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January 17, 1942 - Image 1

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1942-01-17

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University Of Michigan Literary Magazine
. .. ByJhn Ragsdale

E HAD RIDDEN a hundred
and fifty miles to Princeton;
it was yet another hundred
fifty to home. We could not
even reach Petersburg, the next county
seat, before dark. And we were due back
at the Atchison Machine Shop next day,
So we telephoned to get my brother
Jim to come after us in my car, which
he had used while I was gone. He was
on a date, however, and could not be
reached at once. It was past two in the
morning when he reached Princeton.
Meanwhile Bret and I waited, sitting on
the granite base of the Civil War mon-
ument at the southeast corner of the
courthouse lawn.
Princeton stands atop a ridge running
north and sonth. Along the summit of
this ridge, knitting the center of the
town like a spine, runs United States
Road 41, bound from Copper Harbor,
at the farthest tip of Michigan's upper
peninsula, south through Chicago,
Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta, to
Miami, Florida. The monument by which
we sat looked across this highway, at
the main corner of town, under a traffic
light, and across the street from a large
ice cream shop. It was not a unique
place; I had sat in a thousand like it,
in little Maryland and Connecticut
towns on Road 1, in Geneva, Avon, and
Batavia, New York, in Middlesboro,
Pineville and Corbin, Kentucky. It was
a continental place, whose likeness had
been stamped on every town in America
since theh day when the first Model T
was sold. It had altered, as the Model
T had altered to the Model A and the
V-8, but it had not changed. The cars
still went by,
Cars from Concord, Niagara, Boston.
Cars from Topeka, Emporia, Austin-
Cars from Chicago, Hannibal, Cairo.
Cars from Alton, Oswego, Toledo.
Cars from Buffalo, Kokomo, Delphi.
Cars from Lodi, Carmi, Loami.
But where Bret and I sat by the high-
way on that hot July night, we saw
something bewilderingly strange, some-
thig moving and awesome and terrible,
such as neither we nor Princeto had ever
seen before. We saw the Army go
through. All evening and all night it
passed. For an hour or more we weren't
even aware of its passage, then the
grandeur and immensity going before
our eyes swelled and became evident,
and seized us like the grip of a hammer-
ing, choking, enthralling pulse.
The Army did not go through in
tanks, in jeeps or armored cars, or in
great canvas-covered trucks; it carried
no artillery, or anti-aircraft gus, no
searchlights, radio stations, pennons, or
rolling kitchens. The Army went south
that night in a thousand shiny and
shabby, battered and beautiful cars.
Fourth of July furlough was to end next
day; the Army was going back to camp,
back to the sprawling bases of the Deep
South, back to Camp Wheeling, Camp
Bragg, Camp Benning, Camp Forrest,
Camp Shelby, and Camp Beauregard.
All theh boys out of Wisconsin and Chi-
cago, out of the Calumet District, the
sand flats of northern Indiana and the
black-muck celery farms of Niles and
Kalamazoo, were leaving home again.
Officers and men, selectees and National
Guardsmen, sergeants, corporals, and
privates, streamed south in the warm
They drove every make and model

car to come off the line since 1928, a
few even the 1941 Cadillac Specials, the
kind that sold standard for $1398 f.o.b.
Detroit. Just before dark we saw the
gold oak leaf shoulder insignia of a
major shine in the window of a new
Pontiac Torpedo. And later it seemed
that every '34 Plymouth between the
Great Lakes and the Ohi must have
been commandeered for the southward
movement of this huge man-swarm. But
all the cars were alike in one respect;
they were crowded to capacity with men
in soiled, hopelessly wrinkled uniforms.

in on their chewed cigarettes, their eye-
lids sagged shut and reopened, they
shook their rocking heads, and their
brows knotted as they looked up and
waited for the stoplight to change. Ev-
ery few minutes one of these agonized,
desperate drivers would stop in front of
us, to poke the man next to him sav-
agely, slapping him on the cheeks as he
groaned and writhed with sleepiness.
"Jim, Jim, wake up, boy! We're in
Princeton, almost to Evansville. I've
driven a hundred miles, and it seems
like a thousand. I can't drive no fur-

