Killed Paive--July 8--1918
All the sweet pulsing aches
And gentle hurtings
That were you,
Are gone into the sullen dark.
Now in the night you come unsmiling
To lie with me
A dull, cold, rigid bayonet
On my hot-swollen, throbbing soul.
Exactly who or what was killed on that day is difficult to tell, but the erotic (perhaps even homoerotic) imagery of the "dull, cold, rigid" bayonet and his "hot-swollen, throbbing" soul are intriguing. But aside from these ambiguities, we do know something of the circumstances surrounding his injuries.
Hemingway was among the first soldiers to return from the Italian front, and his arrival was reported in the New York Sun on January 22, 1919.
The first wounded American from the Italian front arrived yesterday by the steamship Giuseppe Verdi of the Transatlantica Line with probably more scars than any other man in or out of uniform, who defied the shrapnel of the Central Powers.
His wounds might have been much less if he had not been constructed by nature on generous proportions, being more than six feet tall and of ample beam.
He is Ernest M. Hemingway, before the war a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and hailing from Oak Park, Ill. The surgical chart of his battered person shows 227 marks indicating where bits of a peculiar kind of Austrian shrapnel, about as thick as a .22 caliber bullet and an inch long, like small cuts from a length of wire, smote him. Some of these bits have been extracted after a dozen or more operations and young Hemingway hopes finally to get them all out, but he still retains a hundred or more.
Hemingway joined the Red Cross in France and was transferred to the Italian front last July. He was distributing cigarettes in the Piave district in the front line trenches when a shell from a trench mortar burst over his head. He said the slugs from the shell felt like the stings of wasps as they bore into him. He crumpled up and two Italian stretcher bearers started over the parapet with him, knowing that he needed swift attention. Austrian machine gunners spotted the party and before they could get over he and the stretcher bearers went down under a storm of machine gun bullets, one of which got Hemingway in the shoulder and another in the right leg. Two other stretcher men took the tall American through the communication trenches to the rear, where he received first aid.
His friend Ted Brumback visited Hemingway in the Milan hospital and wrote this to Hemingway's parents:
The concussion of the explosion knocked him unconscious and buried him in earth. There was an Italian between Ernest and the shell. He was killed instantly, while another, standing a few feet away, had both his legs blown off. A third Italian was badly wounded and this one Ernest, after he had regained consciousness, picked up on his back and carried to the first aid dugout. He says he did not remember how he got there, nor that he carried the man, until the next day, when an Italian officer told him all about it and said that it had been voted to give him a valor medal for the act.
The stories of Hemingway's wounds were eventually embroidered into something of a legend, but his actions on July 8 did win him a decoration, the Croce di Guerra, from a grateful Italian government.
For an account of these months in Italy, see Michael Reynolds, The Young Hemingway (1986), pp. 16-22.
Some came in chains
Unrepentant but tired.
Too tired but to stumble.
Thinking and hating were finished
Thinking and fighting were finished
Retreating and hoping were finished.
Cures thus a long campaign,
Making death easy.
Soldiers never do die well;
Crosses mark the places,
Wooden crosses where they fell;
Stuck above their faces.
Soldiers pitch and cough and twitch;
All the world roars red and black,
Soldiers smother in a ditch;
Choking through the whole attack.
[All armies are the same . . .]
All armies are the same
Publicity is fame
Artillery makes the same old noise
Valor is an attribute of boys
Old soldiers all have tired eyes
All soldiers hear the same old lies
Dead bodies always have drawn flies
To Good Guys Dead
They sucked us in;
King and country,
And the rest.
Words and phrases,
They either bitched or killed us.
[In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway says that "abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."]
The only man I ever loved
Said good bye
And went away
He was killed in Picardy
On a sunny day.