands. And, even with the dust you could smell clean evergreen.
Prisoners? You couldn't count them that day. They came out in
company strength waving white flags and trying to surrender.
There were Belgians and Frenchmen and Russians all along the
road too - slave laborers. They waved and shouted and bon-joured
until you felt like a hero.
That was the day! That was victory. There was a high tension
of excitement in the air. You felt all buoyed up so that you
didn't give a damn for the occasional flurry of burp-gun resistance
or the SS jokers with their panzerfausten. Nothing really mattered
excepting the drive, the satisfaction of it, the downright exaltation
of a complete breakthrough. We drove all day and most of the
night, and in between we pulled guard.
That guard duty was almost restful. There wasn't much opposition
after the flank had been turned and we were in the blue. You
could lean back in the shadows and cover the area without being
seen. There was time to think of home and the queens who were
waiting there. You'd look up at the stars and figure back to
what time it was in Boston, and you'd wonder what the place looked
like after a couple of years.
Then there'd be a little sound in the night and you'd snap out
of it, trembling. You'd press the back of your index finger up
against the safety catch on the M-1 and you'd stand there in
the shadows, tense and listening, staring into the dark.
You'd relax, finally. There was nothing out there. But still
you'd be afraid. Fear was a constant shadow in that war - in
every war - I guess, and uncertainty too. You'd think about the
war and you'd think about the future and the future was dark
with that dull pain which is a soldier's constant companion.
Two ways to get out of the front line: a wound, or death. Would
it ever end? Would you ever go home?
Home was America - all of America. Home was peacetime, and it
was even the period of preparation. The months of military training
had mellowed surprisingly in retrospect. There were pleasant
Remember Leesville, Louisiana? That was a boom town by an army
camp. There were ten thousand soldiers glutting the place on
a Saturday night, crowding into the Red Dog saloon and around
the red hot babes who plied a trade there. It was raw and loud
but it was a part of real America, as much a chapter in U.S.
history as Louisville, Kentucky. Broad Street and the zoot suiters
and the bus line which stretched for blocks and blocks after
a hard weekend. You remembered and you grinned out there in the
darkness of Germany all by yourself.
Or, perhaps it was California and that first sand storm on the
Mojave when the whole horizon seemed to lift in a coffee-brown,
rose-topped wave of wind and sand and rain.
American provincialism takes an awful beating in the army. You
find yourself homesick - but home is strangely enough a complex
article made up of little towns and big cities from coast to
coast: Los Angeles boulevards, Washington, D.C., the snowy frosting
on Pennsylvania hills, and the sleepy loveliness of Richmond,
Virginia. They were all there, sweet in the changing, uncertain,
troubled mind. Everything was there: the show places of Europe
and the little out-of-the-way spots where you battled furiously
for a lousy hedgerow or bivouaced for a night in the rain. They
were there and somehow you could never say which of the many
places were most important.
There was the dry winter in England. Farmers wrote angry letters
to the Times, complaining. Unless rain were forthcoming, they
cried indignantly, the crops were doomed. Meanwhile we maneuvered
over Salisbury Plain in fog and mist and pelting showers. The
tanks bogged down and the bedding mildewed. Roses bloomed in
December, and a million bright little snails crawled lushly over
the dripping shrubbery. Dry winter.
There was NAAFI coffee and Land Army girls and WAAF's and ATS
and buttered scones. What the hell is a scone anyway?
Of course England wasn't all rain and cold. You could recall
pleasant interludes: a pass in Torquay where the sun shone brightly
and warmly and you had to climb a mountain to the Red Cross billets.
When you thought of England you naturally thought of London -
but Torquay was nice, and so were the little towns of Somerset,
the moss and the thatched roofs, the leaning, aged architecture
and the windows that were all warped out of shape but still fastidiously
London was almost frustrating in its drabness and suffering,
but still it held the atmosphere of power and there were always
the feverish, black market trades in synthetic joy. There were
the extremes: the Strand and Picadilly Circus. There was a zest
of animal living about the latter: a strange, nightmarish quality
about its habitues - the old man who ostensibly hawked newspapers
but who actually dispensed a more prophylactic article. And there
were the girls, the immortal, immoral girls who waited in dim
doorways and spoke in clipped, Cockney accents. The ageless case
of the soldier and the street girl - the dark, the sordid and
painful fruit of loneliness and greed and gnawing prescience.
The soldier and the girl. A flashlight momentarily flickering
and a bargain made. London was powerful. London was jet propelled
and half mad with pain, its life raw and sullen as new blood
steaming on cold pavement.
You'd remember London all right - its searchlights and its air
raids. The high whistle and crunch of bombs. The terrible curtain
of ack ack. The unreality of it all. And the underground. Hyde
Park, Green Park, Knightsbridge. The bombed-out people. The dirt
and the sullen, dogged bravery of people who had nothing to lose
and nothing to win.
You remembered Leicester Square, not the square itself, but the
little avenues which run off on queer tangents. The small, musty
book shops right out of Dickens, and the little men who seemed
to emerge half materialized from the shadows as you entered.
The thin little men of England, and the yellowed little women,
frail and pedigreed as the books they husband so carefully.
You remembered all right. You remembered the stateside pass and
the grinding preparation for combat in England. You weren't a
soldier then. No man is a soldier until he has been under fire.
That came later and it came with soul-shocking force. You came
through the first action which is always the hardest. You expected
to die. You were vaguely surprised when it was over - for the
moment. And then, of course, you knew very well that it was just
a matter of time. You'd never go home.
