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On July 8, 1918, Ernest Hemingway, an 18-year-old ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, is struck by a mortar shell while serving on the Italian front, along the Piave delta, in World War I.
A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway was working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star when war broke out in Europe in 1914. He volunteered for the Red Cross in France before the American entrance into the war in April 1917 and was later transferred to the Italian front, where he was on hand for a string of Italian successes along the Piave delta in the first days of July 1918, during which 3,000 Austrians were taken prisoner.
On the night of July 8, 1918, Hemingway was struck by an Austrian mortar shell while handing out chocolate to Italian soldiers in a dugout. The blow knocked him unconscious and buried him in the earth of the dugout; fragments of shell entered his right foot and his knee and struck his thighs, scalp and hand. Two Italian soldiers standing between Hemingway and the shell’s point of impact were not so lucky, however: one was killed instantly and another had both his legs blown off and died soon afterwards.
Hemingway’s friend Ted Brumbach, who visited him in the hospital, wrote to Hemingway’s parents that: "A third Italian was badly wounded and this one Ernest, after he had regained consciousness, picked up on his back and carried to the first aid dugout. He says he did not remember how he got there, nor that he carried the man, until the next day, when an Italian officer told him all about it and said that it had been voted to give him a valor medal for the act." As Brumbach reported, Hemingway was awarded an Italian medal of valor, the Croce de Guerra, for his service. As he wrote in his own letter home after the incident: "Everything is fine and I am very comfortable and one of the best surgeons in Milan is looking after my wounds."
Hemingway’s experiences in Italy during World War I would become an integral part of his larger-than-life persona, as well as the material for one of his best-loved novels, A Farewell to Arms, which chronicles the love of a young American ambulance driver for a beautiful English nurse on the Italian front during the Great War.
READ MORE: Was Ernest Hemingway a Spy?
A Natural History of the Dead
Arriving where the munition plant had been, some of us were put to patrolling about those large stocks of munitions which for some reason had not exploded, while others were put at extinguishing a fire which had gotten into the grass of an adjacent field which task being concluded, we were ordered to search the immediate vicinity and surrounding fields for bodies. We found and carried to an improvised mortuary a good number of these and, I must admit, frankly, it was a shock to find that these dead were women rather than men. In those days women had not yet commenced to wear their hair cut short, as they did later for several years in Europe and America, and the most disturbing thing, perhaps because it was the most unaccustomed, was the presence and, even more disturbing, the occasional absence of this long hair.
I remember that after we had searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments. Many of these were detached from a heavy, barbed wire fence which had surrounded the position of the factory and from the still existent portions of which we picked many of these detached bits which illustrated only too well the tremendous energy of high explosive. Many fragments we found a considerable distance away in the fields, they being carried farther by their own weight.
A naturalist, to obtain accuracy of observation, may confine himself in his observations to one limited period and I will take first that following the Austrian offensive of June, 1918, as one in which the dead were present in their greatest numbers, a withdrawal having been forced and an advance later made to recover the ground lost so that the positions after the battle were the same as before except for the presence of the dead.
Until the dead are buried they change somewhat in appearance each day. The color change in Caucasian races is from white to yellow, to yellow-green, to black. If left long enough in the heat the flesh comes to resemble coal-tar, especially where it has been broken or torn, and it has quite a visible tarlike iridescence. The dead grow larger each day until sometimes they become quite too big for their uniforms, filling these until they seem blown tight enough to burst. The individual members may increase in girth to an unbelievable extent and faces fill as taut and globular as balloons.
The surprising thing, next to their progressive corpulence, is the amount of paper that is scattered about the dead. Their ultimate position, before there is any question of burial, depends on the location of the pockets in the uniform. In the Austrian army these pockets were in the back of the breeches and the dead, after a short time, all consequently lay on their faces, the two hip pockets pulled out and, scattered around them in the grass, all those papers their pockets had contained. The heat, the flies, the indicative positions of the bodies in the grass, and the amount of paper scattered are the impressions one retains. The smell of a battlefield in hot weather one cannot recall. You can remember that there was such a smell, but nothing ever happens to you to bring it back.
The first thing that you found about the dead was that, hit badly enough, they died like animals. Some quickly from a little wound you would not think would kill a rabbit. They died from little wounds as rabbits die sometimes from three of four small grains of shot that hardly seem to break the skin. Others would die like cats a skull broken in and iron in the brain, they lie alive two days like cats that crawl into the coal bin with a bullet in the brain and will not die until you cut their heads off. Maybe cats do not die then, they say they have nine lives, I do no know, but most men die like animals, not men.
The only natural death I've ever seen, outside of loss of blood, which isn't bad, was death from Spanish influenza. In this you drown in mucus, choking, and how you know the patient's dead is: at the end he turns to be a little child again, though with his manly force, and fills the sheets as full as any diaper with one vast, final, yellow cataract that flows and dribbles on after he's gone.
It was not always hot weather for the dead, much of the time it was the rain that washed them clean when they lay in it and made the earth soft when they were buried in it and sometimes then kept on until the earth was mud and washed them out and you had to bury them again. Or in the winter in the mountains you had to put them in the snow and when the snow melted in the spring some one else had to bury them.
They had beautiful burying grounds in the mountains, war in the mountains is the most beautiful of all war, and in one of them, at a place called Pocol, they buried a general who was shot through the head by a sniper. This is where those writers are mistaken who write books called Generals Die in Bed, because this general died in a trench dug in snow, high in the mountains, wearing an Alpine hat with an eagle feather in it and a hole in front you couldn't put your little finger in and a hole in back you could put your fist in, if it were a small fist and you wanted to put it there, and much blood in the snow.
(1) Ernest Hemingway later wrote about his experiences working with the Red Cross during the First World War.
One becomes so accustomed to all the dead being men that the sight of a dead woman is quite shocking. I first saw inversion of the usual sex of the dead after the explosion of a munition factory which had been situated in the countryside near Milan. We drove to the scene of the disaster in trucks along poplar-shaded roads. Arriving where the munition plant had been, some of us were put to patrolling about those large stocks of munitions which for some reason had not exploded, while others were put at extinguishing a fire which had gotten into the grass of an adjacent field which task being concluded, we were ordered to search the immediate vicinity and surrounding fields for bodies. We found and carried to an improvised mortuary a good number of these and I must admit, frankly, the shock it was to find that those dead were women rather than men.
(2) Ernest Hemingway was badly wounded while on the front-line in Italy in July, 1918.
There was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red. I tried to breathe but my breath would not come. The ground was torn up and in front of my head there was a splintered beam of wood. In the jolt of my head I heard somebody crying. I heard the machine guns and rifles firing across the river. I tried to move but I could not move.
(3) Ernest Hemingway was interviewed by a representative of the Spanish Press Agency on 11th May 1937.
All civil wars are naturally long. It takes months, sometimes years, to create a war organisation of the front and the rear and to turn thousands of ardent civilians into soldiers. And this transformation can only take place by their going through the living experience of battle. If you neglect this fundamental rule you risk getting a false idea of the character of the Spanish civil war.
