The Veteran

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A historical story about a farmer during the great depression

Submitted: February 08, 2008

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Submitted: February 08, 2008

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Epilogue
After only a few hours, we began to identify the silhouettes of buildings of the small town of Syracuse strategically located on the south most tip of Sicily.
DEDICATED TO ALL VETERANS WHETHER OR NOT THEY PARTICIPATED IN A WAR WITH GUNS , ONE WITH THE ECONOMY, or one with the weather.

Prologue

An average man may think the 1920s was a time of great happiness and prosperity. This thought was only partly true, for it was a time when wealth was unequally distributed between the rich and the poor.
As electricity at that time reached majority of all households in the U.S., there were places where the light had not yet reached, such as the farms of Kansas were left ignored and neglected for decades. After the First World War, the government purchase of agricultural products suddenly declined steeply and left these hopeless farmers debt-ridden.
The dire situation worsened dramatically when the stock market crashed on the twenty-forth day of October in 1929. Unemployment rose to twenty-five percent from 3 percent and many people remained jobless for many years. People turned to selling apples and shining shoes to earn very little money. In March 1933, about five thousand banks closed, instantly wiping out the savings of millions of people. Also, many factories closed due to the lack of consumer needs. Many people became homeless and had to live in shacks built out of old crates and formed shantytowns.
The sufferings of the farmers were acute; their products faced extremely low prices that fell by fifty percent between 1929 and 1932. While many people became hungry, surplus crops couldn’t be sold for a profit.
Natural forces inflicted another blow on farmers. Starting in Arkansas in 1930, a great drought spread throughout the Great Plains through the middle of the cursed decade. Over-productive soil turned into dust that was being carried away by extremely strong winds that piled up against houses and barns. Nearly two-thirds of the farmers that experienced the “Dust Bawl” fled west to sunny California in search of work.
Even in this great time of despair and agony, President Hoover’s administration refused to intervene and aid the unprivileged-the poor.

Chapter 1

As the Great War raged on, the farms in Europe were being annihilated by the brutal Germans. They treated the conquered people like unwanted slaves and confiscated their money, especially their agricultural commodities.
On April 6th, 1917, U.S. declared war on Germany. The U.S. army grew twenty times bigger and they consumed food like wild elephants, which significantly helped the nation’s farmers.


As I walked out of my house a paperboy rushed towards me, he cried, “ Mr. Rob, it’s November 11, 1918 and the U.S. won the Great War.”
“What?”
“It’s true, there was an armistice.”
After I heard this, I decided to buy his newspaper for a nickel and instantly began to read it. At first, not thinking of the shortcomings I was incredibly pleased.
The very next day a gallant looking man arrived at my house with a letter. He casually handed it to me saying it was from the army. I excitedly opened the letter and found out that the army would not buy any more of my wheat. I was shocked to hear this dreadful news. Here is it as it follows:


Dear Rob Green,
As parts of Army’s re-structuring program, we kindly ask you to halt your delivery of wheat. To receive your check for the services you contributed to us go to your nearest Army/Navy offices. We appreciate your much-needed service greatly and we will surely contract you some day, sooner or later.
Sincerely,
Army/Navy


Later that year there was no one to buy my products and certainly the Army didn’t contract me. Slowly but surely I was being lured towards debt.
Other than all these troublesome events, Mother Nature in my opinion personally hated me badly, for the Dust Bowl in 1929 did a lot of severe damage to my property.
It all started when my father, Rodney Green (who was a homesteader) settled in this place approximately thirty years before the Great War. We raised cattle that ate the hardy grasses, which held the fine-grain soil in place. Other than this we planted sufficient amounts wheat. The Dust Bowl started when there were long times of drought and no torrential rain for many long months. Suddenly one day there were strong winds that basically came out of nowhere.
Before you know it, the very next day there was sand right up to my southern wall’s lattice windows. Unable to sustain the weight of the tones of sand that piled against it the entire southern wall collapsed unexpectedly.
Since I had no money to refurbish my home, I turned to the Bank of Kansas for help.
“Hello, can you give me a loan fix my home that was seriously damaged by the heavy winds?”, I asked the bank manager.
“How much will you need?”
“Only a few thousand dollars.”
“Can you please be specific.”
“About twelve thousand dollars,” I said elongating the vowels.
“We will give it to you for a fifteen percent interest.”
“Than you very much sir.”
He monotonously handed me the papers necessary to get the loan. Subsequent to finishing the papers, he instantly handed me the cash I earnestly craved. I took the risk to re-build my home and my business.
Using the money, I repaired my home and removed the excess soil. I wisely utilized the remaining cash, and bought a tractor to compete with the larger farms and lower the cost to produce wheat so that I could find buyers. Unluckily none came, and I began to consider the Bank Manager as Jonah.


