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On the Road to Innsbruck and Back

On the Road to Innsbruck and Back

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On the Road to Innsbruck and Back

5/5 (1 valutazione)
217 pagine
3 ore
Jan 23, 2003


On the Road to Innsbruck and Back chronicles the unheralded experience of a common soldier during World War II, from his enlistment in the army in 1942 to his discharge from an army hospital in 1946. It is the only war memoir to present itself in the form of short stories, sixteen in all. The first two stories ("Living with Violence" and "Losing It") deal with pre-combat events. The next ten stories describe combat from the clarifying perspective of a member of a regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon. The final four stories are concerned with the soldiers hospital experience.

"The Hero Syndrome," like the title story, is retrospectively concerned with a single memorable event. The other eight combat stories are concerned with less remarkable, single events ("Gathering Intelligence" and "Off Limits") or with thematic matters ("Under Fire" and "Winding Down"). The style is clear; the tone is ironic; the hallmark is authenticity. On the Road reveals what happens to a young man who has been in combat and who has been seriously wounded. The historian Paul Fussell has praised the memoir for "its clear critical intelligence as well as its sensitivity and wisdom."

Jan 23, 2003

Informazioni sull'autore

William B. Bache was born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1922 and, before the war, attended Cornell and Penn State. After getting a Ph. D. from Penn State and teaching there for a year, he was a professor of English at Purdue for forty years and the last surviving founder of Modern Fiction Studied. Since 1951 he has published more than 150 articles, essays, notes, reviews, poems, and short stories, as well as three books on meaning in Shakespeare, notably, Shakespeare’s Deliberate Art. He has received many teaching awards. Enlisting in the army in October 1942, Bache, along with 190,000 other student soldiers, was sent in March 1944 from the Air Force to the infantry, and then to the front lines in Europe. He was a member of a regimented Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon of the 103rd Division until he was seriously wounded and spent ten months in various army hospitals.

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Anteprima del libro

On the Road to Innsbruck and Back - William B. Bache





Living with Violence: The Making of an American Soldier

Losing It

Under Fire

Dogfaces and Dogrobbers



Delivering The Goods

The Hero Syndrome

Gathering Intelligence

Off Limits and Out of Control

Winding Down

On the Road to Innsbruck and Back

On The Way Back

Double Solitaire on the Home Front

Crime and Punishment

Period of Adjustment

About the Author


On the Road to Innsbruck and Back. The University Review 34 (1968): 181-86.

The Hero Syndrome. Dalhousie Review 55 (1975): 93-102.

This memoir is dedicated to my brothers and sisters: Florence, Thomas, David, Dorothy, Edith, Carter, and Charles.


On the Road to Innsbruck and Back is a product of my obsession with serving in Europe during World War II as a member of the 103rd Infantry Division. I have long known that I would have to write about that time. And it seems useful to put my overseas experience into the context of my army years, from my enlistment in October 1942 to my discharge from an army hospital in March 1946. My professional career as a Shakespeare critic was a matter of diligence applied; my imposed career as a soldier was a matter of mindless endurance. I was not a successful soldier: I was the last private in my regiment to be promoted to pfc. But then somebody must have thought I was more reliable than I was. Too often I was given a responsibility that I neither deserved nor desired. But then I was in an Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, at the service of a regimental headquarters.

On the Road is authentic and true. I have made every effort to be faithful to the facts, as I remember them. But I have also decided that the best way to give form and direction to the reality of my experience is through a series of sixteen short stories, presented more or less chronologically. Experience teaches through insights, epiphanies, encounters. Basically, a poem or a short story is an idea at the moment of dawning. Each of my sixteen stories has its theme, its ironies, its surprises. The realities of combat are simple and stark, but circumstances change. In my stories the events and incidents in one story are meant to echo and mirror the events and incidents in other stories. If the stories are read sequentially, as intended, certain metaphors and notions are emphasized and thus have a cumulative effect: the road as a metaphor for living; the army as a metaphor for prison; animal references; clothing imagery; despair; resignation. The stories are meant to be considered, not just for their individual merit, but for their collective value.