A great number of American newspapers, admittedly in good faith, not very long ago were giving their readers the impression that the Government was losing the war owing to its military inferiority at the outbreak of the conflict. The error of these American newspapers was to mistake the character of the civil war, and not to deduce from it the logical conclusions of the history of the American Civil War.
The Spanish military situation, following the encouraging days of March, has consistently improved. A new regular army is taking shape which is a model of discipline and courage and which is secretly developing new cadres in the military academy and schools. I sincerely believe that this new army, born of the struggle, will shortly be the admiration of all Europe, despite the fact that hardly two years ago the Spanish army was considered an agglomeration of individuals resembling actors in a comic opera.
As a war correspondent I must say that in few countries does a journalist find his task facilitated to such a degree as in Republican Spain, where a journalist can really tell the truth and where the censorship helps him in his work, rather than impeding him. While the authorities in the rebel zone do not permit journalists to enter conquered cities until days after, in Republican Spain journalists are asked to be eye-witnesses of events.
(4) Alvah Bessie, Men in Battle (1939)
At Ebro. the country was so mountainous it looked as though a few machine-guns could have held off a million men. We came back down, went up side roads, crossroads, through small towns, and on a hillside near Rasquera we found three of our men: George Watt and John Gates (then adjutant Brigade Commissar), Joe Hecht. They were lying on the ground wrapped in blankets under the blankets they were naked. They told us they had swum the Ebro early that morning that other men had swum and drowned that they did not know anything of Merriman or Doran, thought they had been captured. They had been to Gandesa, had been cut off there, had fought their way out, travelled at night, been sniped at by artillery. You could see they were reluctant to talk, and so we just sat down with them. Joe looked dead.
Below us there were hundreds of men from the British, the Canadian Battalions a food truck had come up, and they were being fed. A new Matford roadster drove around the hill and stopped near us, and two men got out we recognized. One was tall, thin, dressed in brown corduroy, wearing horn-shelled glasses. He had a long, ascetic face, firm lips, a gloomy look about him. The other was taller, heavy, red-faced, one of the largest men you will ever see he wore steel-rimmed glasses and a bushy mustache. These were Herbert Matthews of The New York Times and Ernest Hemingway, and they were just as relieved to see us as we were to see them. We introducd ourselves and they asked questions. They had cigarettes they gave us Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields. Matthews seemed to be bitter permanently so.
Hemingway was eager as a child, and I smiled remembering the first time I had seen him, at a Writers' Congress in New York. He was making his maiden public speech, and when it didn't read right, he got mad at it, repeating the sentences he had fumbled, with exceptional vehemence. Now he was like a big kid, and you liked him. He asked questions like a kid: "What then? What happened then? And what did you do? And what did he say? And then what did you do?" Matthews said nothing, but he took notes on a folded sheet of paper. "What's your name?" said Hemingway I told him. "Oh," he said, "I'm awful glad to see you I've read your stuff." I knew he was glad to see me it made me feel good, and I felt sorry about the times I had lambasted him in print I hoped he had forgotten them, or never read them. "Here," he said, reaching in his pocket. "I've got more." He handed me a full pack of Lucky Strikes.
(5) Ernest Hemingway, speech at a meeting of the Writers' Congress (4th July, 1937)
A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it. Really good writers are always rewarded under almost any existing system of government that they can tolerate. There is only one form of government that cannot produce good writers, and that system is fascism. For fascism is a lie told by bullies. A writer who will not lie cannot live and work under fascism.
(6) Mary Rolfe was in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She wrote a letter to Leo Hurwitz about her experiences on 25th November, 1938.
Hemingway was here for a few days - but once you meet him you're not likely to forget him. The day he came I had been slightly sickish, but Ed came up and got me up out of bed to meet him. When I came into the room where he was he was seated at a table and I wasn't prepared for the towering giant he is. I almost got on my toes to reach his outstretched hand - I didn't need to, but that was my first reaction. He's terrific - not only tall but big - in head, body, hands. "Hello", he said - looked at me and then at Ed and said "You're sure you two aren't brother and sister?" which meant - "what a pair of light-haired, pale, skinny kids!" He told us another time when we were driving back to the hotel from somewhere of his correspondence with Freddy Keller - how he told Freddy he's got good stuff, but he must study - must educate himself and above all study Marx. That was what he had done all winter in Key West, he told us - otherwise, he said, you're a sucker - you don't know a thing until you study Marx. All of this said in short jerky sentences - with no attempt at punctuation. Before he left he gave us the remainder of his provisions - not in a gesture, just gave them to us because he knew we needed them and because he wanted to give them to us. I'm still a little awed by the size of him - he's really an awfully big guy!
(7) After the Spanish Civil War Ernest Hemingway wrote about the role of the International Brigades.
The dead sleep cold in Spain tonight. Snow blows through the olive groves, sifting against the tree roots. Snow drifts over the mounds with small headboards. For our dead are a part of the earth of Spain now and the earth of Spain can never die. Each winter it will seem to die and each spring it will come alive again. Our dead will live with it forever.
Over 40,000 volunteers from 52 countries flocked to Spain between 1936 and 1939 to take part in the historic struggle between democracy and fascism known as the Spanish Civil War.
Five brigades of international volunteers fought on behalf of the democratically elected Republican (or Loyalist) government. Most of the North American volunteers served in the unit known as the 15th brigade, which included the Abraham Lincoln battalion, the George Washington battalion and the (largely Canadian) Mackenzie-Papineau battalion. All told, about 2,800 Americans, 1,250 Canadians and 800 Cubans served in the International Brigades. Over 80 of the U.S. volunteers were African-American. In fact, the Lincoln Battalion was headed by Oliver Law, an African-American from Chicago, until he died in battle.
(8) Ernest Hemingway, Under the Ridge (1938)
It was a bright April day and the wind was blowing wildly so that each mule that came up the gap raised a cloud of dust, and the two men at the ends of a stretcher each raised a cloud of dust that blew together and made one, and below, across the flat, long streams of dust moved out from the ambulances and blew away in the wind.
I felt quite sure I was not going to be killed on that day now, since we had done our work well in the morning, and twice during the early part of the attack we should have been killed and were not and this had given me confidence. The first time had been when we had gone up with the tanks and picked a place from which to film the attack. Later I had a sudden distrust for the place and we had moved the cameras about two hundred yards to the left. Just before leaving, I had marked the place in quite the oldest way there is of marking a place, and within ten minutes a six-inch shell had lit on the exact place where I had been and there was no trace of any human being ever having been there. Instead, there was a large and clearly blasted hole in the earth.
Then, two hours later, a Polish officer, recently detached from the battalion and attached to the staff, had offered to show us the positions the Poles had just captured and, coming from under the lee of a fold of hill, we had walked into machine-gun fire that we had to crawl out from under with our chins tight to the ground and dust in our noses, and at the same time made the sad discovery that the Poles had captured no positions at all that day but were a little further back than the place they had started from. And now, lying in the shelter of the trench, I was wet with sweat, hungry and thirsty and hollow inside from the now-finished danger of the attack.
