Worth Dying For

John V. turned 18 in 1943.  The letter he had
Been waiting for arrived the next day.  He
Grabbed the mail before his parents realized
What had arrived.  The letter was addressed
To him and began with the word “Greetings.”

Everybody talked about the war.  Two of
His brothers were in the service.  He prayed
He would pass his physical.  He wanted – what?
To be in on the action!  To be part of history!                                      
To impress everyone when they saw him in his
Uniform!  Men (and that is what he called himself
Now)  were not afraid to fight for their country.
It never occurred to him to ask Is it “Worth Dying For?”  

He is at Fort Bragg, NC.  He can’t feel his hair.  His
Uniform sags on him because he is a bit underweight.
Everywhere he looks, he sees men just like himself.
At night, in the barracks, he hears men crying in their
Sleep.  Maybe they miss sleeping with their wives.  No
One says anything about this.   The sergeants all yell.
No one talks in a normal voice.  He learns to lift his
Feet.  Right face, about face. He is given a rifle.  He
Takes it apart and puts it back together again.  He goes
Home on a furlough.  It is what he has always dreamed.
Everyone treats him like a hero.   Then they go to a camp
In New Jersey.  Camp Kilmer.  It is named for a poet who
Was killed in the first war.  They ship out on a ship called
The “Aquatainia”. They land in England, but they are not
Allowed to say where.

Soon after their arrival, the Allies invade Normandy.  Some
Of the men are mad and disappointed that they were not part
Of the invasion.  The officers tell them that soon they can kill
All the Germans they want.   No one says much about being
Killed.  No one asks “Is it worth dying for.”  Soon he feels the
Cold waters of the Channel seeping thru his combat boots.   He
Can run easily through the water because he grew up on Lake
Erie.  After everyone has debarked, they march to Chereburg.
They see their first dead.  Civilians, Germans and animals.


They are in a long line along a dusty road.  Some of the men
 Mutter about the smell.  This is where he will fire his rifle
At a human target.  The human target will also be firing his
Rifle at him.  At the time. he does not think about this.   He
Does not think about anything except staying out of the enemy’s
Fire.  He looks for the enemy.  An order comes to close, to get
Closer together,  That is when he realizes he has been hearing
Bullets.  He looks to see where they are coming from and fires
In that direction.   The men kneel in the brush and fire.  The
Brush is called “Hedgerows.”  This is what they do.  They clear
The enemy from the hedgerows of Normandy.  He sees men shot
And killed.  Maybe he has killed someone.  He has tried,  This
Is not a time for questions.  It is a time for staying alive.

The war has been over for almost ten years.  JohnV is married
He has two children.  His wife is expecting a third.  He has a
Job on the Railroad and he and his brothers have built them a
House in the country.  The first two children are girls.  This is
Good, he thinks.  But he might have a boy.  He has joined the VFW.
They stay late at the bar, drink and talk.  This is where the war
Stories come out.  There has already been another war in Korea.
He has said to his buddies that he would not send a son to Korea
To fight.  His buddies, some of whom are the fathers of sons, nod
And understand.  The question has been a seed, growing inside them
No, he says.  Some things are not worth dying for.  Then he adds
“But how the hell do you know the difference?”

—Marian Veverka, Marblehead, OH