pairs! Not for long will they be over,
Maybe they are without end or begin-
ning, only worse now than other times!
My eyes ranged back, out of the night,
out of the sick year, back to a year that
was thinner but more peaceful, to a
morning when I was back of the foun-
tain in Stein's Drug Store. I remem-
bered a Monday morning, I could feel
the chill in the air, could feel the ner-
vous tension around my tired eyes, and
the dryness of my throat. And I saw a
thin, funny, rubber-faced man whom
kids called Joe Spivis. Joe had come in
for a Bromo on his way to the shoe
shop where he worked. "Hughie," he
said, "make it a stiff one. Im dying on
my feet. I don't know how I'm gonna
go on being this tired for another week
or month or day or year, I just don't
know. I been tired since I was ten, ex-
cept on Saturday nights. I'm terrible
tired on Sunday, worse on Monday,
then a little less tired every day till
Saturday night, and then again on Sun-
day." He grinned. "Hell, boy, you know
what war does to soldiers. Look what.
it did to me. Takes the best years right
off of the prime of their lives. God
damn! It's a funny world, isn't it?"
He took the Bromo, made a face,
grunted and went on to work. Ah, Jim,
that's the way it was; and now it's
THEN MY EYES came back across
the terrible dead years, and I saw
in an instant Jim's story, printed on his
lined face, and on my brain, and writ-
ten on the hot, windless night sky.
Called up with the National Guard in
October and sent to Shelby; back north
for his first furlough at Christmas, after
two months with scracely the sight- of
a woman. Back to the bright lights of
the great drunken, slushy, feasting and
rejoicing city, back to the richest,
grandest prosperity since 1929, back to
Old Mr. Boston and Old Man Taylor
went Jim, and back to a girl named
Ethel who laughed and said, "My God,
you're back! Come on in and have a
short drink. How under the sun are you,
They went bowling and ice-skating
together, morning, afternoon and night,
Twice they went downtown to shop and
eat; Ethel bought Jim a jewelled gold
cigarette case, and Jim bought Ethel
a lovely set of combs and brushes, and a
smart hand mirror. And every girl they
saw was beautiful, every dress and coat
that flashed by them was bright and
catching, the light on the newly var-
nished bowling alleys was clear and rich,
and soft on the gleaming white ice of
the skating rink. Jim fell in love with
the lights and the dresses, with the Four
Hoses and turkey, with the laughter of
all the gay people, and through them
with Ethel. New Year's Eve he took her
to the Back Hawk, and later to the
Panther Room. Then he proposed to
"Oh, Jimmy," she cried, in her small-
est voice, "you can't ever know how
much I want you. But we can't even
think about getting married. It would
only be for a few hours, then there
would be years apart for us. You know
this trouble is going to last four, maybe
five years. Jimmy, I'll wait for you,
you know that. But we just can't get
married." Then a man was with them,
telling them that there had never been
(Continued on Page Two)


And all the officers and men were
alike in one respect, too, in their utter
weariness. The packed khaki forms in
the cars lay as inert as their disorderly
mounds of luggage. They seemed to
have been blown into their seats by the
impact of a bomb, to have crumpled and
imploded as though they were hollow
inside. They lay heaped like logs on top
of each other in the back seat, until the
tortured bodies of their old cars sank to
the axles, so that the front wheels
leaped and staggered in starting. Arms,
legs, big shapeless stockinged feet and
sightless heads hung from the windows.
Their faces were gray with sweat and
grime under the white streetlights;
their dusty hair was a matted wreck.
All the cumulative misery and exhaus-
tion of humanity seemed to have been
heaped on their limp shoulders. The
drivers were worst of all, for they were
awake and in torment. As they drew

ther, I've been blackin' out the last ten
miles. Come on, don't go back to sleep,
Jim boy. Ya gotta drive. I can't stay
awake no longer!"
There would be a minute of horrible
silence, and a long groan like the wail-
ing in a fallen city. "Ooh, Jesus Christ,
Hal, where theh hell are we? Oh God,
I'm so tired. You want me to drive?
O.K. Ooh God, I don't see how I can
make it!" Then they would trade places,
and the former driver would collapse
instantly, with his head fallen back into
the corner of the seat and the door.
"Merciful God!" I heard one of the
Jims groan, "when will we be delivered
out of this vale of tears and woe! Hey,
pal, have you got a light?" I ran out
to him. "Thanks a lot, pal," he said.
Then he was gone, leaning on his steer-
ing wheel and peering ahead into the
night. Ah, Jim, Jim! The weariness, the
fever, and the fret! the leaden-eyed des-

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