(9) Alvah Bessie, Men in Battle (1939)
Ernest Hemingway committed suicide on 2 July 1961. He had apparently felt that he was through - both as a writer and a man. His dedication to the cause of the Spanish Republic was never questioned, even though the VALB men attacked his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, as a piece of romantic nonsense when it was not slanderous of many Spanish leaders we all revered, and scarcely representative of what the war was all about.
© John Simkin, April 2013
Today in history: Ernest Hemingway is born
Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was one of America’s most popular authors. His economical style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Three more novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered American classics.
Although often criticized for his vigorous hypermasculinism, with strains of homophobia and anti-Semitism in his writing, overall he identified with the progressive political tendencies of his time, and counted many writers and intellectuals on the left as colleagues and friends.
As an 18-year-old Hemingway left for the Italian front to enlist with the World War I ambulance drivers. In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home. His wartime experiences formed the basis for his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms. “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality,” Hemingway said of the incident. “Other people get killed not you … Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you.”
In 1921, now married – to the first of his eventual four wives – he moved to Paris, where he worked as a correspondent and joined the modernist writers and artists of the 1920s “Lost Generation” expatriate community. He published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926, which many critics consider his best work. Its focus is the Spanish bullfighting culture.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Hemingway traveled to Spain as a journalist. Late in 1937, while in Madrid, Hemingway wrote his only play, The Fifth Column, as the city was being bombarded. He collaborated with composers Marc Blitzstein and Virgil Thomson, and filmmaker Joris Ivens, on a fundraising film for the Spanish Loyalists called The Spanish Earth. Back in Spain in 1938, he was present at the Battle of the Ebro, the last republican stand, and was among the last journalists to leave the battle as they crossed the river. In August 1939 Hemingway was one of 400 U.S. intellectuals who signed an open letter “To All Active Supporters of Democracy and Peace” which stated that “the reactionaries” had “encouraged the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike” and claimed that the USSR had “shown a steadily expanding democracy in every sphere.”
After the Spanish war ended he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which became a Book-of-the-Month Club choice, sold half a million copies within months, and helped to revive the author’s literary reputation.
In 1939, Hemingway crossed in his boat from his home in Key West to Cuba. With his soon-to-be new wife Martha Gellhorn, he rented “Finca Vigia” (Lookout Farm), a 15-acre property 15 miles from Havana. He later purchased it for his winter residence. It became notorious for the dozens of cats he allowed to roam and breed there.
Hemingway was in London during World War II, present at the Normandy landings and the 1944 liberation of Paris.
Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea (1952), set in Cuba, which won him the Pulitzer Prize, Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes that left him in pain or ill health for much of his remaining life.
After the Revolution Hemingway remained on easy terms with the government, telling the New York Times he was “delighted” with Castro’s overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista. He famously went out on fishing excursions with Fidel Castro. In July 1960, the Hemingways left Cuba for the last time, leaving art and manuscripts in a bank vault in Havana. After the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, in accordance with the policy of nationalizing American property in Cuba, the Finca Vigia was expropriated by the Cuban government, complete with Hemingway’s collection of several thousand books. The Finca is a popular tourist site today. The Cuban government has in recent years made arrangements with American academic institutions to photocopy Hemingway’s Cuban papers and make them available to scholars.
In 1959, he had bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where, still racked with pain and depression, he committed suicide in 1961.
Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources.
Photo: Hemingway (center) with Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and German writer Ludwig Renn (serving as an International Brigades officer) in Spain during Spanish Civil War, 1937. | Wikimedia (CC)
The Old Man and the Sea (and his Tommy Gun)
Hemingway &ldquofishing&rdquo with his Thompson submachine gun.
Ernest Hemingway&lsquos famous work, the Old Man and the Sea, may be truer to life than you know. It seems the sportsman/writer had his own run in with a pack of sharks over an immense half-ton marlin. Little did they know the Heming-way includes packing a Thompson submachine gun in the tackle box.
The original &lsquoMost Interesting Man in the World&rsquo
Ernest Miller Hemingway, born in the last six months of 1899, seemed to be in a life-long competition to stamp every spot on his man card. At age 18, he was wounded on the Italian front during World War 1 while serving as an ambulance driver. He later served as a war correspondent in no less than three real live shooting wars, even taking a break in 1944 to help organize an attack on a German position by
Drunken boasts notwithstanding, Hemingway&rsquos most famous fish tales were based on real life experiences.
French Resistance in World War 2. An amateur boxer, he used to sponsor his own version of tough man competitions, offering $50 to anyone who could do the distance in the ring with him. He and Orson Welles even had an impromptu battle of the beards over a disagreement that led to superman punches and broken chairs WWE-style, later patched up over whiskey.
Papa walked away from brushfires, sinking ships, five car crashes, and no less than two separate plane crashes in Africa, one of which left him with a paralyzed sphincter and leaking cerebral fluid. A hunter and an angler, he scoured the planet catching big game pelagic fish as well as the toughest beasts on several continents.
Hemingway with lion on safari.
When not otherwise covering wars, catching fish, or getting married four times, he also got some writing in (seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works) which earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Hemingway and prize winning marlin.
On top of all this legendary adventuring, one of the most interesting events that happened to Hem happened in 1935. At the time he was poking around Key West, Cuba and the Bimini islands in his pride and joy, the 38-foot cabin cruiser Pilar, named after one of his wives. He chased the biggest monsters under the sea in this boat, winning deep sea fishing competitions across the Caribbean. Just a couple years earlier, he caught no less than 52 marlin by himself. In that hot spring and summer of &rsquo35, Hemingway and a friend, painter Henry (&ldquoMike&rdquo) Strater spent 86 days in a row at sea, and had nothing to show for it. Then they had a bite.
Ernest Hemingway and aboard the Pilar in 1935.
Hemingway and his M1921 Tommy Gun (never leave shore without one).
On Strater&rsquos line, they brought a leviathan fish, more than 14 feet long to the surface. It was a giant marlin. Nevertheless, before the two could bring the fish in, sharks appeared to attack the tired billfish. Hemingway, in an effort to beat the sharks away, grabbed his his trusty Thompson submachine gun (which he always took with him to sea) and began riddling the seagoing wolves with bullets. Ripping .45 ACP rounds out into the water at up to 850-rounds per minute, Hem churned up the ocean, hitting a number of sharks and adding their blood to the rapidly growing chum pond. This in turn brought in more sharks just as sure as ringing a dinner bell.
When the fish was finally brought into the boat, it had been &lsquoapple-cored&rsquo with the entire back half of the creature stripped of every bit of meat down to its spine. When landed, it was 14-feet, 6-inches long and still weighed some 560-pounds. It was estimated that if the back half had not been consumed, it would have gone nearly a half ton or more, which would have been a local record for Bimini.
The &ldquoapple-cored&rdquo 1000-pound marlin that inspired a modern classic in American letters.
