The two images below, of the first (1950) edition (Harcourt, Brace and Company) of Face of A Hero, show the book’s front cover / spine, and title page, the latter including an illustration of an aviator’s flight helmet, goggles, and oxygen mask.
The book’s cover combined and is limited to two fundamental elements: one symbolic – a human face; the other quite “real” – a formation of six B-24 Liberator bombers under attack by two enemy fighter planes. Though the novel’s general setting is, of course, the WW II air war against Germany, it’s intriguing that the cover art is set upon varying tones of red, rather than cooler “aerial” shades of blue, gray, and white.
Though the artist’s name is not presented on either the cover or within the book itself, stylistically, the human face at least seems to be reminiscent of the work of Ben Shahn… (Well, maybe!)
It occurred to me I must write to Ruth, but I didn’t know what to tell her.
A subtle wall was being erected between my wife and me
because we had not shared this experience.
I realized with a shock that my wife was a civilian, safe back in the States.
And I suddenly resented those who were safe.
I was appalled at the ease with which I abandoned myself to self-pity
even in my hour of triumph.
But aside from the corrupting but very comfortable stabs of self-pity
there was no denying that my most profound experience had been shared with me
not by Ruth but by nine comparative strangers.
They were now a part of my life, part of my joys and sorrows.
We had not chosen one another as brothers; it had been ordained for us.
Mel Ginn, a rancher from western Texas, was my brother.
I didn’t know much about him and he was suspicious of me because I came from a large city.
He was amused by my clumsiness with the guns.
He was puzzled that an “old man” had got himself mixed up in the fighting.
Mel had never met a Jew before and this confused him also.
Before our first mission we had little to say to each other.
But today we had been through life together.
Before our first mission Leo Trent and I had little in common.
Leo used to sell perfume in Hollywood before the war.
His heart had been set on becoming a pilot,
but he had been washed out of cadet training “three hours before graduation.”
That was his story.
It rankled that his younger brother, who was twenty-one, two years Leo’s junior,
was an ace Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific while Leo became a “venereal gunner.”
He was not a good gunner (this we had in common),
and up in the air I saw him paralyzed with fear (this too we had in common).
Leo and I had never become close,
perhaps because we each knew the other to be a coward who resented being found out.
That’s why he was wary of me.
He credited me with an insight that always sat in judgment on his weaknesses.
Also, he mistook my aloofness for snobbery.
He did not like riddles.
But I wanted him to like me.
He was, after all, my brother. (p 30)
The images below are of the 1951 Pocket Books edition of Face of A Hero, featuring cover art by Al Schmidt.
Would Andy laugh at me if I told him I was in this war because I wanted to keep America free?
I wanted to tell him I was in it not only because I was against Hitler;
I was also for something.
I was convinced that after we won it, life would be better for all.
People would get along better;
not only Missourians and Illinoisians,
but Italians and Americans too…
But how do you tell these things to a frightened man, a man facing death?
I was afraid Andy would laugh at me.
Americans had an ingrained suspicion of words, any words smacking of patriotism.
Andy sat silent for a while, contemplating the pebbles on the tent floor.
“Oh, I’ll fly my missions,” he said.
“I’m no better or no worse than anybody else.
I certainly wouldn’t pull a stunt like Bowles pulled yesterday,
shooting off his toe and claiming it was an accident.
I wouldn’t do a thing like that, nobody in our crew would.”
He regarded me searchingly to see whether I believed him.
He got up and went to sit on his cot.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the navigator sighed.
“It’s all mixed up in my mind.
In one way I feel I’m a sucker for being in this.
In another way I feel useless.
I’m supposed to be a navigator.
The army spent a fortune to train me.
But do I navigate?
I’m just a passenger in the ship, while the lead navigator does all the work.
You men could fly without me.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I had a gun to fire.
You don’t know what it means to be shot at and not shoot back.
You’re helpless, useless.
You go crazy.
If I could only keep busy in the air –
maybe I wouldn’t have the time to worry so much about death…”
He slapped his thighs savagely
and stood up and walked to the cone-shaped entrance of the tent.
“I don’t know what to think.
I’ve never been so mixed up and so scared in my life…” (109-110)
The image below – a portrait of Louis Falstein posing against a “backdrop” of a B-24 Liberator’s fuselage – was scanned from a photographic print. It’s unknown if this picture was taken during his training in the continental United States, or later, at the 450th Bomb Group’s base at Manduria, Italy.
Most likely, the former.
Notably, this is the same image of Louis Falstein that appeared (albeit highly cropped!) as the cover of the 1999 Steerforth Press edition of Face of a Hero. The novel’s re-publication that year generated much commentary concerning the book’s similarities to – and striking differences from – Joseph Heller’s stunningly over-rated embodiment of literary mediocrity (and, ironic commercial and cultural success) otherwise known as “Catch-22“.