Chapter 2

Fifteen years later…

Unable to re-pay my debts, the bank took possession all of my belongings - from my apple tree’s apples to my beloved farm. These evil acts forced me to emigrate to any place where a speck of opportunity laid.
On the way to my shack, I meet a benevolent man with a baritone voice who told me that he worked for the government.
“Would you like to work in a TVA dam?” he asked.
“ What’s a TVA?”
“ It’s the Tennessee Valley Authority, it’s a newly founded organization that builds dams in Tennessee to produce electricity and help navigate ships. The first dam they’re going to build is the Norris Dam. So, are you planning to work there?”
“Sure!”
“Well you’d need an application fast for the time’s runnin’ out. You know what, come to my office first thing tomorrow.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s on 65 Fleet Street in Concordia.”
“Thanks sir, but what is your good name please?”
“It’s Stan.”
“What’s yours?”
“ Rob Green.”
Being extremely excited, I couldn’t sleep all night with the slightest hope of being hired by the newly founded TVA and buying my farm back.
The next day I headed for the man’s office. On my way I saw many people who were like me. Their faces looked pale filled with dismay and their anticlimax was probably as sudden mine. As I continued walking to my destination I began to consider lucky to be living in a shack made of wood rather than cardboard shacks that were made into homes by countless numbers of people.
Finally I reached Stan’s office in downtown Concordia. What a wonderful place it was with sparkling chandeliers and central heating.
“So you’re here,” he said.
“Yes I'm.”
“Ready to earn money and make your dreams come true.”
“Yup.”
“Here’s your application and by the way fill it right with all the details so you can get the job.”
After I finished filling out the application and submitted it to the proper place, I bade him good-by exceptionally politely.
“ You’ll get the job, be ready to join next week” told Stan with emotional voice.
I started walking with an excited heart.



Chapter 3

Nearly a week after I filled out the application, I was astonished to see Stan come towards to my shack.
“What did I tell you, you got the job my man.”
“Really!”
“Oh yeah.”
“You will have to come to my office tomorrow and receive your schedule for your new job.”
“Oh thank you very much sir, and by the way your acumen amazes me.”
“That’s okay.”
The next day after I woke up, I immediately went to Stan’s office. There he handed me the schedule and a train ticket to go to Tennessee and work in a project to build a dam on the Clinch River, a three hundred mile long tributary of the Tennessee River.
That same day, I embarked the train and headed east towards my “dream job”. What a machine, the steam locomotive was. The smoothness and the luxury of the ride astounded me. The view was lovely and I practically couldn’t remove my eyes off the gorgeous lush fields.
On the way to Tennessee, food was especially inexpensive for I bought some apples from an “apple man”. I was willing to help him out even in my own time need.
“Hey how much apples you got there?” I shouted.
“A nickel each sir.”
“Give me ten.”
“Here you go, and I am very thankful of you for helping me. May God bless you.”
“Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Sure.”
“I know you are an apple seller by profession, so what was your former occupation?”
“Well, I was a farmer in Missouri until the bank took over my farm when I was unable to pay their money back.”
I personally felt very sorry for the man for not getting a job, but most of all I felt sorry because his story clearly related to my own and I know how awful it feels to lose a farm you grew old on and especially one that your ancestors loved dearly.
When I arrived to Tennessee, I boarded a horse-drawn cab and headed for the Clinch River, where the project was to begin a few weeks from now. On the bank of the river was a large log cabin where the office of the TVA was situated. I went inside the cabin and a met a grumpy old man, whom I later found out was actually the director of the project to build the Norris Dam.
“Good morning sir,” I greeted to him.
“Hello. Are you the young man from Kansas?”
“Yes sir.”
“Well I received a telegraph about you yesterday, it said you’re a strong and confident man with a lot of self-esteem.”
“I think that’s me alright!”

