Ernest Hemingway Biography @ LostGeneration.com  World War I. 

 

 

 


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Hemingway in uniform before his injuries.

 

 





Hemingway on crutches as he recovers in Italy from the serious injuries to his legs.





 

 

"By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over.  He came back much too late.  The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return.  There had been a great deal of hysteria.  Now the reaction had set in.  People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over."

...from "Soldier's Home

 

   Ernest Hemingway Biography>World War I

At the time of Hemingway's graduation from High School, World War I was raging in Europe, and despite Woodrow Wilson's attempts to keep America out of the war, the United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision; he had a bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother, who also had poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers he quickly signed up. He was accepted in December of 1917, left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them."

Hemingway first went to Paris upon reaching Europe, then traveled to Milan in early June after receiving his orders. The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue; it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit in the town of Schio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which had landed just a few feet away. At the time, Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious, killed an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another. What happened next has been debated for some time. In a letter to Hemingway's father, Ted Brumback, one of Ernest's fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway's legs he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid station; along the way he was hit in the legs by several machine gun bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn't diminish Hemingway's sacrifice. He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation reading: "Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated." Hemingway described his injuries to a friend of his: "There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead any more."

Hemingway's wounding along the Piave River in Italy and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms.

 

A Soldier's Home...

When Hemingway returned home from Italy in January of 1919 he found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war, the beauty of foreign lands and the romance of an older woman, Agnes von Kurowsky. He was nineteen years old and only a year and a half removed from high school, but the war had matured him beyond his years. Living with his parents, who never quite appreciated what their son had been through, was difficult. Soon after his homecoming they began to question his future, began to pressure him to find work or to further his education, but Hemingway couldn't seem to muster interest in anything.

 

He had received some $1,000 dollars in insurance payments for his war wounds, which allowed him to avoid work for nearly a year. He lived at his parentís house and spent his time at the library or at home reading. He spoke to small civic organizations about his war exploits and was often seen in his Red Cross uniform, walking about town. For a time though, Hemingway questioned his role as a war hero, and when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his audience. Hemingway's story "Soldier's Home" conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn't understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.

The last speaking engagement the young Hemingway took was at the Petoskey (Michigan) Public Library, and it would be important to Hemingway not for what he said but for who heard it. In the audience was Harriett Connable, the wife of an executive for the Woolworth's company in Toronto. As Hemingway spun his war tales Harriett couldn't help but notice the differences between Hemingway and her own son. Hemingway appeared confident, strong, intelligent and athletic, while her son was slight, somewhat handicapped by a weak right arm and spent most of his time indoors. Harriett Connable thought her son needed someone to show him the joys of physical activity and Hemingway seemed the perfect candidate to tutor and watch over him while she and her husband Ralph vacationed in Florida. So, she asked Hemingway if he would do it.

Hemingway took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto Star Weekly, the editor of which Ralph Connable promised to introduce Hemingway to. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the fall of 1920. While living at a friend's house he met Hadley Richardson and they quickly fell in love. The two married in September 1921 and by November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star as its European corespondent. Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to change it as well.

 

Next>  Paris

 


 

 

 

 
 

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