The Body of an American

Scouts at Arlington Cemetery, 1923

Scouts at Arlington Cemetery, 1923

In the tarpaper morgue at Chalons-sur-Marne in the reek of chloride of lime and the dead, they picked out the pine box that held all that was left of

Enie menie minie moe plenty other pine boxes stacked up there containing what they scraped up of Richard Roe

And other person or persons unknown. Only one can go.

How did they pick John Doe?

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…busyboy harvestiff hogcaller boyscout champeen cornshucker of Western Kansas bellhop at the United States Hotel at Saratoga Springs office boy callboy fruiter telephone lineman longshoreman lumberjack plumber’s helper,

worked for an exterminating company in Union City, filled pipes in an opium den in Trenton, N.J.

Y.M.C.A. secretary, express agent, truckdriver, ford mechanic, sold books in Denver Colorado: Madame would you be willing to help a young man work his way through college?

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John Doe

And Richard Roe and other person or persons unknown

Drilled hiked, manual of arms, ate slum, learned to salute, to soldier, to loaf in the latrines, forbidden to smoke on deck, overseas duty, forty men and eight horses, shortarm inspection and the ping of shrapnel and the shrill bullets combing the air and the sorehead woodpeckers the machinegun mud cooties gasmasks and the itch.

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The service record dropped out of the filing cabinet when the quartermaster sergeant got blotto that time they had to pack up and leave the billets in a hurry.

The identification tag was in the bottom of the Marne.

 

All excerpts from the novel 1919 by John Dos Passos.

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