Chapter 4

The following week was when the real hard work started. After the smart and well-educated engineers designed the dam, which probably took years to accomplish, it was now our (laborers) time to do the physical work.
Before a dam’s built, you need to divert the flow of a river. The Cinch River many seem small, but it has powerful currents. We had to dig a temporary canal around the place where the dam was to be built.
For the first time in my life I saw colossal machines to dig a canal. What exquisite machines they are. Powered by steam, they devour coal like a hungry man who hasn’t eaten food for a full year. To transport supplies, and especially coal we constructed many miles of roads. For the first time, there was warm tar all over my hands and under my fingernails.
After many weeks of hard labor the canal was finished, but a small mistake of the engineers resulted with the canal being re-filled with mud after a rainstorm.
“Good thing that canal was ruined by that rain,” said Ben, one of by colleagues.
“Yup, we got to stay here longer now and earn more money,” I replied abruptly.
“ Thank God,” he shouted back.
Digging the canal this time was much harder, for my body suffered badly from malnutrition. The food they served tasted tike it came straight from the trashcan and the water smelled like rotten eggs.
One balmy day while I was working merrily as usual, a careless truck driver was coming at top speeds toward me faster than a thunderbolt. It narrowly missed me by a tenths an inch, but the air from the truck made me lose my balance and fall in the half-finished canal. This horrendous act of the slapdash truck driver made be fracture my arm quite seriously.
I was rushed to the nearby infirmary and treated pretty well for a plain laborer. The food served in the infirmary was much better and much more in quantity. Finally the canal was finished without me, and the heart breaking part was that I was left out when my colleagues caroused to their hearts content. I was lucky that my hand got fixed exceedingly fast and I was able to return to my new career in a few weeks.
When to came back, I found out that I was on the verge of losing my job for I was absent for a while. Learning the enormity of this situation I immediately went to old mans office.
“Sir, I heard that you and other officers in charge of this project want me removed. But sir I’m back now all strong and ready to work,” I told him.
“You were not here for a long time,” he told me sternly.
“By the way sir, it wasn’t my fault. That !#$%*%$ truck driver nearly hit me with his truck.”
“You know what, I sort of agree with you. You can stay.”
“Thank you very much sir.”
That morn I felt extremely relieved to resume my work again. After they finished the canal, the river was successfully diverted and for the first time in my life I saw clearly what was below the river’s sparkling water.
The enormous digging machines were brought to dig the soil again. This time our goal was to reach the solid bedrock in which the dam would stand with out any support.
After practically digging for many months we dug some thirty meters into the soft and moist soil. We had to remove so much soil and loose rocks that we constructed lofty man-made mountains just next to our proposed dam site.
A series of extensive rain that fell worsened the risk for a possible mudslide from our man-made mountains. Just as it stood there as a sign for our hard work and dedication, it also posed a great threat to our project and most of all, our personal security. Luckily, the rain stopped after a few days. We were all extreme pleased and comforted seeing the mountains not collapsing. Our boss, Jack Marks invited “his fellow workers” to rejoice this with beer and some delicacies.
After resuming to work again after the series of rainstorms, another storm system was developing. This time a word came round that this one was a hurricane coming from the south. Finally the ghastly hurricane arrived and the laborers had to evacuate this region in aged trucks in haste, leaving our belongings and prized processions behind to be exterminated by the wicked storm. It’s powerful winds decimated the mountains we made and nearly filled up our hole with the rocks and soil we previously dug up.
Unlike before, this time I wasn’t happy at all to see the destruction caused by hurricane. Our beloved living quarters vanished and the expensive machineries we used were utterly devastated. Basically there was destruction everywhere- trees were overturned, raw materials were eradicated, and the vegetation in this hard hit area was practically turned into humus.
“Hey Rob, have you heard that the guys at the top are planning to increase our working hours and not our wages,” cried one my industrious colleagues.
“What!!!”
“I think we should go for a strike.”
“Are you kidding me, those guys are gonna fire us. There are plenty of candidates for this simple laboring job of ours.”
“I think you’re right. In my home town in Kentucky alone, more than half of the citizens now buy cotton.”
“I don’t want you to ever pronounce the word strike ever again.”
“It’s a deal man.”
At first I didn’t believe a word he said and thought that he was purely exaggerating. New digging machines were brought in. Our working hours dramatically increased from ten hours at a dollar per hour to fifteen hours at sixty cents per hour. The new machines were very effective indeed. They dug though the solid concrete mud as if they were digging through loose sand in the vast Sahara. Unlike the older machines that were made and assembled in Germany, the newer ones were made in the USA in 1925 in the midst of the “Roaring 20s.” After digging some hundred feet, the foundation of the dam was laid.
We were to build the dam out of plain concrete, which was a mixture of portland cement, water and aggrevates (varying mixtures of sand and gravel).
It was a extremely joyous period when our first concrete block was laid, once again the laborers celebrated with tons of beer and the high ranking officers caroused with Champagne.
“Rob, do you that this is the most challenging and the most important part of our project. The guys are now badly short of revenue because of the mishaps caused by the hurricane. One more of these Mother Natures wraths, and the government may run out of funds and this project may halt,” said one of my colleagues.
“I agree with you one hundred percent.”
As he earlier said this truly was the most challenging. The cement used created tremendous amounts of dust that I was severely allergic to. I would sneeze all day long, and had a runny nose nearly the entire time I worked with the cement. We produced blocks out of the cement and put them together by some more cement.
The large blocks of concrete that we used resulted with the death of many of my comrades. They weren’t given extravagant burial ceremonies, but were placed in plain ligneous coffins. The bishop would say the prayers and corpses would be put into the ground with just a cement headstone. Almost nobody attended the ceremony and even less people shed their tears.
At last the dam was hastily finished in 1936. It rose some six hundred feet; it measured five hundred feet at the base and just five feet at the crest. Our dam was christened Norris Dam, named after George William Norris- the creator of the TVA. The erection of the dam was observed with great celebrations. We were a given a day off work and that day was our last payday.
The reservoir created by the Norris dam was a vast expanse of water that was twenty kilometers long and some thirty meters deep at some places. After my personal review of the dam that my comrades and me build, I boarded on a train and decided to head for my motherland- Kansas and pursue my dreams of buying my farm back.


