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F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Esquire (October, 1936)

I was 'sixteen in college and it was our twentieth reunion this
year.  We always called ourselves the "War Babies"--anyhow we were
all in the damn thing and this time there was more talk about the
war than at any previous reunion; perhaps because war's in the air
once more.

Three of us were being talkative on the subject in Pete's back room
the night after commencement, when a classmate came in and sat down
with us.  We knew he was a classmate because we remembered his face
and name vaguely, and he marched with us in the alumni parade, but
he'd left college as a junior and had not been back these twenty

"Hello there--ah--Hib," I said after a moment's hesitation.  The
others took the cue and we ordered a round of beer and went on with
what we were talking about.

"I tell you it was kind of moving when we laid that wreath this
afternoon."  He referred to a bronze plaque commemorating the
'sixteeners who died in the war, "--to read the names of Abe Danzer
and Pop McGowan and those fellows and to think they've been dead
for twenty years and we've only been getting old."

"To be that young again I'd take a chance on another war," I said,
and to the new arrival, "Did you get over, Hib?"

"I was in the army but I didn't get over."

The war and the beer and the hours flowed along.  Each of us shot
off our mouths about something amusing, or unique, or terrible--all
except Hib.  Only when a pause came he said almost apologetically:

"I would have gotten over except that I was supposed to have
slapped a little boy."

We looked at him inquiringly.

"Of course I didn't," he added.  "But there was a row about it."
His voice died away but we encouraged him--we had talked a lot and
he seemed to rate a hearing.

"Nothing much to tell.  The little boy, downtown with his father,
said some officer with a blue M. P. band slapped him in the crowd
and he picked me!  A month afterwards they found he was always
accusing soldiers of slapping, so they let me go.  What made me
think of it was Abe Danzer's name on that plaque this afternoon.
They put me in Leavenworth for a couple of weeks while they
investigated me, and he was in the next cell to mine."


He had been sort of a class hero and we all exclaimed aloud in the
same breath.  "Why he was recommended for the D. S. C!"

"I know it."

"What on earth was Abe Danzer doing in Leavenworth?"

Again Hibbing became apologetic.

"Oddly enough I was the man who arrested him.  But he didn't blame
me because it was all in line of duty, and when I turned up in the
next cell a few months later he even laughed about it."

We were all interested now.

"What did you have to arrest him for?"

"Well, I'd been put on Military Police in Kansas City and almost
the first call I got was to take a detail of men with fixed
bayonets to the big hotel there--I forget the name--and go to a
certain room.  When I tapped on the door I never saw so many
shoulder stars and shoulder leaves in my life; there were at least
a brace apiece of generals and colonels.  And in the center stood
Abe Danzer and a girl--a tart--both of them drunk as monkeys.  But
it took me a minute's blinking before I realized what else was the
matter: the girl had on Abe's uniform overcoat and cap and Abe had
on her dress and hat.  They'd gone down in the lobby like that and
run straight into the divisional commander."

We three looked at him, first incredulous, then shocked, finally
believing.  We started to laugh but couldn't quite laugh, only
looked at Hibbing with silly half-smiles on our faces, imagining
ourselves in Abe's position.

"Did he recognize you?" I asked finally.


"Then what happened?"

"It was short and sweet.  We changed the clothes on them, put their
heads in cold water, then I stood them between two files of
bayonets and said, forward march."

"And marched old Abe off to prison!" we exclaimed.  "It must have
been a crazy feeling."

"It was.  From the expression in that general's face I thought
they'd probably shoot him.  When they put me in Leavenworth a
couple of months later I was relieved to find he was still alive."

"I can't understand it," Joe Boone said.  "He never drank in

"That all goes back to his D. S. C," said Hibbing.

"You know about that too?"

"Oh yes, we were in the same division--we were from the same

"I thought you didn't get overseas."

"I didn't.  Neither did Abe.  But things seemed to happen to him.
Of course nothing like what you fellows must have seen--"

"How did he get recommended for the D. S. C," I interrupted, "--and
what did it have to do with his taking to drink?"

"Well, those drownings used to get on his nerves and he used to
dream about it--"

"What drownings?  For God's sake, man, you're driving us crazy.
It's like that story about 'what killed the dog.'"

