The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pissing on the Monument

By Antonios Maltezos

I’ve never really been moved by interviews of old soldiers crying over brethren lost decades earlier. I don’t even understand the guilt, why so many of them wish they hadn’t come back. They choke on their recollections as if a part of them is forever mired on the battlefield, replaying the scene where the buddy coughs up his last words.

I laughed when I saw the pictures of those three idiots pissing on the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Canada Day. When I first saw the report on the news, I turned to my wife and said something like—man, are they in deep shit! And then I proceeded to have a guffaw. I couldn’t help it. I’ve done so many silly things in my youth. Crapping in the brush and then telling my friends I’d found a big snake. Mooning the cars going down a busy highway until we thought the next one might be the guy with the sawed-off baseball bat under his seat. We did all kinds of stupid things, most too gross to mention here. I laughed until I realized my wife wasn’t, as if she’d been exposed to too much of me all at once. I tried getting her into my frame of mind by saying, “Ah, come on! Everyone’s looking for them. Their friends are probably rolling on the floor, busting a gut.”

Naturally, we were lost. And the officer in charge, a bullet hit him under the nose and came out the back of his head. Dead as a doornail. I undone the epaulettes on my tunic and let go of all my heavy equipment- my blanket, and overcoat, and bandolier of ammunition. And I turned around and was crawling from shell hole to shell hole to get back to where I came from, to the best of my ability, and the rest did too. We came to barbed wire, and we started shouting to the boys in the trenches not to fire. And we got back in the trench. I don't know how many was killed but there was an awful lot of the boys killed, and that was our very first experience.(George Hatch)

I know it was wrong to laugh, but at that moment, I found myself transported back to my own youth. Right? Muddling through high school with hardly a plan for the future. Pool halls, our first cars, playing sports, girls, music… all kinds of stuff.

In the meantime, the German artillery got a line on our trenches and they let us have it and all hell broke loose. I saw a man wounded, scream like a horse. I saw blood coming out of their ears, out of their mouth. Now, if you don't think you get scared when that happens. You're scared, and you're scared to death.(George Hatch)

You see these old guys in their eighties, nineties, and you have to wonder how the interview will go. What could they possibly remember from so long ago?

When daylight broke the very next morning, I remember a young group of Canadian boys, still in their uniforms, as if on parade. They were reinforcements. And I've got my two stripes and I'm now a corporal and I'm standing on top of the trench, watching the boys start digging, to change the trench around somewhat. And a shell came so close that I didn't have time to jump down into the trench where they were digging; I just stood there, and the shrapnel pellets were going all around my feet, and I saw at least 25 of the boys killed right there and then, that just got to the trench, just got to the trench.(George Hatch)

What could they possibly remember from so long ago…

… if you've ever smelled a human dead body you've never smelled any odor in your life until you have. You've never smelled a badder one.(George Hatch)

Me, thankfully, I’ve got different recollections for my youth.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Denis said...

Can you say, overreacting? Not you, Tony, but the press and all. Having crazed drunken youths running our streets was never a problem until they pissed on a war monument? Uh huh. Some politicians have even called for new criminal laws to deal with these heathens. Let's throw 'em in jail!

There was a report, I think on CBC, that showed not so sober veterans drinking in a legion hall, calling for the kids's heads. Their pictures were no more charming than those of the urinators. Just saying, is all.

Thu Jul 06, 04:08:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

We're all grateful, or should be, that we've had the lives we've had here, that we've not been subject to these memories, thanks Tony..xoxo

nicely done.

Thu Jul 06, 09:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Lovely writing, Tony; great juxtoposition of then and now. I'm editing a book of WWII memoirs for a man who enlisted at age 16. His experiences formed the core of his beliefs as a man.

Thu Jul 06, 10:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Thea Atkinson said...

oh, my. that you had the courage to write this against the brevity of those quotes makes this a chilling post. I for one walk away from the blog today feeling very grateful that my memories were also silly, that they weren't filled with horror brought on by politics, government, and democracy. that i had the freedom to do silly things and remember them.

wow.

thanks

Sun Jul 09, 06:33:00 pm GMT-4  

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