Papa&rsquos Tommy Gun
Hemingway&rsquos Thompson Model 1921A, with the detachable buttstock, front pistol grip, was made by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation. In the days before the NFA of 1934, it was perfectly legal for any citizen to buy one of these guns mail order without tax stamps, fingerprints, CLEO signatures or the like.
The Thompson subgun Hemingway owned and favored was the model 1921 like this one. You can tell by the barrel fins, block rear sight and lack of Cutts compensator on the muzzle.
Hemingway poses with Colonel.
According to legend, the writer obtained it in a game of chance from multi-millionaire William B. Leeds. Hem&rsquos particular gun had the early &lsquopre-1926&rsquo styling with its radial cooling fins, on a 10.5-inch barrel with no Cutts Compensator. These early models had a much higher rate of fire than the later WWII-era Tommy Guns as well as a beautiful fit and finish. Hemingway seems to have preferred the 20-round box magazine for its accuracy rather than the 50 and 100-round drums that were available and more iconic. It has been noted by many Tommy gun users that the drum mags made the weapon unbalanced and inhibited accurate shoulder firing due to the odd angle it forced the support hand into. Hemingway seems to have agreed.
Hemingway and son Jack wait for a nibble on the Pilar. Note the massive size of the reel (and Tommy gun).
The author spun the experience of this epic fishing trip into several works of fiction. The novel Islands in the Stream, as well as his later work, The Old Man and the Sea, drew heavily from Papa Hemingway&rsquos life on the water including this incident. As you may remember from high school lit classes, in The Old Man and the Sea, the hero, Santiago, catches an immense marlin, the largest he had ever seen, only to have it apple-cored by a pack of sharks as he hopelessly tries to beat them away.
Hemingway himself once said of writing: &ldquoAll good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.&rdquo
We here at Guns.com couldn&rsquot agree more.
Papa never did catch that u-boat.
Strater and Hemingway parted on bad terms, with both voicing their own hard feelings over the loss of (half) of such a beautiful fish. Hemingway remained in Cuba for most of the rest of his life other than World War 2 and a 10-week safari to Africa. Speaking of WWII, the sportsman offered to take the Pilar out on wartime patrols in the Florida Straits looking for German U-Boats who were sinking ships almost nightly in 1942. Surprisingly, the local government accepted and Hem loaded up his fishing boat with radio equipment, a crew of trusty volunteers, hand grenades, and&hellipwait for it&helliphis tommy gun.
Young Mr. Hemingway in Italy
In the winter and spring of 1918, Ernest Hemingway churned out several feature stories for The Kansas City Star about military recruiting campaigns. The Navy, the Tank Corps, and even the British had set up local offices to seek troops after the United States joined its allies in Europe.
Hemingway at the time was a recent high school graduate who had landed a reporting job in Kansas City in lieu of going to college or enlisting. At 18, he was too young to join without parental permission, but he talked a lot about getting into the war, a desire he expressed in several letters to his sister Marcelline. After arriving in Kansas City in mid-October 1917, he joined the Missouri Guard and even trained at Swope Park. Further military service was not in the cards, but a Kansas City friendship led him down another path toward serving in the war. In February 1918, the American Red Cross announced it was seeking volunteers to join the ambulance service in Italy. Hemingway most likely heard about this directly from Dell D. Dutton, who ran the Red Cross office in Kansas City.
Hemingway had learned much about the wartime ambulance corps from Theodore Brumback. The son of a prominent judge, Brumback had spent five months as an ambulance driver in the war-ravaged countryside of northern France. Hemingway met Brumback on the latter’s return to Kansas City in November 1917 and interviewed him in The Star’s newsroom. Brumback eventually wrote a lengthy, action-filled account of his dangerous posting in France, which appeared in the newspaper in February 1918, about the time the young men volunteered. Hemingway finished his reporting job at the end of April, returned home to Oak Park briefly and corresponded with Brumback about their forthcoming mission to Italy.
Hemingway, Brumback and their fellow volunteers spent two weeks training and sightseeing in New York. After an Atlantic crossing aboard a grimy French steamship and fleeting stops in Bordeaux and Paris, Hemingway arrived in Milan in early June 1918. An unexpected assignment turned up immediately. Hemingway and others were sent to the gruesome site of a munitions plant explosion a dozen miles outside Milan. Bodies and body parts were strewn everywhere. “We carried them in like at the General Hospital, Kansas City,” the young man reported on a postcard he sent back to his former colleagues at The Star. Despite the horrific detail of his “baptism of fire,” which Hemingway detailed years later (“A Natural History of the Dead”), he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm over arriving in Italy: “Having a wonderful time. ”
The next day Hemingway and Brumback were split up and sent to different sections of the Red Cross service. Hemingway landed in Schio, 150 miles northeast of Milan in a valley below the Dolomite Mountains. There is little evidence to suggest that Hemingway actually drove an ambulance during his stint there. Hemingway, in fact, expressed a sense of boredom, because there wasn’t enough to do. In mid-June, hostilities resumed as Austro-German forces began an offensive along a wide stretch of the Piave River. Italian defenses stiffened and casualties mounted throughout the rain-drenched countryside. When an opportunity to get closer to the action arose later in June, Hemingway eagerly signed on. He left the relative quiet of his ambulance unit and took over a rolling canteen operation near the villages of Fornaci and Fossalta. As he reported to his mother in a letter that year, the change gave him yet more wartime experience: “I have glimpsed the making of large gobs of history during the Great Battle of the Piave and have been all along the Front From the mountains to the Sea.”
Hemingway’s daily routine at Fossalta involved handing out coffee, chocolate, cigarettes and postcards to Italian soldiers in the trench, about 20 yards off the Piave. Rather than a motorized vehicle, Hemingway traveled by bicycle. Hemingway observed snipers in action. He saw and felt artillery blasts in the night. Then, on the night of July 8, 1918, an Austrian Minenwerfer mortar shell screamed through the darkness and exploded just feet away from Hemingway. It killed an Italian soldier, wounded others and blasted Hemingway unconscious. Two hundred twenty-seven shards of metal pierced his flesh, and Hemingway ended up spending most of the rest of the war in the American Red Cross hospital in Milan.
Hemingway’s hospital experience is a thing of legend. There was booze and there was an epic love affair that lasted weeks beyond the Armistice. Hemingway immortalized his relationship with the Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky years later in A Farewell to Arms. About 10 years his senior, she wrote it off as innocent puppy love, and when she finally broke it off, after Hemingway returned to the states, he was devastated.
By the end of 1918 Hemingway received an Italian medal of valor for having served in his supporting role with honor. He also earned an Italian war cross, apparently in recognition that Hemingway served during an Italian campaign in the mountains in late October. That appearance ended quickly when Hemingway came down with a case of jaundice and returned to the hospital.