"A lot of people thought he had nothing to do with the drownings.
They blamed the trench mortar."

We groaned--but there was nothing to do but let him tell it his own

"Just what trench mortar?" I asked patiently.

"Rather I mean a Stokes mortar.  Remember those old stove-pipes,
set at forty-five degrees?  You dropped a shell down the mouth."

We remembered.

"Well, the day this happened Abe was in command of what they called
the 'fourth battalion,' marching it out fifteen miles to the rifle
range.  It wasn't really a battalion--it was the machine gun
company, supply company, medical detachment and Headquarters
Company.  The H. Q. Company had the trench mortars and the one-
pounder and the signal corps, band and mounted orderlies--a whole
menagerie in itself.  Abe commanded that company but on this day
most of the medical and supply officers had to go ahead with the
advance, so as ranking first lieutenant he commanded the other
companies besides.  I tell you he must have been proud that day--
twenty-one and commanding a battalion; he rode a horse at the head
of it and probably pretended to himself that he was Stonewall
Jackson.  Say, all this must bore you--it happened on the safe side
of the ocean."

"Go on."

"Well, we were in Georgia then, and they have a lot of those little
muddy rivers with big old rafts they pull across on a slow cable.
You could carry about a hundred men if you packed them in.  When
Abe's 'battalion' got to this river about noon he saw that the
third battalion just ahead wasn't even half over, and he figured it
would be a full hour at the rate that boat was going to and fro.
So he marched the men a little down the shore to get some shade and
was just about to let them have chow when an officer came riding up
all covered with dust and said he was Captain Brown and where was
the officer commanding Headquarters Company.

"'That's me, sir,' said Abe.

"'Well, I just got in to camp and I'm taking command,' the officer
said.  And then, as if it was Abe's fault, 'I had to ride like hell
to catch up with you.  Where's the company?'

"'Right here, sir--and next is the supply, and next is the medical--
I was just going to let them eat--'

"At the look in his eye Abe shut up.  The captain wasn't going to
let them eat yet and probably for no more reason than to show off
his authority.  He wasn't going to let them rest either--he wanted
to see what his company looked like (he'd never seen a Headquarters
Company except on paper).  He thought for a long time and then he
decided that he'd have the trench mortar platoon throw some shells
across the river for practice.  He gave Abe the evil eye again when
Abe told him he only had live shells along; he accepted the
suggestion of sending over a couple of signal men to wigwag if any
farmers were being bumped off.  The signal men crossed on the barge
and when they had wigwagged all clear, ran for cover themselves
because a Stokes mortar wasn't the most accurate thing in the
world.  Then the fun began.

"The shells worked on a time fuse and the river was too wide so the
first one only made a nice little geyser under water.  But the
second one just hit the shore with a crash and a couple of horses
began to stampede on the ferry boat in midstream only fifty yards
down.  Abe thought this might hold his majesty the captain but he
only said they'd have to get used to shell fire--and ordered
another shot.  He was like a spoiled kid with an annoying toy.

"Then it happened, as it did once in a while with those mortars no
matter what you did--the shell stuck in the gun.  About a dozen
people yelled, 'Scatter!' all at once and I scattered as far as
anybody and lay down flat, and what did that damn fool Abe do but
go up and tilt the barrel and spill out the shell.  He'd saved the
mortar but there were just five seconds between him and eternity
and how he got away before the explosion is a mystery to me."

At this point I interrupted Hibbing.

"I thought you said there were some people killed."

"Oh yes--oh but that was later.  The third battalion had crossed by
now so Captain Brown formed the companies and we marched off to the
ferry boat and began embarking.  The second lieutenant in charge of
the embarking spoke to the captain:

"'This old tub's kind of tired--been over-worked all day.  Don't
try to pack them in too tight.'

"But the captain wouldn't listen.  He sent them over like sardines
and each time Abe stood on the rail and shouted:

"'Unbuckle your belts and sling your packs light on your shoulders--'
(this without looking at the captain because he'd realized that
the captain didn't like orders except his own).  But the embarking
officer spoke up once more:

"'That raft's low in the water,' he said.  'I don't like it.  When
you started shooting off that cannon the horses began jumping and
the men ran around and unbalanced it.'

