A Bell for Adano, by John Hersey – 1945, 1946 (Salter, Carl Diehl)

BRIGADIER GENERAL WILLIAM B. WILSON of the Quartermaster Depot in Algiers leaned back at his desk and shouted across the room to his deputy in a rich Southern accent: “Ham, listen to this, goddamit, sometimes I think those English think they own us.”

The Colonel addressed as Ham looked up from the Stars & Stripes.  “What have the limeys done now?” he asked.

“Just got this letter, damnedest thing I ever saw,” the General said.  “It’s from an American major, too, just goes to show how those glib bastards can put it over on us if we don’t watch ‘em.”

The Colonel called Ham said: “Yeah, they sure are good talkers.”

Listen here, now, he says: ‘Am writing you at the suggestion of Major General His Excellency Lord Runcin – that fancy bastard.  I met him one time down at the Aletti, and I just happened to say, like anyone does who’s a gentleman when he says good-bye, I said to him: ‘If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just let me now.’  He came right back at me and said: ‘I may,’ he said, ‘you Americans have everything, you know.’  So damn if I didn’t get a letter from him about two weeks later reminding me of what I said and asking me if I’d get him a jeep.  Well, this Amgot thing sounded pretty important to me, so I just about busted my neck to wangle him a jeep.  Soon as he got that he wrote me thank-you note and asked me if the Americans had any pipes, that he was lost without a pipe, and could I get him one?  So I got him a pipe.  Then I had to get him an electric razor, for godsake.  Then he wrote me that chewing gum was such a curiosity among his staff would I get him a large box of chewing gum?  He even had the nerve to ask me to get him a case of whisky, he said he got a ration of rum and gin, but all the Scotch was imported to the States, so would I mind terribly nailing him a case of Scotch?  I made up my mind I was never going to get him another thing after that, even if I got sent home.”

“What’s he want now?”

“He doesn’t want it, this Major of ours wants it, that’s what makes me mad.  Old Runcin seems to think I’m a one-man shopping service, and he goes around recommending to people to write me all their screwy things they want.”

“Well, what does this guy want?”

“Jesus, Ham, he wants a bell.”

“What the hell for?”

“He says here: ‘I consider it most important for the morale and continued good behavior of this town to get it a bell to replace the one which was taken away as per above.’  I don’t know, something about a seven-hundred-year-old bell.  But that’s not the point, Ham.  The thing that makes me mad is this English bastard thinking he owns us.”

The Colonel named Ham, who was expert at saying Yes to his superiors and No to his inferiors, said: “Yeah, I see what you mean.”

“They do it all the time, Ham.  You watch, an Englishman will always eat at an American mess if he gets a chance.  Look at Lend-Lease, why hell, we’re just giving it to ‘em.  And don’t you think they’ll ever pay us for it.  They won’t even thank us for it, Ham.”

The Colonel named Ham said: “I doubt if they will.”

“I know they won’t.  And look at the way they’re trying to run the war.  They got their officers in all the key spots.  Ham, we’re just winning this damn war for the British Empire.”

The Colonel named Ham said: “That’s right, I guess.”

“No sir, I’m damned if I’ll root around and find a bell for this goddam sponger of an Englishman.  Where the hell does he think I’m going to find a seven-hundred-year-old bell?  No sir, Ham, I won’t do it.  Write a letter to this Major, will you, Ham?”

“Yes sir, what’ll I say?”

“Lay it on, dammit, tell him the U.S. Army doesn’t have a stock of seven-hundred-year-old bells, tell him he should realize there is a war on, tell him to watch out for these goddam Englishmen or they’ll take the war right away from us.”

“Yes sir.”

____________________

“That reminds me,” Livingston said.  “You said you had something on your mind this morning.”

“Matter of fact, I have.  Since you’ve been getting all the results, I thought maybe – ”

“Want to go in the other room?”  Livingston asked politely but importantly.

“Nothing hush-hush,” the Major said.  “Might as well tell you right here.”

And he told about Adano’s seven-hundred-year-old bell.  He told how it had been taken away, and about what he had done to try to get another.  Two drinks had made his mind relax, and he told his story beautifully.

