- Historic Sites
My Grandfather’s War
How the discovery of a long-forgotten trunk inspired an artist to spend years recording the quiet remnants of a wrenching military career.
November 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 7
“And I began to think that several hours later the folks at home would all be gathered in a synagogue praying and weeping for their dear ones over here—a few tears came to my eyes—and I remembered that I was a soldier and must show no weakness. Very soon the tears disappeared—and while they lifted the Saiftorahs from their cozy berths of velvet I prayed for Ike that he come home untouched, healthy and happy; I prayed for the rest of the boys, and I prayed for the folks at home that they might all be well and happy & see their dear ones return—I prayed for victory soon & I prayed that the Lord take care of me.”
If the purpose of drawing is to convey thought and emotion, then I do not know anything more moving than these two works, drawn to try to hold on to his dead brother.
The most revealing story the journal tells is of the bond between my grandfather and his brother. Both Edward’s diary and Ike’s letters are full of the frustration of these two men, serving sometimes only a few miles apart, at being unable to see each other or even communicate by mail. One obstacle was the Army censors, who did not allow them to reveal their exact locations. Ike wrote on September 18, 1918:
Within a month Ike was dead, killed on October 14, 1918. Because of mail delays, Ed did not find out until November 19, more than a week after the war’s end. When peace was declared, he wrote:
“Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Bang! Bang! Bang! Flash! Bang! The report, shots & colored flashes come from the Front announcing that peace has been declared. The fellows are going nutty. They’re shooting their revolvers at the ceiling while the locomotives are tooting their whistles. The sky is one mass of colors. But somehow, I can’t feel happy—I haven’t heard from Ike since his letter of Oct 2nd.”
On Tuesday, November 19, the journal entry is inscribed in bright red ink: “God almighty! I just heard that Ike was killed by shrapnel. The 307th Infantry just came into town & I spoke to one of the men of the Machine Gun Unit & he told me the news. Poor mother—poor dad—everybody at home—if only I could be home to cheer ‘em up a bit. God preserve them in good health that I may see them all when I get back. Who knows what kind of burial he had—what place he lies in—I’ve seen some terrible sights and I hope he looked like none of them. All along I’ve prayed to the Lord to take me if one of us had to go.”
Within forty-eight hours he had secured a pass and went to Grandpré to find the grave.
Lt. Oliver provided me with a map on which Corporal Hartley had indicated the location of the grave as best he could. Well, we hunted for a cross road that had a big tree & a clearing of about 150 yards. We found similies but never the right. We went all the way down to Malhassee Perm OC then started north again on another road. We finally reached Grandpré again about 4 P.M. without any success. I needn’t mention my disappointment.”
The next morning, with a more detailed map and a guide, Jack, from Ike’s division, he set out again.
“After quite some walk we came upon the spot where the Boches got Ike. The line of dugouts—Ike’s dugout & Jack’s; the presumed shell hole & the place where Ike fell. I made a rough sketch of the place & a position map.
“We then hiked around again for quite a while, for Jack lost his bearings & later regained them & came upon the grave. It is situated on a hill side all alone in a section where no one will disturb it for there are no houses around. … The boys left me. I stood alone with my hat on—poured water on my hand then took out my book of hymns & said three. Then I said the Kaddish in the absence of my folks.”
It was the makeshift quality of Ike’s burial and the difficulty in finding the gravesite that prompted my grandfather to make detailed drawings of the two sites. If the purpose of drawing is to convey thought and emotion, then I do not know anything more moving than these two works, drawn to try to hold on to his dead brother. I have these maps pinned to my studio wall today.