"'Tell the captain,' Abe said.  'He knows everything.'

"The captain overheard this.  'There's just one more load,' he
said.  'And I don't want any more discussion about it.'

"It was a big load, even according to Captain Brown's ideas.  Abe
got up on the side to make his announcement.

"'They ought to know that by this time,' Captain Brown snapped.
'They've heard it often enough.'

"'Not this bunch.'  Abe rattled it off anyhow and the men
unloosened their belts, except a few at the far end who weren't
paying attention.  Or maybe it was so jammed that they couldn't

"We began to sink when we were half way over, very slowly at first,
just a little water around the shoes, but we officers didn't say
anything for fear of a panic.  It had looked like a small river
from the bank but here in the middle and at the rate we were going,
it began to look like the widest river in the world.

"In two minutes the water was a yard high in the old soup plate and
there wasn't any use concealing things any longer.  For once the
captain was tongue-tied.  Abe got up on the side again and said to
stay calm, and not rock the boat and we'd get there, and made his
speech one last time about slipping off the packs, and told the
ones that could swim to jump off when it got to their hips.  The
men took it well but you could almost tell from their faces which
ones could swim and which couldn't.

"She went down with a big whush! just twenty yards from shore; her
nose grounded in a mud bank five feet under water.

"I don't remember much about the next fifteen minutes.  I dove and
swam out into the river a few yards for a view but it all looked
like a mass of khaki and water with some sound over it that I
remember as a sustained monotone but was composed, I suppose, of
cussing, and a few yells of fright, and even a little kidding and
laughter.  I swam in and helped pull people to shore, but it was a
slow business in our shoes . . .

"When there was nothing more in sight in the river (except one
corner of the barge which had perversely decided to bob up) Captain
Brown and Abe met.  The captain was weak and shaking and his
arrogance was gone.

"'Oh God,' he said.  'What'll I do?'

"Abe took control of things--he fell the men in and got squad
reports to see if anyone was missing.

"There were three missing in the first squad alone and we didn't
wait for the rest--we called for twenty good swimmers to strip and
start diving and as fast as they pulled in a body we started a
medico working on it.  We pulled out twenty-eight bodies and
revived seven.  And one of the divers didn't come up--he was found
floating down the river next day and they gave a medal and a
pension to his widow."

Hibbing paused and then added:  "But I know that's small potatoes
to you fellows in the big time."

"Sounds exciting enough to me," said Joe Boone.  "I had a good time
in France but I spent most of it guarding prisoners at Brest."

"But how about finishing this?" I demanded.  "Why did this drive
Abe hell-raising?"

"That was the captain," said Hibbing slowly.  "A couple of officers
tried to get Abe a citation or something for the trench mortar
thing.  The captain didn't like that, and he began going around
saying that when Abe jumped up on the side of the barge to give the
unsling order, he'd hung on to the ferry cable and pulled it out of
whack.  The captain found a couple of people who agreed with him
but there were others who thought it was overloading and the
commotion the horses made at the shell bursts.  But Abe was never
very happy in the army after that."

There was an emphatic interruption in the person of Pete himself
who said in no uncertain words:

"Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Boone.  Your wives say they're calling for
the last time.  They say this has been one night too often, and if
you don't get back to the Inn in ten minutes they driving to

Tommy and Joe Boone arose reluctantly.

"I'm afraid I've monopolized the evening," said Hibbing.  "And
after what you fellows must have seen."

When they had gone I lingered.

"So Abe wasn't killed in France."

"No--you'll notice all that tablet says is 'died in service.'"

"What did he die of?"

Hibbing hesitated.

"He was shot by a guard trying to escape from Leavenworth.  They'd
given him ten years."

"God!  And what a great guy he was in college."

"I suppose he was to his friends.  But he was a good deal of a snob
wasn't he?"

"Maybe to some people."

"He didn't seem to even recognize a lot of his classmates when he
met them in the army."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say.  I told you something that wasn't true tonight.
That captain's name wasn't Brown."

Again I asked him what he meant.

"The captain's name was Hibbing," he said.  "I was that captain,
and when I rode up to join my company he acted as if he'd never
seen me before.  It kind of threw me off--because I used to love
this place.  Well--good night."

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