November 13, 2018
Five American born writers who served in the First World War
by Michael Barron
On November 11th at 11 am GMT, passed the hundredth anniversary Armistice Day, the day World War I came to an official end, and America, in leading the negotiations between the warring states, made its first grand step to becoming the most powerful country on the planet.
Military historians will tell you that the war ended “on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour”; I will tell you, as the son and brother of veterans, that war seldom ends on such a poetic note. But still people go out and fight wars, out of a sense of duty honor country or due to conscription — 26 countries currently require compulsory military service from its citizens — and some of those writers either go into battle and/or emerge out of it as writers.
In recognition of Veteran’s Day and of Armistice Day, here are five American-born writers you may or may not have known to serve in WWI.
Gertrude Stein — the great matriarch of modernism served as a hospital driver, bringing supplies to the front lines and gathering casualties to bring back in Ford nicknamed “Auntie.”
Ernest Hemingway — another writer who served as an ambulance driver, Hemingway was given an Italian Silver Medal of Bravery for continuing to assist Italian troops after being seriously injured by mortar fire.
e.e. cummings and Jon Dos Passos — friends since college, the poet and novelist signed up and served together in the same ambulance unit. The two grew openly vocal in their anti-war views eventually leading to Cummings being arrested on charges of espionage.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The only writer on this list not to be an ambulance driver, Fitzgerald rushed the writing of what would have been his debut “The Romantic Egotist” in the event that something would survive him if he himself did not survive. The work was rejected by publishers and later made into the first part of This Side of Paradise.
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.