Chapter 5

When I reached Kansas again, I instantly returned to “my farm”. After speaking with the new owner, I reached the conclusion that I would never be able to buy the farm back.
The next day I boarded on a train and headed for Chicago. Upon arriving to the city, I realized that the entire country didn’t have a single job left anymore. On Chicago Avenue, I was again forced to build a shack out of discarded card boxes. The entire process was tiring and it didn’t the ability to shield me the bitter winter and the pouring rain.
I looked to selling apples to just survive, and I subsisted on hard bread and cold soup from the soup kitchens-, which were, located only a few blocks from my shack.
“Sir, would you want to buy some of the freshest apples in the world and want to help a poor man from death,” I told a passerby.
“How much are them.”
“How much do you want to pay for ‘em, and how many do you want?”
“A nickel a piece, and give me twenty for a buck.”
“There you go.”
“I hope you survive!”
“With the help of you and people like you, you can sure make me live.”
For the next five years prior to finishing the dam, I hardly earned a hundred dollars by selling apples and shining shoes. I lost many pounds and I was becoming weaker and nearing death at an alarming rate.
Since, my shack couldn’t shield the cold and rain, for very long times I had to endure with fever and frequent catching of the regular cold. To keep my body warm I had to burn leaves and unwanted wood or paper.
One time I had influenza. My suffering was adverse and life threatening. Without any medical treatment, I thought that I was going to die. Nearly a week later, I recovered. It left my body pale, weak and in poor health.
On December 8th, 1941 the US entered the Second World War by declaring war on Imperial Japan, followed by all it’s allies: Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. It all happened when the Japanese Navy struck Pearl Harbor and killed more than two thousand Americans.
Hearing this news, I cleverly headed to the nearest Army/Navy Offices on Michigan Avenue where they hired me instantaneously and handed me a train ticket to go to Boston, Massachusetts and train for the armed forces.
“When you arrive at Boston, hand the Army recruiting paper to the army stall at the station,” the man in charge of recruiting told me.
“I appreciate you and the Army for hiring me,” I remarked him.
