He made the town’s need for a new bell seem something really important, and he made the bell seem a symbol of freedom in Adano.  He made it seem as if the people of Adano would not feel truly free until they heard a bell ringing from the clock tower of the Palazzo.

And not just any bell.  He described what he thought was needed in the bell: a full, rich tone; no crack of any kind; and a touch of history that would mean something to the Italians.

His story was nicely told and his audience was just right.  The Navy has a quick sense of tradition.  All the folderol – saluting the quarter deck, the little silver buck to mark who should be served first in the wardroom, still calling the captain’s court of justice going before the mast, the marvelous poetic orders “Sweepers, man your brooms: clean sweep down fore and aft” – these things made Navy men able to grasp the idea of the bell, and be moved by it.

Major Joppolo finished: “And that’s all it was, Livingston.  I think I want to get this town the right bell more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”

Commander Robertson was the first one to speak: “Seems to me we ought to be able to find a bell,” he said.

“Lots of bells in the Navy,” said Robertson’s communications officer.

“It’s got to be just the right bell, though,” Livingston said.

“Yes,” Major Joppolo said, “that’s the important thing.  It’s got to be the right bell.  I wouldn’t want to give these people anything but just the right bell.”

Commander Robertson stood up and said: “Let me think, seems to me,” and he walked around the room.

Then he said: “I think maybe I can get just the kind of bell you want, Major.”

Major Joppolo said: “Do you really think you can?”

The Commander said: “I think maybe.”

Major Joppolo said: “If you can, I’m going to switch over to the Navy.”

– John Hersey

Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana – 1869, 1969, 1977 (Unknown Artist)

I wished to be alone,
so I let the other passengers go up to the town,
and was quietly pulled ashore in a boat,
and left to myself. 
The recollections and the emotions all were sad, and only sad.

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?

Give Us This Day, by Sidney Stewart – 1958 (Harry Scharre?)

Manila:
December 1941

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,
embarrassed,
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. 
Will you?  
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.”

The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis – 1963, 1986 (Unknown artist); 1990 Tim O’Brien)

He was sick; sick from the long,
dangerous trip he had taken,
sick from all the medicine – the pills,
the inoculations, the inhaled gases – sick from worry,
the anticipation of crisis,
and terribly sick from the awful burden of his own weight. 
He had known for years that when the time came,
when he would finally land and begin to effect that complex,
long-prepared plan, he would feel something like this. 
This place, however much he had studied it,
however much he had rehearsed his part in it,
was so incredibly alien – the feeling,
now that he could feel – the feeling was overpowering. 
He lay down in the grass and became very sick.

He was not a man; yet he was very much like a man. 
He was six and a half feet tall,
and some men are even taller that that;
his hair was as white as that of an albino,
yet his face was a light tan color;
and his eyes a pale blue. 
His frame was improbably slight,
his features delicate, his fingers long,
thin,
and the skin almost translucent, hairless. 
There was an elfin quality to his face,
a fine boyish look to the wide, intelligent eyes,
and the white,
curly hair now grew a little over his ears. 
He seemed quite young.

Yet he did have eyelashes,
eyebrows,
opposed thumbs,
binocular vision,
and a thousand of the physiological features of a normal human. 
He was incapable of warts;
but stomach ulcers, measles and dental caries could affect him. 
He was human; but not, properly, a man. 
Also, man like, he was susceptible to love,
to fear,
to intense physical pain and to self-pity.

____________________

(1990 Book-of-the-Month Club hardcover edition, art by Tim O’Brien)

Mustang Pilot, by Richard E. Turner – 1969, 1975 (Unknown artist)

He stated in no uncertain terms that we never,
repeat NEVER,
turn away from head-on attack before the enemy!
A period of pregnant silence followed his last sentence.
Finally a young pilot in the front row hesitantly asked what would happen
if the German pilot turned out to be as bullheaded as we were?

A flicker of smile creased Blakeslee’s face as he replied,
fixing his grey eyes on the uncomfortable young man,
‘In that case, son, you have earned your extra flight pay the hard way!’
This broke up the briefing in more ways than one,
and after being dismissed we all headed for our fighters to prepare for take-off,
laughing in spite of our anxiety.