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"Puptent Poets"

The Stars and Stripes, Mediterranean

Throughout the Mediterranean Theater in World War II, it was respectable to be a poet.

Men in uniform who might have once regarded poetry as a matter for "long hairs" and "softies" were writing poems themselves and, what's more, signing them.

Truck drivers were no less inclined toward the muse than the company cook; a machine-gunner would dash off a verse during the lull of battle; the stony-faced topkick was producing love lyrics, and there was a laureate in every company. As one CO remarked,
   "It's a wonder we get any work done."


I've seen "the crosses row on row,"
I've seen the graves at Anzio,
In Flanders Field men cannot sleep -
Their faith, the world found hard to keep.
Versailles' fate was slyly sealed
Before earth's gaping wounds had healed,
And now again rows of crosses
Mutely tell of nations' losses.
In how many fields,
In how many lands
Will soldiers die by soldiers' hands?
Until at long last mankind yields
To truth and reason's studied choice
Ignoring hatred's strident voice.

   - Pvt. Jack P. Nantell


"At eight AM we're pulling out,"
The general sternly said,
So the colonel sent the order down,
"At five we leave our bed."
Well, the captain took no chances,
Because captains never do,
And so he told the topkick,
"Have the men get up at two."
At midnight the sergeant woke us,
And here we sadly sit,
Because it now is noontime,
And we haven't pulled out yet.

   - T-5 Carl D. Westerberg


Where once stood a whitewashed villa
Covered over with climbing roses,
Gay with shouts of playing children,
Hope and future of the land,
Totter now in dust and ashes
Crumbling walls of stone and plaster,
In smoking piles of debris -
Here a foot and there a hand.
Men and women of tomorrow
Lying there in dust and silence,
Who shall carry on your future?
Who shall bear your family name?
From a box among the wreckage
Safely placed there by his mother
Just before man's hell from heaven
Took her to the great unknown,
Climbs a child of two short summers,
Unperturbed by death about him:
And, though not knowing its import,
Turns to face the coming dawn.

   - T-Sgt. Stanley R. Gibson


So very often do poets write
Of flowers, birds and such,
That one gets tired of seeing them
And reading them so much.
Now, I have a thing more dear to me,
Romantic and divine,
Its shining face a symbol of
That appetite of mine.
God bless each little rivet,
The knife, the fork, the spoon -
Forever may they render forth
Their sweet metallic tune.
And when these days of corn-beef hash
Are memories all aglow,
There'll be a place for it somewhere
Where all good messkits go.

   - Lt. H. S. Davenport


A flare-lit night, a frosty breeze
The chequered light of moon through trees
The gelid quiv'ring battle glow
This is Nero's Anzio.

The monster stalks; the cannon roar
Is this Dunkirk, Corregidor?
In sharp riposte our guns bark "No"
"These are the men of Anzio.

By day the wedgewood sky is bright
With vapor trails of Allied might;
By night the scudding clouds resound
With sounds of war from air and ground.

Against this mighty fist of mail
Our lines hold firm,
They shall not fail,
Thus slowly, Europe's bloodstained yolk
is seized from puerile herrenvolk.

This inchoate beach, this spot of sand
beyond the Paperhanger's hand
Will share in history's hallowed glow
Remember it, this Anzio.

   - Lt. Richard Oulahan Jr.

THE MULE, in two parts:


Now, Mule, you say you work too hard,
That you have a life of pain,
You never seem to get a rest
Through ice and sleet or rain,
You climb the highest mountains,
But remember I do too.
You have four legs to take you home,
But me - I've only two.
And when our journey's over
And the time has come to eat,
A generous hand brings food to you
While you rest your weary feet.
I carry mine for miles and miles,
Have C rations every day,
Unless my luck's against me
And the cook throws me a "K."
And when it's time for us to sleep
There's one thing I can say,
I have to sleep on mountain tops
While you bed down on hay.
Now, Mule, would you take my place,
Even though you know you couldn't?
Would you be content with a life like mine?
You know darn well you wouldn't!

