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)

Those Who Fall, by John G. Muirhead – 1986 [Cover by Eric Joyner, Interior Illustrations by Susan Coons]

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,
their children,
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 don’t have any damn matches.”

“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.)

The Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) – #16203 – covering the author’s final mission:  Target Ploesti, Roumania – Date June 23, 1944.  John Muirhead, as pilot, is listed first in the crew roster. 

The second page of the MACR, listing the crew’s enlisted personnel (flight engineer, radio operator, and aerial gunners). 

Eyewitnesses to the loss of Muirhead’s B-17, S/Sgt. William E. Caldwell and S/Sgt. Anthony J. Petrowski. 

John Muirhead, mid-1980s.

Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney – 1984 [Marc Tauss]

bright-lights-big-city“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

Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi – 1948 [Jonas]

christ-stopped-at-eboli-carlo-levi-1948-jonas_edited-1The truth is that the internecine war among the gentry is the same in every village of Lucania. 

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.