To the editor:
Dorothy Nelson and the Gloucester Writers' Center asked that I read from my late husband Joe Garland's book about his World War II experiences — "Unknown Soldiers."
Reviewing Joe's book, three themes emerged.
The first on Page XV of the introduction titled "Up Front" reveals the burdens of post-traumatic stress, guilt and the age-old confusions of fathers and sons. Joe refers to his long held fear that his medically connected father had intervened to prevent Joe from being sent back into action after his hospitalization in Italy.
"Thus the letdown of my buddies back on the front, thus the 'guilt' thus the book."
The second theme emerges throughout his book as he refers to my role as a war time pen pal and his letters to his parents. That is, the effect of any war on generations of family and of visions of love and real life as a balance against the fears and horrors of his war.
The third theme emerged when Martin Ray and his family visited soon after Joe's death in the hope of finding the right words to express why Joe's book exemplified both the nobility of service as well as the dangers. We decided that if the purpose of any war is noble, then the manner in which the war is conducted must be equally noble, otherwise, the results include the destruction of whole generations.
Then hauntingly, a poem on Page 6 brings all these themes home for Gloucester. Joe quotes his father's stunning skill with the written word; Dr. Garland was contemplating the carnage of World War I when he wrote:
"A sovereign speaks a word; princes command,
And war, black as the plague, spreads through the land
You are the pawn, moved by a mightier hand;
You are the Christian martyr, living brand
That lights the kingly orgy of that king
To whom YOU homage bring.
This is your lot, oh Common Man; is it your choice?
When war takes all do YOU rejoice —
Father and brother and livelihood,
Leaving all evil where was once all good?
Another commands your destiny.
Are you less fitted for that task than he?
Freedom and life are offered you; now choose,
Not overlong debate, nor yet refuse,
And when the stricken land raises its head,
May you, rising from burial of your dead,
Stand by your brother, teaching him to see —
YOU the director of your destiny."
Finally, Joe — back again on Page XV —relates again to Gloucester and the third theme of war itself.
The Gloucester Town Meeting of Dec. 15, 1773, voted as one "for freedom from a distant, contemptuous, arbitrary and rather stupid emperor across three thousand miles of ocean" saying:
"If we are compelled to make the last appeal to Heaven, we will defend our resolutions and liberties at the expense of all that is dear to us"
And so we must consider both the ends and the conduct of the means.