   - Pvt. Richard Hiorns


Dear Dick, you wrote and asked me,
If I'd trade my place with you
Because you think my life is free
And I've little work to do.
Well, brother, for your information
I work like hell to the very last,
And no matter what the situation
I still end up a sad, old ass.
Look at me in this same old hide,
Wouldst though wear this ugly skin?
Would you daily drink from riversides
And forsake your whiskey and your gin?
And I can't get a small promotion
No matter if I work both hard and fast,
But you at the very slighest notion
Rise up to the rank of private - yes - first class.
Now, Dick, after all I've told you,
If you still wanna be a mule,
Your request will not be considered,
For we won't accept so big a fool.

   - Lt. Bernard Knighten


From olive groves near Venafro
Where ancient trees grow row on row
To surrounding mountains capped with snow -
How many died there?
We'll never know.

They traded the enemy shell for shell,
And took the place where comrades fell
Amidst the whistling, bursting shell -
How many died there?
We'll never know.

They are all brave both old and young
All are heros, some unsung.
They gave their lives without regret -
These men, these men,
We'll ne'er forget.

   - S-Sgt. Robert J. Dewey


The moon is nearly down; the night's quiet,
Unbroken save by the soft trill of a bird
Soloist to the chorus of the marsh.

Around me in the woods the air is heavy
With the breath of sleeping men -
Peaceful they lie
Dreaming not of the morrow and its dangers.

All day they growl and grumble, yet I know
Their childlike trust in me to lead them through
This grim trial of battle safely home -
A thousand hearts of loved ones far away
Depend on me, Lord, I am weak and human,
And cannot walk alone.  Guide Thou my way -
Steel Thou my heart and let me keep the faith.

   - Maj. E. H. Thompson


They are bathing in the strand,
And sprawling on the sand
At the fashionable sunlit Riviera,
But they float face down,
And the sands are painted brown
With the stains of these sun-bathers' lifeblood
For the dead now take their ease
By this loveliest of seas
Whose beauty and music are wasted.
They'll be buried, each by each,
And we'll tidy up the beach
For the benefit of those who will come here,
So the ladies may be gay and the men forget the day
When these waves were freighted with corpses -
But the dead will have their rest
For their slumber is blessed
And the burden of their battle is transferred.

   - CWO Edwin J. Hoff


... it feels so unreal falling here
without pain ... without fear ...
unable to move ... alone on the ground ...
furiously the battle rages overhead
weaving the sky with tracer thread!

   - Capt. Milton E. Tausend


Sing a song of El Guettar,
A song of Kasserine;
Sing a song of all that was,
Of all that might have been.
Sing a song of old Mateur
And sing a song of hate;
Sing a song, Salerno-born
And sing a song of fate.
And sing of old Cassino -
Of an abbey on a hill -
And sing of old Nettuno
and a demon driving will.
Sing a song of all that was,
All that might have been,
But sing it strong in accents bold -
These things that have made us men!

   - Lt. John V. Peterson


Not if ... but when
We meet again
And the hearts of men are free
Once more:
Not if ... but when
In your eyes again
I see what I was fighting for:
Not if ... but when
In my arms again
You whisper the words I adore
Then in my dreams of the long battle nights
Will come true in the reality of you:
Our love will be again
Not if ... but when.

   - Pvt. F. J. Stebbing


Which came first, the egg or the hen?
Puzzled a lot of prewar men;
But will someone ever live to tell
Which came first, the whine or the shell?

   - Cpl. Max Greenberg


Out of their tombs they crawl
Weird, misshapen men.
Faces tattooed with cordite,
Eyes sullen and red.
Nine hours in the tanks
Have made them kin to the dead.

   - Capt. Milton E. Tausend


"Opus to My Draft Board !"

Know all men by these presents
That a jury of your peers
Awards you greeting pleasant
As the Christmas season nears.
You put us where we are today,
We tender you our thanks.
A million games we've learned to play -
Like hide-and-seek with tanks,
And blind-man's bluff with hand grenades,
And hop-scotch with a mine,
Plus many dandy dress parades
We've had behind the line,
So greetings, Draft Board buddies who
Have filled our life with cheer.
This festive verse we share with you -
But wish, of course - that you were here!

   - Cpl. W. S. Westcott


Twinkle, twinkle, little flare
I see you hanging in the air
And wish to hell you'd go away
Before the bombs begin to play.

   - T-Sgt. Bob Wronker


Why is it that the mail I write
Gets home okay, without a blight?
But all the mail that's sent to me
Takes ten damn months to cross the sea?

   - S-Sgt Gray Wilcox Jr.


