Sitting By The Roadside On A Summer’s Day, Chatting With My Messmates Wasting Time Away


This is how war looks. No matter the cause, no matter how far off in the grainy past. Courage isn’t a cheap thing. What is that quality in men that asks so much of them physically and emotionally but still they take it on? There are some women warriors, I know, but the lion’s share of heavy, dangerous warfare has been taken on by boys like this one–you see him don’t you–the second one in from the left. He’s no black and white caricature of a soldier. This boy lived, leaning up on his elbow, hungry and maybe dying.

Look closer still . . .


yes the photo isn’t crisp enough for us to be sure he’s old enough to shave, but we see that willow branch leg with the sock slipping down and think how the hell did they get on in life? And when you read about them drinking, carousing and singing on the march, when you think about how funny and stupid boys are at that age and when you stumble upon one nameless, sad and lonely face you wonder . . . what was he thinking way back in the unknowable past?

Photograph courtesy of The Photographic History of the Civil War

6 responses to “Sitting By The Roadside On A Summer’s Day, Chatting With My Messmates Wasting Time Away”

  1. My husband and brother were both teenagers when they joined the Army. When I look at their pictures from boot camp or their first tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can’t believe how young they look! The new kids that come through Fort Hamilton look like should be popping pimples not getting ready for war. At that age theyr’e all dumb, trainable and fearless–soldiers need to be young.


    • My husband was in the navy. I laugh at the pictures of him–he looks goofy and befuddled.I’ve always been in awe and at the same time saddened by what draws young boys to war. At one time I was jealous of that sort of Band of Brothers camaraderie. At the same time I was reading Johnny Got His Gun and being really horrified. Life is so full of complexities!

      I used to love going to Fort Hamilton on the 4th of July to hear the band. I thought they closed it up.


      • Fort Hamilton is still going strong with all the community activities. My husband is a sour puss tho. He says he’s there all day for work he doesn’t want to go back to hangout. My brother and husband were war mongers when they were younger. Orders were exciting. They were gonna fight the bad guy. Now the rumor of orders makes them nervous and we have to start preparing. Testosterone and age. Even for me, now that I’m older I experience a fear I didn’t have when I was younger. “You could die” means something way more visceral.


      • I used to think I understood who the bad guys were, but now I’m not so sure. Politicians sure know how to screw things up and then they send in the military. When I was researching for my book I read a lot about the army in the 1870’s. The soldiers were put in impossible situations and then blamed for all the problems with the Indians while corrupt politicians did their best to rob from everyone. No such thing as progress.
        Once briefly I considered joining the navy, took a jog around the block thinking of basic training and changed my mind.

        My family has military in their blood since the Revolutionary times so I was probably bound to marry a military guy and I’m pretty happy with him 🙂

        My son is planning on joining the Peace Corps.


  2. The soldiers I know all pretty much agree they have no idea who the bad guy is anymore. When they first joined it was everyone in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. It got complicated when they started working with the people directly, now most don’t talk about why they were there–it was just a job. Whats awful is a lot of the guys tried to get jobs with the NYPD or FDNY and during the interviews they would ask for their VA records. They aren’t supposed to but if you fight it they put you at the end of the list and you won’t get hired anyway. Once word spread about that no one would go for help for PTSD or insomnia issues or any sort of mental health issue because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get jobs.
    That’s awesome. I was interested in the Peace Corps when I finished my first round of college. Travel and do-gooding!


    • And paying off student loans 🙂

      What they’re doing to service men and women right now is disgusting. There seems something very wrong with labeling the men and women who actually had the guts to fight for this country as mental rejects suddenly. It’s the same with getting gun permits, right?

      My father was a fantastic cop and he served in the army. It’s all ridiculous and cruel.


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