Okay, then, it's all over. The war is all wound up, tied with
a red ribbon and packed into the musty, national-needled books
of history. You can forget about it now. Forget England and concentrate
on home. Forget Omaha Beach and what lay there on D plus the
skin of your teeth. Forget St. Lo and Argentan-Falaise, the long
drives and the mud and the dust and the dead. Put Mons out of
your mind, and the Siegfried Line and the Rhine. Do you have
to remember a great general lying in his own blackened blood
on the road to Paderborn? Forget it. Forget Dessau where the
bloody trail ended and a friend was cut down the day you came
out of the line for the last time in the west. It's good to forget.
But you can't. Of course you can't. It's all there and you're
home, back to the bright vision - but the vision is strangely
It's not the same. The difference is the way you wake up sweating
in the middle of the night, all befuddled for no reason at all,
scared again, and wondering why? There's nothing to worry about.
This is home. This is America and you know America, you understand
its motives, its very earth, its people. America is like a good
terrain map. It's all there, easy to read.
Only - while you were gone - someone had added a scarlet overlay.
You'll never go home.
You'll never be able to say: I am at home and therefore I have
no interest in what the rest of the world may do. Too many places
and too many events have boiled to the surface since that was
true. The feeling is made up of many things: among them the sorrowful
memory of Normandy and the sad rain of those early days, the
slim poplars bowing in the wind and the planes and the tanks
and first blood.
Recalling it all, here in the vacuum of new peace, you know that,
physically, you are at home. The pain remains. Forever and forever
in the back of your mind will be the refugees of Europe, the
tired, bedraggled humanity and the dead. The padre staring at
the wreckage of his church. The emaciated slave laborers of Germany.
And, again, the multitudinous dead.
Sure, you've come home - but it isn't the ultimate and it isn't
true. Home is a frame house on Main Street. It used to be a one-shot
to Chicago or a trip to New York now and then. It was an abiding
affection for the hills of home, the trim streets and the chain
stores where you could buy a hog or a harness. It was appreciation
of art, American or foreign, and it was congenial living. Scotch,
and name your label. Cold beer, Bing Crosby. And let Europe fight
her own wars.
Some of it is the same but, whether you like it or not, the army
has left a deep furrow. Discuss American civil affairs and you
automatically contrast them with those of Britain and France
- even Germany, the arch enemy. Consider beauty in civic architecture
or form. Broadway and Hollywood Boulevard? For the rest of your
life you'll be comparing, thinking, wondering about America in
relation to the rest of the world. You'll be recalling things
seen in the lightning-flash interludes of war.
Paris, and the lovely Champs Elysees.
The Dom, at Cologne, still magnificent, rising like a shaft of
pure light out of bomb rubble.
The glorious Europe and the horror of its modernity. The homeless
people stumbling forever forward like figures in a bad, half
You'll never go home.
The world has constricted in these war years. You'll never go
home because your eyes have been opened to the earth's ailments.
You have become a world citizen through a baptism of fire. The
world and the army will be with you forever, for better or for
worse. And, rising out of the complex depths of memory, you'll
always see the homeless, starving masses, and the ruins - and
the lucky dead.
It's finished now and too much has been written about the whole
We came through Paderborn, clapped the lid on the industrial
Ruhr and swung east, drove hard for the Weser River: crossed
and arrowed for the Elbe and Berlin! Civilians and children they
were using - armed them with panzerfausten for the Fuhrer. And
of course they couldn't stop us. It was the high road to victory.
Blood on the cobblestones. Tanks and heavy artillery blasting
forward. Prelude to the end.
And, watching the last push in Europe, I thought of that Joe
in the Bulge who called his shot. And I wondered again about
Drawbridge. He went home.
What about Drawbridge? Did he enjoy his stay, knowing what was
going on in Germany. Did he wonder about the minority who pursued
pleasure as usual while casualty lists grew long? Did anyone
ask old Drawbridge what his "Spearhead" patch meant,
and why he was wearing the little purple ribbon with the white
Did he really go home and feel the old "at home" feeling?
Or was he maybe restless and hating himself for being that way:
delighted at seeing his folks again, and yet ....
Yet, knowing the recollection of sadness for things seen in far
off places: the pinched faces of undernourished English children
singing Christmas carols under a bomber's moon, the waxen faces
of the young dead in Normandy dust: the immortal spires and the
long, sweet hills: the ever-present longing for life overshadowed
by the presence of death. The dead men and the tangled destinies
Sometimes I wonder about Drawbridge. I think he was right. I
think he was unconsciously right. He'll never go home in the
old sense because the world is still suffering and he is a part
of that world. Because he is an American, in fact, he is even
This is the reason. In all of the agonized places, in the bitter
hearts of the men and women and children who exist on the tortured
continent of Europe, there is one single emotion. It is not love,
for the peoples of Europe hate each other with the most virulent
of hates. It is not compassion or understanding. The tangled
destinies of Europe have long banished that quality of thinking.
The common emotion is faith in America. The old world masses
have this one thing in common: they look to America as one looks
to the eternal light. Each in his own way the little men of Europe
see in America the hope for a better world, they see an admirable
power of righteousness, a miraculous potential for production,
wealth, and freedom. There is still a dream in the world. There
is still a shadow of the old, idealistic America. But there's
a scarlet overlay.
One land only can save the world today. That land is America.
The instrument of saving must be Peace. The disciples of the
faith must be the American veteran, GI Joe. He alone has the
necessary background for the understanding of humanity; and that
is because he has been in the silent places with misery and death,
and in the strident battles which came before.
GI Joe can, and must, save the world today. He comes back to
civilian life with the tools of Peace made inflexible by the
flame of war. He must never go home in the old sense of the phrase
because, wittingly or unwittingly, the American soldier has emerged
from this conflict a world citizen. There is no longer any room
for militant provincialism on the face of the earth.