I have deleted the obscene language of enlisted men; I have not dwelt on reprehensible behavior; I am not interested in sensationalism. The chief model for On the Road is Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, the best short novel about war that I know. Like Crane, I want, above all, to demonstrate the moral cost of some months in combat upon a not-insensitive young man. This little poem renders the way I felt at the end of my army career.

Dog Tags

I found myself on a table, naked.

While they stitched me up, some orderly

Stole my grandfather’s watch and all my cash.

While I was dog-sick with ether, some doc

Gave me the Purple Heart. So I crawled out of

Combat with only a battered body,

An empty wallet, dog tags, a medal.

When I got home, they gave me

A new uniform and a nice ward.

Every six weeks they’d let me sell my blood.

After I got out of the army, I gave

My Purple Heart to my grandmother.

Living with Violence: The Making of an American Soldier

In northeastern Pennsylvania during the coalminers’ strike of 1926, when I was four, I remember, as in a dream, watching mounted policemen wheeling their heavy horses on the brick street below the screened-in porch of our apartment. I can recall the blur of violence and the clatter of hooves on the street as striking miners cowered beneath the bent backs and the furious clubs of blue-clad cops. And then the somber street was quiet and empty, with broken billy clubs and unexpected blood in the gutter.

In Nanticoke in the thirties you could go to the little candy store in the middle of our block and buy two cigarettes for a penny and listen to Charley Hall. The farmers had so many cabbages that they couldn’t give them away. In the Middle West the farmers were killing pigs and burying them; in California the farmers were spraying kerosene on their oranges so that the oranges wouldn’t be fit to eat. People all over America were starving. The farm belt was now the dust bowl. The banks were foreclosing on the little guy. John L. Lewis was in bed with the mine owners. Back on the hill old women were picking coal on the culm banks so that they could heat their homes. The rich were the bloodsuckers of the poor. Capitalism had failed. Workers of the world unite. Join the Communist Party. Save the world for humanity and human justice.

Right before Pearl Harbor, when I was at Penn State, I came out of Man Hunt, a movie, at about ten o’clock one Saturday night to find other college students moving along the downtown sidewalk. That afternoon our football team had upset some team, and apparently everyone still felt like celebrating the end of a perfect day. Twenty or so students had just left a tavern or had just returned from a successful panty raid. I thought they were on their way to a fraternity beer party or something like that, and so I trailed along behind them. I had nothing better to do, and they were moving in my general direction.

I recognized the leader of the gang as the starting fullback on the team. Someone said something in a loud voice, and there were a few cheers and snatches of the school’s fight song. But no one seemed drunk or looking for trouble. They were just a bunch of college kids. When we reached the end of the business section of the college town, the fullback, followed by everyone else, crossed the street and turned back toward the lighted center. There hadn’t been a destination after all. By this time our group had grown to about a hundred, and I was now in the middle of a small army.

Almost all of the business places were closed. I didn’t see anybody who had the easy authority of a cop, a businessman, a professor, a dean, a coach. No one asked us why we were clogging the sidewalk. What’s the big idea? If we had been told to break it up or in some way stopped, I don’t know what would have happened. We could have just called the whole thing off, or someone might have reacted badly. What the hell have we done? Who the hell are you? Do you own the sidewalk? But no confrontation occurred: our movement was unimpeded.

I don’t know what prompted it, but all at once our leader, the fullback, bashed one of the parking meters with a club. I don’t know where the club came from or why he did it. Maybe he had a grudge against parking meters. He banged another one and then a third. As if by magic, bashing parking meters became the thing to do. Every parking meter was being hammered with clubs or sticks or fraternity paddles, which were now in evidence. The ring of wood on metal and the splatter of wood on glass broke the peaceful night. Some guys even crossed the street to get at the parking meters on the other side.

