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Called to the front

December 16, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments
Gordon Henderson, likely in September, 1944. From the Henderson page on the 1/26/2012 Internet Archive copy of the alansuits.com site.

In the years immediately after World War II, a young man named Gordon Henderson wrote an unpublished novel based on his experience serving in the 82nd Airborne Division from the late summer of 1944 to the end of the war. A member of his family has told me that the novel runs closely parallel to the letters he sent home during those months. Last night I reread the typed pages about the first couple of days of the Battle of the Bulge. At that time, the Division was in reserve, behind the fighting lines, recuperating from the Market Garden battles.

The chapter begins late on December 17th. The main character, George, and his fellow privates are sharing rumors–which they call “latrinograms”–about the Division suddenly making a big move. Lights are on at the officer’s temporary headquarters building late into the night. A big car marked with the insignia of a high officer arrives to join in the secret conversation taking place there.

The privates consider the possibilities. The Division might return to England and prepare for another major airborne mission, a brutal and terrifying prospect that would, at least, begin with a couple of months away from combat. But stirring the Division suddenly, in the middle of the night, for this kind of move makes no sense to them. Still, they plainly long for those remembered and imagined months in England.

A command comes out to pack up all the gear, supplies, and ammunition. By morning the Division will be in trucks and on the road, heading for unfamiliar towns with place names soon to be in the world news. George, the main character, is an artillery spotter, as was Gordon, the author. By afternoon, their convoy encounters streams of traffic fleeing the front. Looks like the whole U.S. Army is leaving Belgium, except for us, the privates observe, ominously. The trucks roll toward the front, towing their artillery pieces. In the back of each truck, a jumble of men sleep as best they can leaning against each other on and among the jumble of supplies.

As you can see from this brief summary, Gordon Henderson was a good storyteller.

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