Hemingway’s experiences in Italy, including the physical therapy that continued into December 1918, contributed to at least two of his future novels and several pieces of short fiction. Most notable are the novel A Farewell to Arms and three short stories set in Italy and featuring Nick Adams, who is often read as Hemingway’s alter-ego – “Now I Lay Me,” “In Another Country” and “A Way You’ll Never Be.”
Debates continue among scholars about the aura of heroism that accrued around Hemingway following his wounding. Did the teen-ager, still only eighteen years old, really carry a wounded Italian on his shoulders to safety through a hail of machine-gun bullets? Very unlikely. But as with much of the Hemingway legend, in Italy and beyond, it makes for a compelling tale.
First Person: The Hemingway I Remember
By Bill Horne 1913, as told to Virginia Kleitz Moseley
(From the Nov. 11, 1979, issue of PAW)
In May 1918, I went to New York City to report as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy. The U.S. had entered the war in Europe but would have no troops ready for another month, so the Red Cross was sending ambulance sections, with huge American flags painted on the sides, as a way of telling the Allies, “Boys, we’re with you!” Among the 120 drivers recruited from all over the country—mostly the halt, the half-blind like me, the too young and too old—was a handsome, 18-year-old giant named Ernest Hemingway. He had signed up in Kansas City, where he was a cub reporter for the Star.
We sailed on the French Line ship Chicago, said to be U-boat proof because the spies went back and forth on it. During the ten-day crossing, Ernie and I became good friends. We landed at Bordeaux the day the enemy was stopped at Belleau Wood, and all of us got high on the native product. Though honorary second lieutenants in the Italian Army, we were just kids, and getting half a bottle of wine into you was pretty serious business. We took the nighttrain to Paris and were received as persona grata. We were even saluted by French generals!
From Paris we proceeded to the American Red Cross headquarters in Milan. After a few days, we were sent to five stations, or sections, about 20 miles behind the mountain front. Our ambulances would fan out from the town of Schio at the west end of the Italian-Austrian line, and we’d cover our sectors a little east of Lake Garda, bringing in the wounded. By great good fortune I was assigned with Hemingway, Fred Spiegel, Larry Barnett, Jerry Flaherty, and “Little Fever” Jenkins to Section IV, which we came to call the “Schio Country Club.” For nearly 60 years they were my dearest friends but now all are gone except me.
In early June, during a lull on our end of the front, an officer came through, recruiting men to go to the Piave River. There the offensive was hot, and men were needed to run the canteens. Everyone from Section IV volunteered, and eight were chosen, including Ernie and me. I was dropped at the 68th Brigata Fanleria, San Pedro Novello, one of the little villages, and Ernie went to Fossalta.
We lived in a half-blown-apart house and no one brought us supplies to dole out. Ernie grew restless, so he borrowed a bike and pedaled to the front. He was at an advanced listening post—a hole in the ground—when the Austrians discovered it and sent over a Minenwerfer. It landed right smack on target. One man was killed, another badly hurt, and Ernie was hit by shell fragments. He dragged out his wounded companion, hoisted him on his back, and headed for the trenches 100 yards away. The Austrians turned their machine guns on him and he took a slug under one knee and another in the ankle, but he made it.
Ernie lay in a surgical post until another ambulance driver came along and identified him. They took him to the front-line dressing station, then to the Red Cross hospital in Milan. That’s where he met Agnes von Kurowsky, an American volunteer nurse. They fell in love and planned to be married.
After the Piave line became stable, I returned to Schio and relative calm until late fall, when the Allies started the Vittorio Veneto offensive at the Adriatic mountain end of the line. One night I drove our N.8 Fiat to Bassano to see Ernie, and we had a jolly time together. Later, he got jaundice and was returned to Milan. Meanwhile, I went to the front line atop Mt. Grappa and had a steady week of carrying wounded until the battle was over. In November, the war in Italy ended.
It took only a few days for the Red Cross to say, “Break ’em up and send ’em home.” The difference between war and peace was like night and day, with no dawn in between. After a short leave, I picked up my footlocker at Section IV and six of us left for the U.S. on the French liner Lorraine. Ernie remained behind in the Milan hospital. They had taken out 250 pieces of metal and were giving him muscular therapy.
He sailed on the Guiseppe Verdi shortly after New Year’s 1919, wiring me the time of arrival. I met the boat, and he was a darn dramatic sight: over six feet tall, wearing a Bersagliere hat with great cock feathers, enormous officer’s cape lined with red satin, a British-style tunic with ribbons of the Valor Medal and Italian War Cross, and a limp! The New York Times carried a front-page story and a picture headlined, “Most Wounded Hero Returns Today.” Heads turned as we walked uptown to the Plaza to meet my best girl for tea. When she saw Ernie, she hardly even said hello to me.
Ernie stayed with me a few days in Yonkers before returning home to Oak Park and a hero’s welcome. That spring while he was adjusting to being back and trying to write at his parents’ summer place in Michigan, he received a letter from Agnes, who was still in Italy. She wasn’t going to marry him. Ernie was heartbroken.
It was two years before Ernie and I got together again. I was in Chicago, terribly miscast selling axles, but I was making $200 a month. So I wrote Ernie, suggesting he let me grubstake him while he became a writer. I thought he had talent, though I had no idea how much. He was a dear friend, still sad about Ag, wanted to come to the city and write, but needed money to live on. With my fabulous salary and $900 savings, I was feeling rich—we could live on that a long time.
He wired that he was coming, and a week later we had a happy reunion. We rented a fourth-floor room in a house at 1230 N. State Street. It was the kind with a washstand in the corner and a bath down the hall. Meals weren’t included, so we usually ate at Kitso’s, a Greek restaurant on Division Street. It was a quick lunch place with tables, a counter, and a hole in the wall for shouting orders into the kitchen. They served pretty good dinners for 65 or 70 cents, and I think Kitso’s was the scene of Ernie’s story, “The Killers.”
We often got together with our war buddies, feeling like kids who had been in the same high school class, then separated for a few years and reunited. We would eat at one of the Italian restaurants on the near North Side, and turn up our noses just a little at guys who hadn’t been in Section IV and shared our great experience.
After some months at the roominghouse, Kenley Smith—brother of Ernie’s oldest friend, Bill—invited us to move into his apartment around the corner on Division Street. He and his wife had plenty of space and liked to have a lot of people around. It was an exciting atmosphere. Kenley was an erudite advertising man, with lots of intellectual friends like Sherwood Anderson, who had been a copywriter in his firm. On winter evenings, we’d sit around the fireplace and Ernie would read his stories with Sherwood commenting. Anderson recognized Ernie’s talent.
Of the many people who visited the Smiths, one particular girl, Hadley “Hash” Richardson, managed to cure Ernie of his broken heart. In fact, it was love at first sight. Soon after she returned home to St. Louis, Ernie and I went there to visit her for a long weekend. We had great fun making gin by boiling the ether out of sweet spirits of nitre over an open-topped burner. It was a silly thing to do, as it was very explosive and we got only about two teaspoonfuls of liquor. By the time we left, Ernie and “Hash” were certainly engaged.
