Harder than the War: Disabled Doughboys Fight for Recognition
By Dr. Ed Lengel
via the A Storyteller Hiking Through History blog
Years after World War I ended, veteran Harry Zander happened across a former comrade walking the streets of his native Atlanta. “Miller,” he stammered with tears in his eyes, and took his old friend by the hand. But it turned out to be a painful encounter.
“Miller was shabby and worn looking,” Zander remembered. “He had not even had a shave in days–his scraggly beard attested to that, and his red hair too, had lost its lustre and was dull and mixed with a lighter shade. Only his eyes were the same . . . the same haunted fearful look I remembered so well out there on the battlefield. I knew that for Miller the hell of war was not ended . . . that he still lived those days over again . . . the result of which faced him continually.”
Zander and his friends had enlisted joyfully in the spring of 1917. He trained at Camp Gordon, Georgia, witnessing the challenges of integrating immigrant soldiers who barely spoke English into the U.S. Army. He also witnessed incidents of savage racism directed toward African American officers–the root cause of race riots that would erupt across the country in the summer of 1919. For a time, Zander had to stand guard over “shirkers” who had been drafted into service and would do anything to get out. Still, training was for Zander a positive experience on the whole, and he hoped that it would give him the tools he needed to face combat on the Western Front.
Zander’s unit of the 3rd Division sailed from New York in the spring of 1918. His first hint of the realities of war came in late June when he encountered some Marines just returned from brutal fighting in Belleau Wood: “Their uniforms were simply filthy,” he recalled; “their beards had grown long and shaggy, and there was a hard cold look in their eyes. All lines of sympathy and civilization were gone from their faces, and some of the men had a peculiar blank stare in their eyes.”
Read the entire article on the A Storyteller Hiking Through History blog.
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