Sgt. Frank L. Carbaugh's 1918 Poem "The Fields of the Marne"
By Connie Ruzich
About Connie Ruzich and the "Behind Their Lines: Poetry of the Great War" Blog
Connie Ruzich has gone where no one has gone before in her quest to unearth the faded poems of the Great War. While she is an expert in the famous WWI poetry of Joyce Kilmer, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon, she has become the go-to specialist for poems written by lesser-known poets. Her archival work has shown that poetry wasn't only for the more literary-inclined service men and women; writing poetry was seen as an essential and patriotic duty for surviving the front. In fact, as Ruzich, shows in a recent post, in November of 1918, America’s Poetry magazine proclaimed that the war had made “poetry...an essential industry.”
Each week on her blog, she posts an impeccably researched article on a forgotten poet whose voice offers us new insight on the war and the essential role of writing. She reveals poetic trends, WWI idiomatic expressions, linguistic twists, startling images, and an innovative way of looking at the relationship between soldiers fighting on foreign soil and the homefront. The blog is a tremendous resource. This week, WWrite posts her article on Sgt. Frank Carbaugh's poem "The Fields of the Marne," which was published in The Stars and Stripes almost 100 years ago today on August 16, 1918. The end of the war was just three months away. Here's the compelling story of Sgt. Frank Carbaugh:
Sgt. Frank Carbaugh
Frank Carbaugh was an American doughboy from Greencastle, a small town in central Pennsylvania. A non-commissioned officer with the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, Carbaugh was wounded at the Second Battle of the Marne late in July of 1918. While in hospital, he wrote a poem that looks ahead to the war’s aftermath.
The Fields of the Marne
The fields of the Marne are growing green,
The river murmurs on and on;
No more the hail of mitrailleuse,
The cannon from the hills are gone.
The herder leads the sheep afield,
Where grasses grow o'er broken blade;
And toil-worn women till the soil
O'er human mold, in sunny glade.
The splintered shell and bayonet
Are lost in crumbling village wall;
No sniper scans the rim of hills,
No sentry hears the night bird call.
From blood-wet soil and sunken trench,
The flowers bloom in summer light;
And farther down the vale beyond,
The peasant smiles are sad, yet bright.
The wounded Marne is growing green,
The gash of Hun no longer smarts;
Democracy is born again,
But what about the troubled hearts?
—Sgt. Frank Carbaugh
The poem imagines a time when peace has returned to the world, yet so many French soldiers have died that women must continue to work in the fields. They till the land that has been fertilized by the bodies of the slain. At the site of the Battle of the Marne, snipers, sentries, and sounds of gunfire have been replaced by the song of night birds and the green of newly grown grass. Though wounded and scarred by battle, the land is healing, and Democracy rises like a phoenix from the ashes.
But there are some hurts that can never be healed – the broken hearts of those who mourn.
“The Fields of the Marne” was first published in The Stars in Stripes on August 16, 1918. A brief note under Carbaugh’s name simply stated, “Written while lying wounded inhospital; died August, 1918.” Franklin L. Carbaugh was twenty-two. Nearly three years later, in May of 1921, his parents met the train that brought their youngest son's body back to Pennsylvania for burial in the family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Franklin County.
An anonymous source has posted what appears to be an account of Carbaugh’s death and its effect on the men who knew him. The details of the story suggest that it may have been appeared in a newspaper or been sent to his mother by those who were with Frank during the last weeks of his life:
Sergeant loses his last fight.
Soldier wins admiration of comrades through cheerfulness in hospital.
He was game till the end.
Four operations were too much for strength of non-com who was wounded in action at Chateau-Thierry.
An American Hospital in France.
"No, they're not going to bring the sergeant back to the ward, boys."
These were exactly the words the nurse used. But the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes said more.
The little group in the ward, which had been playing cards on one of the beds to forget the tension they felt while the sergeant's operation was taking place, stopped suddenly, all attention, all hungering for good news.
"You don't mean the sergeant's gone, do you? exclaimed one.
"Yes, boys, the sergeant's gone. Four operations were just too much for his strength. He never regained consciousness."The little group of patients and the nurse were silent.
The chap with one leg gone had half a deck of cards in his hands. Dazed, he relaxed, and the cards fell to the floor, scattering over half the ward. The chap with one leg gone never noticed them.
"Gee, the sergeant's gone," he said huskily, "He sure was a game boy."
"He was the best fellow I ever knew," said another, "and the cheerfullest, too. I've seen them dressing his leg time and again, and gosh! but it hurt. But did the sergeant ever say anything? Not the sergeant--he never batted an eye.""Just to think," mused a third, "it wasn't half an hour ago when we saw him go out. I shouted, "Good luck, Sarge," when the stretcher was carried through the door, and he smiled and said, "Thanks, I'll be back in a few minutes with you."
The sergeant was Frank Carbaugh of Greencastle, Pa., a member of the Seventh Machine-Gun Sanitary detachment. No mother ever reared a braver boy. The sergeant, who was a mathematics teacher before the war, was wounded when his outfit was rushed into action near Chateau Thierry. None of his bunkies knew just how, because, as one of them explained, "The sergeant wasn't the kind of a fellow who'd talk of himself. You can bet he was wounded doing something for somebody, though."
They did know that the sergeant lay out in the open a long time after he was wounded. Medical records show that his left leg was badly slashed, and they operated at the first hospital he reached. But gangrene had set in, and four operations had followed in an effort to save him. They have had lots of brave patients that doctors and nurses and patients admired alike in that hospital, but never one just like the sergeant, who said little, was always joking and cheerful, and never had a complaint. The rest of the boys in the ward would do anything in the world for "the sarge."
The little group sitting on the cots, with the nurse, had been talking of the sergeant for a long time when one of the boys said, "You ought to write to his mother, Miss Cutter. The sarge thought the world of his mother." " I'm going to," replied the nurse. "You boys write out what you think of the sergeant, and I'll send that, too."
The boys did, and here are a few lines from them:
Private Elmer Hyland wrote, "I was with him as soon as he came from the operation, and I cried when he went. He was a great boy--a clean fellow through and through. I wish my foot was so I could walk with him to the cemetery."Wagoner John Trask wrote: "Our sergeant is gone. Why, I loved that fellow like my own brothers. I've seen other fellows go, but I never felt like this."Sergeant Vincent Sauer wrote, "I never felt worse since I came in the night. He was game to the last; always cheerful, and when I called 'Good luck to you,' he answered, "Thanks, I'll be O.K. soon." We always had fun around his bed; he was so cheerful. He was one of the finest fellows I ever knew."Arthur Stein, who knew the sergeant better than the rest, the boys say because he and the sarge liked to dabble in poetry, wrote a poem to send the sergeant's mother.
They buried the sergeant in the little American graveyard in a pretty Lorraine valley with an American flag over the coffin, as 18 soldiers fired three shots over the grave and the bugler gave 'taps.' Then some of the boys whose injuries permitted their attending the funeral gathered flowers in the valley, and the nurses placed them on the grave with red, white, and blue ribbons around them.
Connie Ruzich is a University Professor of English at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has published on aspects of language, culture, and identity, and has lived and taught in the U.S., Italy, and the United Kingdom. Ruzich was a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Exeter, where she researched the use of poetry in British centenary commemorations of the First World War. Her blog, Behind Their Lines, shares lesser-known poetry of the First World War, providing discussion and research on international lost voices, poems written by those on the home front, and poetry that has been neglected in modern anthologies. Her research can also be followed through her twitter feed (@wherrypilgrim).