I was an usher at their wedding the following summer. The newlyweds lived for a few months in Chicago but their hearts were set on going to Europe where so many aspiring writers were congregating. Ernie got letters of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, made a deal to report for The Toronto Star, and set off on his second voyage to Europe.
In August 1923, Ernie and “Hash” returned for “Bumby” to be born in America. We saw each other several times, and he gave me a copy of a little volume of his work which had been printed in Paris under the title, Three Stories and Ten Poems. He inscribed the book’s gray paper cover with a personal note beginning, “To Horney Bill . “ (Of all things, I lost it during the next few years of moving from one place to another. Last year I saw a copy offered by a London bookseller. The price was $3,500, without any personal inscription.)
Ernie’s next book of stories, ln Our Time, was published with the help of my classmate Harold Loeb ’13, one of the young American expatriates in Paris who became a tennis and drinking companion of Ernie’s. Loeb’s novel, Doodab, had been accepted by an American publisher and he had gone to bat for Ernie. When Ernie got up a party to see the bullfights in Spain, Loeb went along. But in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, Ernie cast Loeb as the heavy. Thirty years later, Harold wrote a book called The Way It Was, basically a rebuttal.
In the summer of 192 8, Ernie returned to the States again with his second wife, Pauline, so their baby could be born here. After Patrick’s arrival in Kansas City, Pauline was resting at her parents’ Arkansas home. Ernie wrote to me in Chicago, suggesting we go west and do some fishing while he finished his novel, A Farewell to Arms.
I took the train to Kansas City and Ernie met me in his Ford runabout. We drove across a corner of Nebraska, up the Platte into Wyoming, and bumped over rocks and ruts in the Red Grade road, climbing the Big Horn Mountains. As we snaked around hair-pin turns with steep drop-offs, I kept saying. “Look out, Ernie!” He endured it patiently and finally said, “Do me a favor, Horney, when you get out, just close the door.” I didn’t peep after that.
On a plateau 8,000 feet up, we reached our destination, the Folly Ranch, owned by Eleanor Donnelley. At least 16 lovely girls, mostly Eleanor’s Bryn Mawr classmates, were waiting to greet us—including my future wife, Frances “Bunny” Thorne. The place turned out to be heaven, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, with a swell cook, Folly the collie, and some active trout ponds.
Bunny’s log of that summer records some of the high spots: bridge, dancing, singing around the piano, and one night, “with his hands doing most of the talking, our author gave us the low-down on Dorothy Parker’s and Scott Fitzgerald’s burning inspirations. Then he was distracted by a bull-fight.” I think he was the matador and the bull.
Ernie loved ranch life, not to mention being admired by all the girls, but he had taken too much time off from his writing. After I left, he retreated to a quieter cabin to work on his book. He finished A Farewell to Arms that summer, and when Bunny and I were married the following year, he gave us a first-edition presentation copy.
While at Folly, Ernie and I had studied a map of Wyoming and Montana with an eye to future fishing. He pointed out a lonely looking stream that started in the north, went for miles along Yellowstone Park’s wild eastern edge, looped down south through wilderness, and finally swung north to the Yellowstone River, hundreds of miles and two mountain ranges away. “Horney,” he said, “that’s the place. Someday you and I will go there and slaughter ’em!”
Two years later we did. Ernie was always right about a map or trout, and the stream he picked was the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone. Bunny and I went to join him and Pauline at Lawrence Nordquist’s L Bar T ranch in the northeast corner of the Park. We spent a day or two getting to Yellowstone on the train, then a bus took us across the western half of the Park to old Cook City, Montana. There the group met us on horseback, with mounts for us, and I can still see Ernie on that big steed. He rode straight-legged, Indian fashion, because of his gimpy knee, and he looked like the man who invented Montana.
It was a nine-mile ride down the southerly valley, past Index and Pilot peaks. We arrived before dusk. The land rose above the Fork’s east bank into steep hills and hogbacks. There were narrow stretches of forest, green and yellow steps leading to the ridges of Beartooth Buttes, 15 miles away to the east. We had the happiest time imaginable, although for a while it rained and the trout hid behind rocks. Finally the rain stopped, and I’ve never seen anything like it in the way of stream fishing. We were using mostly wet flies, usually a McGinty at the end of the leader and two droppers along its length. The fish were so hungry and profuse that many times we had two on at once, occasionally three.
Ernie, who was then writing Death in the Afternoon, had brought along bushels of Spanish bull-fighting periodicals. We were at a spot where the river was about to dive down into a canyon, fast beautiful water full of trout, the kind of thing an avid fisherman would sell his soul for. Yet morning after morning, Ernie sat in the sun in an old rocker, reading the latest on corridas.
He was enjoying his fame then, and I remember him as dominant, exuberant, damned attractive, a stand-out in any group. But when he was with his friends, he was with them, not apart from them.
The last time I saw Ernie was in the spring of 1958, when Bunny and I visited·him and Mary, his fourth wife, at the Finca, their lovely country house in Cuba. He was the bearded “Papa” by that time. In the evening, they took us to dinner at Floridita, the restaurant Ernie had made famous. We were much impressed with Mary—she seemed a fine wife for Ernie.
Ernie died on July 2, 1961—the same weekend that we were having a Section IV reunion at Jerry Flaherty’s. I remember the headline: “Own Gun Kills Hemingway.” It was hard on all of us nobody had thought to invite him from Idaho, and maybe it would have helped his depression. Mary wired, asking me to be an honorary pallbearer, and everyone was giving me messages of condolence to carry. But because of the holiday the banks were closed and I didn’t have enough cash to make the trip. Fred Spiegel came to my rescue: “I’ve been to the Arlington track and did pretty well. How much do you need?” I told him about $300. He took out a roll of bills and peeled it off.
So with a little help from Section IV, Bunny and I flew out to the funeral. The graveside service was on a hill outside Ketchum, under a blue sky with the Sawtooth Mountains as backdrop. Everyone there had some bond with Ernie. Mine was having been an ambulance driver with him in Italy. Also, I was the first of a dozen or more Princetonians—including, most prominently, Scott Fitzgerald ’17, a classmate of my younger brother, Jimmy—who had played important roles in his life. Though there were long gaps when we didn’t see each other, we kept in touch for 43 years. Ernie and Bunny have been the two great things in my life.
A Farewell To Arms: Hemingway’s Italy
In the summer of 2012, American Publishing giants Scribner released a revised version of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, A Farewell to Arms. The new edition includes not only the original artwork, but also 47 alternative endings that give new insight to this First World War masterpiece. On its original publication, in 1928, A Farewell to Arms reached the bestseller list and cemented Hemingway’s reputation as a literary heavyweight.
Although Hemingway is most commonly associated with Florida’s Key West, Spain and Cuba, the latter serving as inspiration for his Nobel Prize Winning novella The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway also had a long, and sometimes painful, relationship with Italy. In 1918, as war raged in Europe, an 18 year old Ernest Hemingway responded to a plea for ambulance drivers on the Italian front, and left for Europe. He arrived in Milan and immediately received a baptism of fire when he was sent to the scene of a bombed munitions factory to collect "the fragments" of female workers. A scene he vividly described years later in his book Death in the Afternoon.