The portrait below, showing Lou in more peaceful times, appears on the jacket of the first edition of Face of A Hero.
I reflected that I had as yet done but little,
to further the happiness of the human race,
or to advance the information of succeeding generation.
I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence,
and now sorely feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me
had they been judiciously expended.
But, since they are past and cannot be recalled,
I dash from me the gloomy thought,
and resolve in future to redouble my exertion
and at least endeavor to promote those two primary objects of human existence,
by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestowed on me;
or, in future,
to live for mankind,
as I have heretofore lived for myself.
Captain Merriweather Lewis
August 18, 1805
Fugit, interea fugit irreparabile tempus.
The past was real.
The present, all about me, was unreal, unnatural, repellent.
I saw the big ships lying in the stream,
the Alert, the California, the Rosa, with her Italians;
then the handsome Ayacucho, my favourite;
the poor dear old Pilgrim, the home of hardship and helplessness;
the boats passing to and fro;
the cries of the sailors at the capstan or falls;
the peopled beach; the large hide-houses, with their gangs of men;
and the Kanakas interspersed everywhere.
All, all were gone! not a vestige to mark where one hide-house stood.
The oven, too, was gone.
I searched for its site, and found, where I thought it should be,
a few broken bricks and bits of mortar.
I alone was left of all, and how strangely was I here!
What changes to me!
Where were they all?
Why should I care for them –
poor Kanakas and sailors,
the refuse of civilisation,
the outlaws and beach-combers of the Pacific?
IN THE LAND where dead dreams go lies the city of Manila,
as it was before the war.
Manila, where the white man didn’t work in the afternoon because it was too hot.
Manila, with its beauty and its poverty and its orchids at five cents apiece.
What could a soldier do with a handful of orchids
if he had no one to give them to?
I used to buy those orchids.
I’d pay my nickel for them and stand there awkwardly holding them in my hand.
I would run my finger over the satin petals and then,
I would give them to the first little girl I met,
because there was something very lonely about buying orchids
when you had no one to give them to.
I began to plan the things I wanted to do when I went home.
The promises I had made to the boys about seeing their parents.
I thought of the things that home meant to me.
The things that freedom, and being home, would mean.
I thought of seeing women again, white women,
and being again where people laughed,
where laughter was good and life was good.
I wondered if ever again things would worry me.
I thought what I would do with my life.
I had never asked to live, but God had spared me.
Now I knew there was an obligation within me to justify my life.
I must do something.
My mind wandered back to the times
when Rass and John and Weldon and Hughes
sat together around the fire in the evenings.
We talked about the things we wanted to do
when we were free and we were home again.
Rass had wanted to go into the diplomatic service.
John had wanted to be a professor again.
“I’m going to be a writer,” I said.
“I’m going to write novels.”
We used to laugh about it.
They were interested in the things I wanted to write about.
Once, when we were very hungry, John had turned to me.
“Some day, Sid, I wish you’d put me in one of your books.”
“Yes, Stew,” Rass said.
“I wish you’d write a book about this, about all of us.
Could you do that for us one day?
Write a book about all of us.
Something that we could keep.”
I remembered what I had promised them.
I would write a book about them some day.
But I felt cold inside and I thought, “No, they’ll never read that book now,
that book I’m going to write about them.
About their faith and hopes, their goodness and their beliefs.”
I suppose I am like most men who soldiered for a time.
I think that something unusual happened to me;
some particular meaning was revealed to me so I should set it down.
Men have been boring their wives,
and other men with these kind of stories from Marathon through Chickamauga,
and I’m no different from the lot.
Having survived it all, I can’t leave well enough alone,
but must ponder on it and remember and talk at least about one part of it that was, I think,
a kind of glory.
On the twenty-third of June, 1944,
I ended my time as a bomber pilot flying out of Italy with the 301st Bomb Group,
and became a prisoner of war in Bulgaria.
My last mission was to Ploesti.
Although that name had its own dreadful sound,
the other places and other names all took their toll
whether you feared them or not.
It mattered very little when you finally bought it.
The odds were, one always knew, that something was going to happen.
It was not felt in any desperate way,
but rather it came as a difference in consciousness
without one’s being aware of the change.
In the squadron we learned to live as perhaps once we were long ago,
as simple as animals without hope for ourselves or pity for one another.
Completing fifty missions was too implausible to even consider.
An alternative, in whatever form it might come, was the only chance.
Death was the most severe alternative.
It was as near as the next mission,
although we would not yield to the thought of it.
We would get through somehow: maybe a good wound,
or a bail-out over Yugoslavia or northern Italy; the second front might open up,
and the Germans might shift all their fighters to the French coast.
We might even make it through fifty missions – a few did.
