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Amputees–Boston and in Wartime

I’ve been thinking of both those killed at the Boston Marathon as well as those maimed in the bombing.  To be an amputee is heartbreaking, especially given that  people were injured at an event which extols physical achievement.

In 1941, Joan encounters a young man who is an amputee.

Saturday, May 31, 1941

. . . Went to Billings Hospital this morning [to volunteer] and, as they had measles, they sent me downstairs to read Captain Horatio Hornblower to a boy. Turned out to be Joe Harmon whom Emily was telling me about Wednesday, . . . 19-year-old freshman from Purdue University. Leg amputated just last week. Hurt it playing basketball. Nice-looking boy with good lean features, bright blue eyes and dark hair. I didn’t read at all, we just talked—about college and everything. . . .

And all the sudden leaning there on the bed—he was telling me how he felt at first and I thought my god, he’s got one leg cut off—oh poor boy—how terrible! — but I couldn’t let him see I was thinking it. . . .

Somehow then the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front came back to my mind—where the two soldiers visit their friend whose legs have just been cut off and they realize how helpless they are—and I had that same feeling.

Cover of first English language edition. The Cover of first English language edition. design is based upon a German war bonds poster by Fritz Erler.

The cover of first English language edition; design is based upon a German war bonds poster by Fritz Erler.

So I smiled foolishly and we went on talking about college and baseball. . . . And I think perhaps he was fooling me, too, talking about such trivial things—when there was a consciousness of something else there . . . A nice-looking boy I might play bridge with in the Coffee Shop or meet on a double date. People, all round the world.

But he said, “I’m not going to let this thing get me down.” I felt so moved in front of so much reality. After a while Emily came for me and we laughed that we hadn’t been reading at all. Well, Joe Harmon, good luck to you. . . .

Time goes on . . . as I rode home I thought of that phrase of Francis Bacon’s in his utopia[1]—used of the Governor, “He had a look as if he pitied men,” and I think that it the most beautiful trait of all—“a look as if he pitied men.”

[1] Francis Bacon, who died in 1626, wrote of a utopia in New Atlantis.

Here is the heart-breaking scene from the film of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930),

Poster for the movie All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), featuring star Lew Ayres

Poster for the movie All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), featuring star Lew Ayres

starring Lew Ayres where the friends visit Franz whose just had his leg cut off.

If you would like to contribute to The One Fund for the Boston Marathon victims, please look at this page.

2 responses »

  1. This is a great site, Susan, and a wonderful project. I can relate to some of what you are doing, having published one small book and begun working on a larger one about my father’s experiences during WWII — based on his memories and his myriads of stories. People today really do need to know what life was like then, and there’s no better, purer way to explain it that through the personal words of that generation. I wish you great success with the book and with your blog site as well.

  2. Dear Sandra, Thanks so much for your kind comment. What is your book? And that’s great to be working on one about your dad’s experiences in WWII. I agree that we have to hear the words of that generation FROM them rather than just ABOUT them.
    Good luck with your project!


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