Fossalta di Piave on the Italian Front
A few days later he was transferred to Fossalta di Piave on the Italian Front. The Italian Front stretched from more than 400 miles, with much of the fighting being conducted in or around the Alps, with the Italians on one side and the Austro-Hungarian armies on the other. The Italian Front could be every bit as deadly a killing field as the Somme or Passchendaele on the Western Front, with some 650,000 casualties inflicted on the Italian Army alone. Soldiers fought against the enemy but also against the hostile weather that could reach as low as -45c during the winter months. In those freezing conditions, a single mortar round could inflict casualties as far as one mile away, as the shards of ice cut through the air like daggers. Avalanches were also a constant fear and often intentionally caused by opposing Armies. One such avalanche in 1916 killed more than 10,000 Austrian troops near Cortina d’Ampezzo in Northern Italy. It would later become known as White Friday. The "war in the mountains" would rage for almost three and a half years until French, British and American soldiers could reinforce the Italians. After the decisive battle of Vittorio Veneto the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and an Armistice was signed.
Italian Silver Medal of Bravery
Several months earlier on 8th July 1918 Ernest Hemingway was seriously wounded,while delivering cigarettes and chocolates to front line troops, when a mortar exploded next to him. Despite the severity of his own wounds, Hemingway still managed to carry an Italian soldier to safety, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. He spent the next six months recovering from the 227 shrapnel wounds to his legs in a Milan hospital. During this time Hemingway fell in love with Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, who he fictionalised as Nurse Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms.
A Farewell to Arms
Although the novel is a work of fiction, the parallels between the young protagonist, Frederick Henry, and Hemingway's own life are clear. And this perhaps is what gives it such a quality of authenticity: from the description of the battle of Caporetto, to the relationship between Henry and Catherine, and the novels final heart-wrenching climax. Hemingway speaks to the reader with conviction and, sometimes, brutal honesty. His “to the point” style is as much about what is not written as what is, and this shift in style, away from the overly flowery language of his peers, allows the reader to “fill the gaps", and almost become part of the story.
Stresa, Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore, his “home from home"!
In September 1918, just two month after his injury, a 19 year old Ernest Hemingway was given 10 day Convalesce-Pass and headed for Stresa, just an hour drive from Milan on Lake Maggiore. He checked into room 106 (now the Hemingway Suite) at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, and headed straight for the bar. Unfortunately, for visitors looking for a "Hemingway experience" that bar has long since been closed the good news is that the new bar has not forgotten Him. Several photos of him adorn the wall, and a Hemingway Special cocktail can still be found on the drinks menu. But surely, it’s the framed page of the guest book he signed on a return visit in 1948 that is the most intriguing. It simply reads: "Ernest Hemingway (an old client)".
Hemingway spent 7 of his 10 day leave at the Grand Hotel Iles Borromées. While there he spent much of his time playing pool with a "99 year old count", talking with the barman over a dry martini (Hemingway's drink of choice back then) and taking boating trips to the small island of Pescatori on Lake Maggiore. All of which were fictionalised in A Farewell to Arms.
Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees Stresa
It's a strange feeling to sit at the bar in the Hotel Borremées, looking out across the lake and knowing that somewhere in that still water, or in the mountains behind, Hemingway found his inspiration. In a letter to his parents in 1918, Hemingway wrote "I'm up here in Stresa, a little resort on Lake Maggiore. One of the most beautiful Italian lakes.".
So it seems not much has changed since Hemingway’s time, it is still just as beautiful and still remains a perfect location to relax and enjoy the fresh air of the lakes. The many tiny islands on Lake Maggiore offer some of the most beautiful gardens in Europe and can easily be reached in a matter of minutes by the excellent passenger boats that operate throughout the day.
Hemingway Suite - Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees Stresa
Alternatively, the Lake Maggiore Express train takes you along a scenic coastal route that ventures right into the heart of the Swiss Alps and back in time for a Dry Martini. For a more sober experience, it is worth visiting the Stresa War Museum that has many artefacts relating to the "war in the mountains" and also a poem written by Hemingway to honour the fallen. Hemingway visited Stresa several times during his lifetime and often referred to it as his “home from home."
Hemingway's spares writing style and universal themes never failed to captivate the reader. He wrote with an honesty that was sometimes painful to read, but always impossible not to. He pulled no punches and made no apologies for it. Snippets of his own life were so delicately inserted into his novels that it is only in hindsight that we can fully understand what he meant when he described the process of writing as “bleeding into a typewriter.” Unfortunately, the legend that Hemingway himself had helped to create has often threatened to overshadow the great contribution he made to modern literature. By his final years his novels and real life had become so intertwined that even he couldn’t tell them apart.
The Italian Soldier Who Saved Hemingway’s Life
James McGrath Morris is the author of The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War (March 2017). He has started a project to identify the Italian soldier discussed in this article.
Hemingway in uniform in Milan, 1918.
Along the Piave River in northern Italy stands a memorial near where Ernest Hemingway almost lost his life in the closing months of World War I. “On this levee,” the inscription reads in Italian, “Ernest Hemingway, American Red Cross volunteer, was wounded the night of July 8, 1918.” The moment is so central to the author’s life that in 2014 the Ernest Hemingway Society brought a group of its members to the spot during its biennial international conference in Venice, Italy.
What is missing from the memorial, however, offers a lesson greater than that of an insight into Hemingway’s life. Absent from the marker is any mention of the Italian soldier whose death that night ensured the life of one of the twentieth century’s most important authors. In short, had the soldier not been where he was, there would be no Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tools, nor The Old Man and the Sea.
That this soldier is left off the monument and the pages of history is a cold reminder of history’s cruelty. The recording of deaths is hardly a democratic matter. The less accomplished lives are often forgotten even when they change history.
The unremembered soldier was one of many young Italian men conscripted and crammed into trenches along the banks of the Piave River in July 1918. Holding back Austrian forces had come at great price. The Italians suffered more than 600,000 casualties. They greatly welcomed the presence of Red Cross volunteers who brought cigarettes, chocolates, and coffee.
Hemingway, who had come to Italy as an eighteen-year-old Red Cross volunteer ambulance driver, requested that he be assigned to ride a bicycle to the front trenches with panniers full of chocolates and cigarettes. On the night of July 8, 1918 Hemingway took his supply from the bike’s basket and stepped down into a trench that ran in a serpentine path along the Piave. As he handed out his bounty to the soldiers, he could make out in the distance the sound of mortar fire coming from the enemy’s line. Filled with explosives and metal shards, mortars travel in a high arc and descend vertically into the trenches, whose walls channel the detonation into a deadly affair.