But such fantasies didn’t really persuade us,
not with our sure knowledge that we were caught in a bad twist of time
with little chance we would go beyond it.
Our lives were defined by a line from the present
to a violent moment that must come for each of us.
The missions we flew were the years we measured to that end,
passing by no different from any man’s except we became old and died soon.
I don’t know whether any of this is true or not.
Everything happened that I have said happened,
but it’s memory now, the shadow of things.
The truth lives in its own time, recall is not the reality of the past.
When friends depart, one remembers them but they are changed;
we hold only the fragment of them that touched us and our idea of them,
which is now a part of us.
Their reality is gone, intact but irretrievable,
in another place through which we passed and can never enter again.
I cannot go back nor can I bring them to me;
so I must pursue the shadows to some middle ground,
for I am strangely bound to all that happened then.
We broke hard bread together and I can’t forget:
Breslau, Steyr, Regensburg, Ploesti, Vienna, Munich, Graz,
and all the others; not cities,
but battlegrounds five miles above them where we made our brotherhood.
It’s gone and long ago; swept clean by the wind, only some stayed.
Part of me lives there still, tracing a course through all the names.
I don’t know why.
What is it that memory wants that it goes through it all again?
Was there something I should have recognized?
Some terrible wisdom?
The kind of awful knowledge that stares out of the eyes of a dying man?
I was at the edge then and almost grasped the meaning,
but I lived and failed the final lesson and came safe home.
I linger now, looking back for them, the best ones who stayed and learned it all.
“It was as if in greeting that three of the tiny creatures came out from the boards around the stove and scurried toward me. I was sitting on Mac’s bunk. He used to feed them crumbs every time he came in the tent. A fourth mouse joined his friends and, while they nibbled happily, I began the sad chore of going through Mac’s belongings.” (pp. 66-67)
“I handed him mine. He took them without a word; he struck five of them before he got the pipe going. He had forgotten his cigarette, which was still smoldering on the bomb cart where he had placed it.” (p. 114)
“The ground was rushing up at me! I was moving toward a high ridge! I swept over it, and then I plunged through the upper branches of a giant pine; mu chute caught and was held fast while my inertia drove me over a deep, rocky gorge. My forward motion was violently snubbed, and I was sent rushing back toward a massive trunk. I missed it by three feet, but continued to swing wildly beside it. After a time, the motion ceased. I hung there over the steep incline of the gorge. The base of the tree reached deep into the slope; it was much too far to drop.” (p. 194)
In this strange life, we lived in the narrow dimension of the present.
We didn’t seek the future, for it was not there;
and if we could not move into it or beyond it,
we could not return to our past.
We were dull and listless,
but we did not have the true languor of young men
whose dreams were of worlds ahead of them,
and who saw the present only as prelude to it.
If we were without dreams, without a past or a future,
and were caught in the stillness of the present,
our vision then became wise.
There was peace in the absence of clamor;
there was serenity in the days without battles.
If this tattered place where we lived
were to be the full measure of our lives,
we would find some sweetness in it.
A small mouse nibbling a piece of biscuit in my tent
was as wondrous as a unicorn.
The soiled streets of Foggia were full of light,
and one time when I was walking there,
I heard the pure voice of a woman singing.
I learned each day of the goodness of life.
I cherished what was given to me,
holding it just for the moment it was given,
for I knew it was fragile and could not be held for long.
The Muirhead crew prior to departure for Italy. Author John Muirhead is in front row, far left, holding headphones. Notice that the aircraft in the background is a B-24 Liberator, which the author initially flew before assignment to the 301st Bomb Group. (USAAF photo, from dust jacket of Those Who Fall.)
“Open the drawers of your desk and you realize it could take all night. There is a vast quantity of flotsam: files, notebooks, personal and business correspondence, galleys and proofs, review books, matchbooks, loose sheets with names and phone numbers, notes to yourself, first drafts of stories, sketches and poems. Here, for instance, is the first draft of “Birds of Manhattan.” Also the “U.S. Government Abstract of Statistics on Agriculture, 1981”, indispensable in researching the three-part article on the death of the family farm, on the back of which you have written the name Laura Bowman and a telephone number. Who is Laura Bowman? You could dial the number and ask for her, ask her where she fits into your past. Tell her you are suffering from amnesia and looking for clues.”
– Jay McInerney
It will perhaps be somewhat difficult for the men and women of a later day
to understand Jesse Bentley.
In the Last fifty years a vast change has taken place in the lives of our people.
A revolution has in fact taken place.
The coming of industrialism, attended by all the roar and rattle of affairs,
the shrill cries of millions of new voices that have come among us from over seas,
the going and coming of trains,
the growth of cities,
the building of the interurban car lines
that weave in and out of towns and past farmhouses,
and now in these later days the coming of the automobiles
has worked a tremendous change in the lives and the habits
of thought of our people of Mid-America.
badly imagined and written though they may be in the hurry of our times,
are in every household,
magazines circulate by the millions of copies,
newspapers are everywhere.