All at once the sidewalk was empty: everyone was out in the middle of the street in a frenzy of going nowhere. And now there must have been two hundred of us. You could feel the surge of energy: somebody was always bumping into you, but no one cared. A car would come toward you and then abruptly turn down a sidestreet. One car stopped and turned off its lights until the mob thinned out. Somebody banged a fender with his hand. Somebody else punched a window with his fist. Then somebody broke the windshield of a parked car on the other side of the street with a club or a paddle, and a horn blared out the news. Another parked car was being rocked from side to side, from side to side, and then, just like that, the car was up on its two wheels; it hesitated a moment, and then toppled over on its side with a metallic thud. A boy stood in the street foolishly kicking one of the tires.

Someone shoved an opened bottle of beer in my hand. Some enterprising scholar must have confiscated cases of the stuff. Soon empty bottles were flying through the air and smashing into whatever happened to be in the way. There was a cry; someone had been hit. Then one of the bottles managed to find the window of a clothing store, and somebody’s foot banged in the door of a jewelry shop, and the looting began. Look what I found. Where are the hats? And then the fire whistle was blowing, and cops and volunteer firemen were among us. Adults were gathering on the sidewalk in safe clusters, and the mob started to break up. It wasn’t as if we had a cause to keep us together, and the cops didn’t use force, which could have driven us to band together. I decided that it was time to cut out of there; I managed to make it to my rooming house without any trouble. I hadn’t been violent or violated. All I had contributed to the wild occasion was the consumption of a bottle of warm beer.

After Pearl Harbor, during Homecoming or some such weekend, random violence in the college town was commonplace. At a beer party two guys would get into a fight over a girl, or some guy would set out to prove to a football player that he too was a tough guy. There was a gangbang at the fraternity across the street. In my fraternity at Homecoming one of the actives used a scissors to snip off the expensive tie of a napping old grad. Boy, was that geezer furious when he woke up. Once, while drunk, I broke into some neighbor’s house, confiscated a hat from the hall closet, tore out its silk lining, and, with the brim pinned up, wore it all evening. When the Rube got drunk and passed out in the street, we rolled him into the gutter so that he wouldn’t get run over.

Although most young men my age had little enthusiasm for the war, almost no one tried to stay out of it. You’d say that you’d go to this war, but that in the next war there’d be three guys missing: you and the two guys chasing you. And almost any guy in college at the time had a number of options; he could join any number of programs and end up as an officer in the army or in the navy or in the navy air corps or in the marines. The best deal, as well as the safest, was to enlist in the navy.

I was inducted into the army at Fort Meade, Maryland. After being issued my army gear and after getting my tetanus and typhoid shots, I was assigned to a work detail: the mess hall had to be cleaned before dawn. At about eight o’clock four of us inductees reported to a pfc, who was on permanent assignment at Fort Meade. He gave us buckets, bars of yellow soap, and scrub brushes and ordered us to scrub the mess-hall floor. I want to be able to see my face in it, he said. We didn’t complain. We just got down on our hands and knees, and, with our arms killing us from the shots we had taken, we worked as hard as we could until the floor was spotless. We didn’t even stop for a smoke or to go to the bathroom. Well, that’s that, we said at one a.m.

The pfc wandered in from his perch outside and deliberately made a black mark with the back of his heel on the floor. Is that what you bastards call clean? I told you to scrub the whole goddamned floor until it shines. He smirked. You sons of bitches can give your souls to God but your asses belongs to me. Clean the goddamn floor again. So this was what it meant to be in the army. We knew that we’d have to keep on working until the sun came up. No one would let you just do your job and quit. We cleaned the clean floor again, hating every square inch of it and that goddamned pfc.