When one of the Austrian mortars fell into the trench, Hemingway saw the flash first and then heard the roar that followed. The heat was intense, the ground seethed upward, wood beams splintered, and the men were tossed about like rag dolls. The nameless Italian soldier who stood close to the detonation point was dead. His body had taken the brunt of the blast and shielded Hemingway, who now lay unconscious, covered in dirt and debris. He sustained hundreds of shrapnel wounds and spent six months recuperating in the Red Cross hospital in Milan.
When I researched the incident for my book The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War, I presumed that some scholar by now would have identified the dead soldier’s name. To my surprise no one seems to have been interested in pursuing this line of research. None of Hemingway’s biographers lament the absence of a name.
The records are certainly a challenge to anyone who might want to find the name of the soldier who took Hemingway’s mortar. None of the contemporaneous sources, such as the citation of the Italian Military Valor award given to Hemingway for courage and self-sacrifice, note the dead soldier’s name. Sometimes they don’t even mention his death. As a result this young man joined the many anonymous figures of history labeled as “an Irish maid,” or a “French soldier,” or “steelworker,” or in this case, an “Italian soldier.”
But not including a name in a combat story is like leaving a soldier behind. To be nameless is to be forgotten. The quest for naming dead soldiers was so strong after the Great War that worry over unidentified corpses prompted the U.S. Congress to create a tomb for an unknown soldier. The nation has kept entombing representative unknown soldiers up to the Vietnam War. That corpse, however, was later identified using DNA testing and now that crypt remains empty.
“Every man’s life ends the same way,” Hemingway once told his friend Aaron Hotchner, “and it is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.”
When the name the name of the dead Italian soldier is added to the memorial along the Piave River, he too will have the distinction he deserves.
Ernest Hemingway – A Short Biography
Ernest Hemingway, famous author and journalist, was born in the affluent Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. His father was a doctor his mother, a musician. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Ernest Hall. As a young man, he was interested in writing he wrote for and edited his high school’s newspaper, as well as the high school yearbook. Upon graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1917, he worked for the Kansas City Star newspaper briefly, but in that short time, he learned the writing style that would shape nearly all of his future work.
As an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, Ernest Hemingway was wounded and spent several months in the hospital. While there, he met and fell in love with a Red Cross nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky. They planned to marry however, she became engaged to an Italian officer instead.
This experience devastated Hemingway, and Agnes became the basis for the female characters in his subsequent short stories “A Very Short Story” (1925) and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), as well as the famous novel “A Farewell To Arms” (1929). This would also start a pattern Ernest would repeat for the rest of his life – leaving women before they had the chance to leave him first.
Ernest Hemingway began work as a journalist upon moving to Paris in the early 1920s, but he still found time to write. He was at his most prolific in the 20s and 30s. His first short story collection, aptly titled “Three Stories and Ten Poems,” was published in 1923. His next short story collection, “In Our Time,” published in 1925, was the formal introduction of the vaunted Hemingway style to the rest of the world, and considered one of the most important works of 20th century prose. He would then go on to write some of the most famous works of the 20th century, including “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Ernest Hemingway lived most of his later years in Idaho. He began to suffer from paranoia, believing the FBI was aggressively monitoring him. In November of 1960 he began frequent trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for electroconvulsive therapy – colloquially known as “shock treatments.” He had his final treatment on June 30, 1961. Two days later, on July 2, 1961, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a twelve-gauge shotgun. He was a few weeks short of his 62nd birthday. This wound up being a recurring trend in his family his father, as well as his brother and sister, also died by committing suicide. The legend of Hemingway looms large, and his writing style is so unique that it left a legacy in literature that will endure forever.
This preeminent literary figure of the 20th century moved to Key West in 1928, living there periodically through 1940. Hemmingway wrote all or part of his most famous works including A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not and The Snows of Kilimanjaro in Key West. In 1954, he became only the fifth American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Born Ernest Miller Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway grew up in an affluent home (his father was a physician and his mother a professional opera singer) where he was exposed to art, literature, music and also the great outdoors. At the family's lake house in Michigan, the athletic, outdoorsy Hemingway developed a passion for hunting and fishing.
After graduation from high school in 1917, Hemingway decided to forego college and become a cub reporter for The Kansas City Star. He worked there for only six months, but the newspaper style of writing–concise and austere–heavily influenced all of his writings for the rest of his life.
Displaying a restlessness that would mark a seemingly larger-than-life career, in the waning months of World War I Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Europe. Badly wounded on the Italian Front, he spent six months recuperating in a Milan hospital before returning, at age 19, to the U.S.
Hemingway's interest in journalism eventually carried him to Chicago in 1920, where he worked as an associate editor of the monthly journal Cooperative Commonwealth. There he befriended Sherwood Anderson, already a respected novelist. Shortly thereafter, Hemingway met and married his first (of four) wives, Elizabeth H. Richardson. In 1921, the couple left for Europe, Hemingway having accepted a post as foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star. Anderson persuaded Hemingway to set up shop in Paris, a decision that proved remarkably fortuitous for a young newspaperman who yearned to be a novelist.
In Paris, Hemingway met many of the leading figures of the so-called "Lost Generation," a term originated by Gertrude Stein, among the most notable European writers who took Hemingway under their wings. Other Parisian luminaries that Hemingway spent much time with included Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and F. Scott Fitzgerald. After a brief return to Toronto in 1924, Hemingway and his family (son Jack was born in Toronto) returned to Paris, where he finished his first novel (of seven). The Sun Also Rises (Scribner's, 1926), a story built around a group of expatriates living in Paris, made Hemingway famous.
In 1928, Hemingway was divorced, remarried (this time to Pauline Pfieffer, a fashion writer) and–at the suggestion of novelist and friend John Dos Passos–moving to Key West, where he fell in love with the island's lush tropical greenery and seclusion. He would spend an eventful and highly productive decade there before moving to Cuba (with his third wife Martha Gellhorn, a journalist and war correspondent) in 1940.
From 1941 through the mid-1950s, Hemingway led an astonishingly colorful and dramatic life. The period was punctuated by his frequent forays overseas as a war correspondent (he covered the Spanish Civil War as a champion of the losing rebel side) and World War II (where his extra-curricular exploits at the front almost got him court-martialed but later earned him a Bronze Star) a second African safari (where he and his last wife, Mary Welsh, narrowly escaped death in two plane crashes in two days) his winning the world's top literary prizes (the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for the novel The Old Man and the Sea) and the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature) and two more failed marriages.
In 1959, Hemingway and Welsh bought a home in Ketchum, Idaho. Suffering from depression and failing health–a casualty of his numerous serious injuries and a lifelong habit of hard drinking–in July 1961 Hemingway committed suicide.
Hemingway's legacy as a titan of modern American literature is immortalized by two nonprofit foundations (The Hemingway Oak Park Foundation and the Hemingway Society) a national literary prize in his name a number of formal memorials and other tributes more than a dozen biographies numerous Hemingway studies programs on campuses around the world and at least five museums.
Hemingway's Florida days are commemorated by the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, located at the home he owned on Whitehead Street in Key West. The attraction annually draws thousands of visitors from around the world, as does the annual Hemingway Days celebration, held in Key West during the week of his birthday in July.