Chapter 6
I found the Army/Navy stall. After waiting nearly a hour in the long queue I was told to go the Army Training Camp in Worchester. They put me in a truck and we headed there immediately.
They placed me in the reserves because of my old age. The training was brutal and challenging. The taught me to crawl under barbed wire and use tanks, rifles and large artillery pieces. My new military uniform was my best piece of clothing in nearly ten years.
“It’s the first week of February and you are going to see your first experience in a real battle in North Africa. Tomorrow you’ll board on ship and your main mission will be to destroy Rommel’s Africa Korps. You will be designated the 107th Infantry Division,” cried my platoon leader.
We embarked on a old steam ship, the Blue Ghost with my new automatic rifle and headed for North Africa. The Atlantic Ocean was rough and countless icebergs were on the loose. Sleeping quarters were unsanitary and the food they served was bad tasting. For most of the trip, I felt extremely seasick and sometimes I’d vomit for hours.
When we reached the shores of Africa, on the French territory of Algeria, we faced very little resistance and only in a few minutes we overran the German defenders killing them all.
I felt very bad indeed because, in my farm I’ve only slaughtered cattle, I felt guilty for many days prior to the killings. We took advantage of Rommel’s retreat across North Africa greatly.
Later that week, after heavy losses, Rommel pushed us back to the arrogant Dorsal Mountains’ Kasserine Pass. Using their 88-millimeter gun, they decimated our M3 Lee tanks that mounted a fixed 75-millimeter gun. Their high silhouette made it a easy potential target. Once again, they left us reeling back by breaking through our lines and taught us to fight the Wehrmacht. We had a thousand losses, hundreds were taken prisoners and loss of most our heavy equipment. Luckily I escaped west towards Algeria again.
The M4 Sherman Tank quickly replaced the M3. Even though it displaced the same 75-millimeter gun, the turret was now traversable. Three days later we used massive air bombardment that drove Rommel from Kasserine Pass to his prepared positions on the Mareth line. The next day General Montgomery’s 8th Army attacked him in a series of battles that weakened his forces. Meanwhile the Allied forces took control of Malta, dwindling his supply lines. Rommel was now running low on food, ammunition, and fuel at an acute rate.
On March 20, the Allies broke the Mareth line and linked on April 8th, 1943. By May 13, the last resistance ended with the surrender of 240,000 Axis soldiers, Rommel was already flown out, too ill to continue with the battle.
Life on front line was tough and hard. The remains of corpses and debris of war littered the sandy terrain. Burnt out tank wrecks, abandoned gun posts, spent ammunition, shell cases and crude crosses capped with helmets all lay testament to the battle. The summer heat bore down relentlessly and the temperature fluctuated forty degrees Celsius every night.
Swarms of Egyptian flies invaded every parts of a dead body in search of much needed moisture. It was practically impossible to eat food without swallowing a few.
When the flies disappeared at night, the strong desert winds subsided and the temperature fell to colder levels. Our diet usually consisted of bread, hard biscuits, tinned stew and sausages, cheese and margarines. Eventually with better organization came tomatoes, limes, lettuce, and limes. Food was commonly eaten at night so the maggot infestations were not seen.
Water was carefully rationed at a rate of one bottle a day and later to a gallon. This scarce commodity was to be used for washing, drinking and cooking. Occasionally, the ration of water was increased to allow us to a decent wash.
Luckily for us, our supply base of Malta provided us with the shortest possible route of supplies, while it subsequently made Rommel’s supply long and cumbersome.
We were lean, fresh and in very good condition. A common past time was watching the US Air Force delivering their bomb loads towards enemy lines. Sometimes fighter dog fights, though seldom provided an exciting spectacle for us on the front lines.
Nighttime brought the desirable cover of darkness. This is when we would work on forward entrenchments and mine laying. Our patrols would then go out to gather intelligence, salvage materials, bury the dead and conduct raids. Later, the enemy got weary of them and would regularly spray the ground with machine gun fire, and launch flares at the slightest movement.
When daybreak came, both sides would shell each other until targets became blurred and began to create mirage effects.
After winning the battle of Kasserine Pass, we were told that we would be deployed to invade Sicily, and later the entire Italian Peninsula. Once again, we boarded the good old Blue Ghost to get to Sicily without rest.

Our cleverly planned attacks confused the Germans and we were able to accomplish our goal easily. After thirty-eight days of bitter fighting we took over the entire island of Sicily. On very last day, I was severely injured on my leg by a shell’s splinters.
I was rushed to a nearby field hospital where I gradually recovered from my wounds. Unexpectedly on a hot day the whole world started to become dark to me. I shouted with all my might, but no one seemed to hear me…


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