I took basic training at Fort Knox. At about the fifth week of the thirteen-week period, I was paired with a nice eighteen-year-old from western Pennsylvania; we trudged off to a range to practice firing the 50-caliber machine gun. Stanley Anderson and I got down into the foxhole with the brutal gun. One of us was to fire it; the other was to feed it ammunition. Then we’d exchange jobs. As soon as we got the signal from the lieutenant to commence firing, I began banging noisily away at the distant target. But Stanley wasn’t doing his job. I glanced over at him. And there he was, cowering on his side, shivering violently, as if he had a chill, though the temperature must have been ninety. His mouth was open, he was drooling, and he couldn’t stop shivering. I put my hand on his shoulder: Are you all right? He looked at me from under the brim of his helmet with piteous, panic-stricken eyes. The poor son of a bitch started to blubber: he was frightened to death.

The lieutenant came over to our foxhole to see why we weren’t firing, and I pointed to my buddy. Something’s the matter with Stanley, I yelled. They took Stanley away and put some other guy in his place. This guy liked the smell of gunpowder, the pounding noise, the jumping gun. Later we heard that Stanley had been taken to the infirmary and then to the base hospital. He was going to get a medical discharge: he couldn’t take it; he wouldn’t have to become a soldier; he could go home.

After about eight weeks of marching, of learning to take apart the M1, of doing KP, and of standing guard, we recruits acted not like ordinary young men but like ordinary foot soldiers. The only professional in our barracks was a Sergeant Smith from somewhere in Georgia, the only guy who would remain behind when the rest of us shipped out. His cot was at the entrance to the barracks. The forty or so of us recruits occupied the other cots that lined both sides of the barracks. We got up at six for reveille, stood abuse all week, and stood inspection Saturday morning.

One Sunday morning the sergeant, who was lounging on his cot smoking a cigarette, said to four or five soldiers, who at such a time buzzed around his cot, that that son of a bitch down there ought to be taught a lesson. He nodded toward the far end of the barracks. That son of a bitch hasn’t had a bath since he got here. He stinks.

You mean Johnson, Sarge?

That’s the son of a bitch.

When are we going to get a weekend pass, Sarge? another soldier asked.

The sergeant just glared at this new son of a bitch.

Did you hear what the captain said to Johnson at inspection yesterday, Sarge? another soldier asked.

I was there, Sarge said.

Yeah, the soldiers said in unison.

Why don’t you soldiers go on down and give the son of a bitch a GI bath. That’ll teach the son of a bitch a lesson he won’t soon forget.

Eight or ten soldiers sauntered down the aisle to where Johnson was sitting on his cot polishing his shoes. They suddenly jumped on him and knocked him to the floor, upsetting his cot. It was like a dog fight and a rape combined. After some swearing and punching and kicking, someone banged Johnson on the side of the head to calm him down. They then managed to drag him, still struggling, out the back door of the barracks and down the path to the latrine. We’ll teach you, you son of a bitch. About a dozen other soldiers trailed after this little group of teachers.

You could hear shouting and cursing and banging from the latrine as the soldiers tore Johnson’s clothes off and turned the shower on and then went into the shower after him with GI soap and scrubbing brushes. After the terrible commotion down there stopped, some of the soldiers started to straggle back into the barracks. Some of them were soaked, and all seemed to be carrying with them the stink of remorse. They must have realized that what they had done was unforgivable.

After about half an hour Johnson, his torn clothes soaked, came creeping into the barracks, his eyes fixed on the floor. He managed to get his cot back on its legs. He cast himself down on it and pulled his army blanket up around him, although it was the middle of summer. Now he was just a brown ball on an army cot. No one said a word to him. No one touched his shoulder in sympathy or understanding. The sergeant remained lounging on his cot, smoking. Johnson wasn’t black or queer or Jewish or Italian. He was just a farm boy from Texas who wasn’t used to bathing.

In the morning Johnson was gone, with all of his belongings. On his cot was just a folded-over mattress. I don’t know whether he was given a transfer or whether he just went over the hill. Maybe he killed himself. I never heard anything about him again. But I did manage to get transferred out of that outfit. I became an air force cadet, and soon I found myself back to living the

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