In our day a farmer standing by a stove in the store in his village
has his mind filled to overflowing with the words of other men.
The newspapers and the magazines have pumped him full.
Much of the old brutal ignorance that had in it also
a kind of beautiful childlike innocence is gone forever.
The farmer by the stove is brother to the men of the cities,
and if you listen you will find him talking as glibly and senselessly
as the best city man of us all
The upper classes have not the means to live with decorum and self-respect.
The young men of promise, and even those barely able to make their way, leave the village.
The most adventurous go off to America, as the peasants do, and the others to Naples or Rome; none return.
Those who are left in the villages are the discarded, who have no talents, the physically deformed, the inept and the lazy; greed and boredom combine to dispose them to evil.
Small parcels of farm land do not assure them a living and, in order to survive, these misfits must dominate the peasants and secure for themselves the well-paid posts of druggist, priest, marshal of the carabinieri, and so on.
It is, therefore, a matter of life and death to have the rule in their own hands, to hoist themselves on their relatives and friends into top jobs.
This is the root of the endless struggle to obtain power and to keep it from others, a struggle with the narrowness of their surroundings, enforced idleness, and a mixture of personal and political motives render continuous and savage.
Every day anonymous letters from every village of Lucania arrived at the prefecture.
And at the prefecture they were, apparently, far from dissatisfied with this state of affairs, even if they said the contrary.
All that people say about the people of the South, things I once believed myself: the savage rigidity or their morals, their Oriental jealousy, the fierce sense of honor leading to crimes of passion and revenge, all these are but myths.
Perhaps they existed a long time ago and something of them is left in the way of a stiff conventionality.
But emigration has changed the picture.
The men have gone and the women have taken over.
Many a woman’s husband is in America.
For a year, or even two, he writes to her, then he drops out of her ken, perhaps he forms other family ties; in any case he disappears and never comes back.
The wife waits for him a year, or even two; then some opportunity arises and a baby is the result.
A great part of the children are illegitimate, and the mother holds absolute sway. Gagliano has twelve hundred inhabitants, and there are two thousand men from Gagliano in America.
Grassano had five thousand inhabitants and almost the same number have emigrated.
In the villages the women outnumber the men and the father’s identity is no longer so strictly important; honor is dissociated from paternity, because a matriarchal regime prevails.
We were in a part of Poland neither of us knew well.
We were in uniform, possessed no documents of any kind,
and had no idea of conditions about us.
We were hungry; weakened by the ordeals of the last few weeks;
and in the now heavy downpour had no protection but our threadbare garments.
In the circumstances, there was nothing to do but trust to luck.
Determining to knock at the door of the first dwelling we came upon,
we got up and walked through the wood
until we came to a narrow strip of grassless soil
that was obviously either a path or a road.
After about three hours of trudging through the rain,
we perceived the outlines of a village, and slackened our pace,
approaching it cautiously.
Tiptoeing quietly up to the first cottage,
we found ourselves at a small, typical peasants’ dwelling.
Hesitantly we stood before the door from under which a dim light issued.
As I raised my hand to knock, I felt a tremor of nervousness and apprehension.
I rapped on the door with brusque over-emphasis to allay my dread.
‘Who is it?’ The trembling voice of a peasant reassured me slightly.
‘Come out, please,’ I replied,
attempting to make my voice sound polite but authoritative,
‘it is very important.’
The door opened slowly,
disclosing a gray-headed old peasant with a grizzled beard.
He stood there in his underwear, obviously frightened and cold.
A wave of warm air from the interior made me feel almost faint
with the urge to enter and bask in it.
‘What do you want?’ he asked in a tone of mingled indignation and fear.
I ignored the question.
I decided to try to play boldly on his feelings.
‘Are you or are you not a Pole?’
I demanded sternly. ‘Answer me.’
‘I am a Polish patriot,’
he replied with greater composure and celerity than I had anticipated.
‘Do you love your country?’ I continued undismayed.
‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes, I do.’
The old man evinced considerable impatience at my questions
but no longer seemed terrified – merely curious.
I proceeded to satisfy his curiosity.
‘We are Polish soldiers who have just escaped from the Germans.
We are going to join the army and help them save Poland.
We are not defeated yet. You must help us and give us civilian clothes.
If you refuse and try to turn us over to the Germans, God will punish you.’
He gazed at me quizzically from under his thick eyebrows.
I could not tell if he was amused, impressed, or alarmed.
‘Come inside,’ he said dryly, ‘out of this miserable rain.
I will not turn you over to the Germans.’