I shall forget?
Perhaps ... if you can tell me when
I shall forget!
Or, if you have the answer, let
Me know how memories once aroused are stilled.
Grant me this ... then,
I shall forget.

   - Sgt. O. D. West


Felice is happy, triste is sad,
Buono is good and cattivo is bad;
Male is ill, bene is well,
Morto is dead and war is hell!

   - Pvt. Clyde Hermann


Oh, gray steel ship with flag on high
Why must you always pass me by?
You brought me here, then went away
Am I forever doomed to stay
Upon these shores to which we sped?
You left me here and then you fled.
The name affixed to you is truly
One that was applied unduly -
For when we sailed across the sea
You ended then my Liberty!

   - Lt. Roy Johnson


Milk, we know, is pasteurized,
But this old Army is alphabetized.
To be a Pfc. or a glamorous NCO,
You have to be authorized by a damn TO,
The CG in the HQ and the BC in the CP
Throw ARs at a guy like me.
All is fubar, all is snafu, so -
The EM in the AAA at the APO
Get munched from the tough CO,
The SOS, the AGO, WOJG and CWO.
Whether it's AAF, QM, FA, or FD,
The RA, AUS, NG, OCS or ERC,
The Army's not the place to be
If you never passed the ABC.
When you're on guard or CQ,
Thinking is the only thing you do;
You remember the USO and the ARC,
and cuss the guys in the ASTP.
AWs are enforced by the OD,
VD is classified now as LD;
Even here across the seas
We have trouble with the MPs.
Whether WAC, WAVE, or GI,
No matter how hard you try -
This axiom is apparent yet,
The Army's run by the alphabet.

   - Cpl. Norm Rachlin


A pair of soft brown eyes, now red with pain,
Looked into mine through tears like warm spring rain,
He whispered slowly, very haltingly,
"I'll be all right, they'll take good care of me."

I touched his fevered hand, smiled a bright smile.
"I'm sure you will, in just a little while."
And then in both our glances something died,
Because we each knew that the other lied.

   - Pvt. R. Moore Smith, WAC


We know that many questions will arise
Within your minds ... questions to ask
Of desolate isles and shell-torn skies,
Of blood ... and filth ... and death ... and swarming flies;
Of weary duty through the night ... or torturing tasks
Which scourge the living as a comrade dies.

We know that you will ask the temporal thrill
Of tales born from the womb of mute despair ...
A graphic picture of the human lust to kill,
Of swamps, gut-deep in mud ... of cratered hill
We took by hell's own punishment ... the echoing blare
Of bugle. and the "forward march" while time stood still.

But when we come again ... we who come home
From out this world-inferno, souls seared deep;
Ask not of us, for grandizement, a written tome
To cherish as historic lore, with froth and foam ...
Just let us rest awhile within the deep
And pregnant silence, never more to roam.

Give us clean sheets, and blue cups brimmimg-filled;
Give us gay laughter flowing over tears;
Give us forgetfulness of things that thrilled
You in your reading ... Let tired hearts be stilled
To gentle silence through the fruitful years
Which needs must come ... warmth for hearts long chilled.

Just give us this.  Is this too much to say,
We who have prayed, through hell and back, for such a day?

   - Sgt. Will D. Muse


What happens when the bugles cease to spill
Their early morning song across the hill?
And once-clean guns are laid aside to rust -
And once-strong men are crumbling piles of dust?

What happens when the tattered banners fall
Defeated - and the final battle call
Has died away across the distant fields,
And friend and foe alike lay down their shields?

What happens when the treaty inks are dry
And men refuse to kill - refuse to die?
When battle-wearied men go home again -
Tell me, warrior, what happens then?

   - Pfc. Maynard Johnson


So many things they've promised us
Our burdens will be carried,
And like wide-eyed kids at Christmas time
Our wants are great and varied.

Some want a farm with many cows,
While others will acknowledge
They want a job, a happy home
Or chance to go to college.

Despite the many promises
There's one thing I would take
Don't give me special privileges -
Just give me an even break.

   - Pvt. William Hudson
Source: "Puptent Poets of the Stars and Stripes Mediterranean"; compiled by Cpl Charles A Hogan and Cpl John Welsh III, illustrated by Sgt Stanley Meltzoff , edited by Lt Ed Hill. Publ: The Star and Stripes Mediterranean, Italy, 1945.
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