by Katherine N., Age 14 , Grade 8, Trinity Christian Academy, Addison, TX USA
Teacher: Sarah-Graham Turtletaub
October 3, 1917
Dear Molly Mae,
Goodness, kid, I miss you lots. All of you, really. Mother, Father, William, but especially you. Just don’t tell Mother I’ve written your letter before hers.
Do you remember the night before I left when we walked to the old churchyard and watched the stars, just talking about how amazing everything would be? You said I’d be a hero, and that the Yanks wouldn’t be able to win without me. You said that even though you wanted me at home, Uncle Sam needed me more. You said it was for the best interest of our country that I left, and as I looked over at you, I saw the faraway lights reflecting in the tears as they roll down your cheeks. I swear you seemed much older in that moment. You were far too brave and mature for an eleven year old. We were both so naive, Mae. With our backs against the peach tree, we dreamed up epics and conjured up images of my glory and honor. Kid, I gotta tell you something I didn’t realize till I got here. Everyone is the main character of their own story. Our teachers, parents, fellow classmates, everyone romanticized the idea of battle. There isn’t a shield around us as we slaughter off German after German soldier. Knowing there is a man over there with a little sister like you at home, just waiting for him to return, is too much to bear for me. At times I can hardly fire. We don’t look handsome, courageous and invincible in our uniforms, my comrades and I look merely like what we are: Gaunt, wan boys in over their heads. What is more, we don’t know why we’re even fighting. The patriotic ideals they force fed us at home and in training have fallen by the wayside as stranger, friend, and brother fall by our sides.
The ditches we’ve been fighting in for months are freezing cold with stagnant water up to our ankles. I’m pained both literally and figuratively to say I have caught trench foot, the atrociously sickening result of standing in that water for too long. I won’t get into it for your sake, but let’s just say it looks as if a creature gnawed at my toes. Diseases are almost as numerous as the shells around here, and many are deemed lethal. No one is able to escape the inevitable body lice, so just picture your older brother across the sea itching at his scalp and arms next time you tie a bright ribbon in that pretty hair of yours.
The rats take our only food rations, and many are bigger than your friend Lillian’s pet cat. Nothing is safe from them. Some of the boys play games over who can catch the biggest rats, but I cannot bring myself to do it. I can only imagine what Mother would say. Since I have declined that form of entertainment, the only other option is to watch dogfights when they pass overhead. The other boys find them terribly fascinating, and even I have to admit they make the time pass rather quickly.
Mae, I pray with every ounce of my being that you never have to experience something even a fraction as horrific as what I have had to endure these past few months. Nothing compares to witnessing the life seep out of man after man. Too many lives have been lost far too soon, and so many more have yet to be taken by God Almighty. I realize now that even main characters pass away. Every breath I take, every step I take, I picture it as my last. Sometimes I almost wish everything would stop… Even if that means I die. At least then I wouldn’t have to experience this anymore. Then I think of you, and Mother, and the rest of the Browns back home. You are the reason I keep fighting.
Mae, the horrors are indescribable. The world is not an epic. We are not knights in shining armor, nor are we the heroes you hear about in fictitious tales of grandeur . And, to think, some day children your age will read about us in school without even being able to begin to comprehend what it is we are going through. Do everything in your power to get Father to not make William enlist. He still has a year left until he has to, but it isn’t worth it. The cons far outweigh the pros. There is no glory. There is no honor. There is only a lingering, empty pain and holes in your heart not forged by bullets.
If there is one thing you take away from this letter, let it be this; Life is beyond precious. Relish in games of hopscotch, beat William in checkers, help Mother bake pies this Thanksgiving, raise your hand in class even if you don’t know the answer, chase that boy on the playground, sing at the top of your lungs and do not stop until your voice is hoarse, but most importantly, never forget I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.
Always, your oldest brother,
Sergeant Elijah Brown