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Dear Sweetheart

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My Sweetheart

Don’t believe the lies that the newspapers and film reels tell you. It is all lies. There is nothing glorious about the front. It is all rats, sludge, bullets and dead bodies. Only two of the twenty-four men that came here in 1916 are alive right now- yes, Helmut and Karl, the two precious friends that I mentioned in my previous letters to you. We are too weak to run, and we only have enough energy to drink coffee and smoke the few cigarettes that are left. The trenches have become our tomb, where we shall fall and rest forever. I am blessed with a chance to write you this letter that I pray will find its way into your hands.

The British and the French never stop charging. We the hunters have become the rabbits. Their colonial Indian, African and Vietnamese soldiers attack with a ferocity that cannot be rivaled by their white masters. Each day they bleed our lines, and men that cannot be spared are taken by the thousands. Death has become our constant companion. I saw him this morning, sitting next to the body of one of my recently deceased comrades. Death winked and waved at me, and I poured him a cup of coffee. We sat and talked for a while smoking cigarettes and he said “Boy, your turn is coming soon.” I thanked him for telling me, and after he left I began to write down this letter. My legs are losing their feeling, and every now and then I cannot breathe. Must be from that damned gas.

Sweetheart, do you remember the day we spent at the beach together? That was back when we were winning the war and I had promised to marry you in 1917 on the day that I turned eighteen. The beach wasn’t the cleanest, or the most popular. You never forgave me for forcing you into the water, and I remember how we didn’t kiss in the water because we both tasted like salt. Whenever I close my eyes and ignore the whistles, gunshots, screams and bloody haze of the battlefield I am taken back to that day. After that we found ourselves a nice, quiet private place until a small child walked up to us and interrupted us very rudely. I wanted to kill him, but you stopped me. My body aches when I recall the way you looked at me, the way you felt against my skin and the way we talked and laughed.

Fell asleep again. I am doing that more and more often. Why haven’t our boys or the Frogs (French) or Tommies (British) killed us off yet? More headaches, more coughs, and I discovered this morning that my left leg is completely paralyzed. Helmut tried to find some medicine for my leg but couldn’t find anything else besides whiskey. Is the war over yet? Can I see you again? I promised to marry you in 1917…what a joke. It is almost 1918, and I am old enough to marry you. If I had my leg or my strength I would crawl all the way back home. We would get married in a little church, the only one in our village, and all of our family members would get together..Mine would be happy for at least one day. What will your mother do with that wonderful wedding dress?

With me I take millions of memories that we have both shared. I kept each letter you sent me and have memorized almost all of them. It seems that we speak the same language but are worlds and worlds and worlds apart…when in times of peace you could take a train and see me in a few hour’s time. I am sorry for all the promises that I couldn’t keep, about marriage, children, and owning a small field in the countryside and me getting a job building roads, and you getting a job as a teacher. That seems like a fantasy now. Some things aren’t meant to be, sweetheart. While I was in France, I did not touch a single woman. Not once. I have heard bad rumors about the women back home but I firmly believe in our trust and bond. Because without that I have nothing else in the world but a field of dead friends.

Twenty men attacked us today. Luckily our landmines managed to keep them at bay, but Karl’s arm is shattered and has become infected. He refuses any medicine (as if we had any) and still says he can hold a pistol to defend his country and people. Poor boy. He is two years younger than me. (Later) Karl committed suicide. Helmut and I didn’t even bother burying him and drank our coffee and smoked cigarettes. We are sitting in one gigantic cemetery. After breakfast, I took out my wad of paper that resembles more of a journal rather than a diary. It could be because of the cold but the fingers in my left hand are becoming stiff, and each time I move them my nerves scream in pain. Helmut says that I have to be more careful.

Sweetheart, if you had given me a photo of yourself I would’ve been like my friends who passed around pictures of their lady friends. But those friends are now pieces of flesh and meat filled with bits of steel and broken bone. Would it have been better to wait a year, as you said, until I received your photograph? It doesn’t matter now. I plan to put all the letters you gave me in a tobacco tin and bury it deep in the ground. When I am done with this last letter to you I shall place it in the tobacco tin. God willing this letter will find its way into your hands. I have left you childless and without a lover. Perhaps one day, Sweetheart, when this war is over you shall truly understand why this had to happen.

There are no more grenades. Helmut and I emptied an entire box of grenades this morning at a British patrol. Part of my left hand has been ripped off, but do not worry. There are still a few bottles of alcohol left and I have fewer fingers to worry about. After the attack someone jumped into our trench from behind. I thought it was our troops, finally, but it was my old friend Death. “I am ready, my good friend” I told him, holding out my arms. Death turned to me and said “it is not you I am here for” and he left with Helmut, my dear friend Helmut, in his arms. As Helmut lay across from me, a bullet hole in his helmet, staring at me with awful, glassy eyes Death turned to me and said “To-morrow, my good friend. To-morrow.”

It is just me now. The rats and lice have taken over our trench. Both my legs have lost their feeling, now. All I can do is write and crawl. Why doesn’t anyone take me out of my misery? The fighting gets so loud that I sometimes go deaf. Why aren’t you here? I can see you very clearly right now sitting and waiting for me so that when I come back we can both sleep together as men and women do. I can feel your loneliness. I can feel your fatigue from waiting up all night, having nightmares about me. There will come a day when you and I can see each other away from the war, away from the misery and pain of our daily lives. I am going mad. Insane. The only living things I talk to are the rats that are eating the bodies of my past friends. There are no cigarettes left, no bread..my right hand is slowly cramping up. More and more often. The rats scamper over me, testing me, and I am too weak to fight them all off. Where are you where are you where are you.

A British soldier fell into my trench. He had been mortally wounded by our troops, and had found my grave to die in. Only his coat kept his intestines inside his body. I crawled over to him but he drew his bayonet and looked at me fierce. A few hours later he died, moaning “Sarah…Sarah…Mama…” Men are the same. When they die they all cry for their girlfriends and their mothers. Death took the British soldier to a better place. When Death left I felt a chill run through my nerves, but I felt strangely warm. I tried crying for help but my voice was too weak. All my energy has been used up to write this to you, Sweetheart. The battlefield surrounds me. Men scream in pain, iron monsters charge each other and the smell of the dead and the living clouds the brain. But I might as well be surrounded by a painting. A painting that I choose to ignore. There is nothing else worth thinking about besides you.




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