11-30: A Mother’s “Gift”

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from History.com.]

Death in war does not always come from a bullet, as shown in this story from WWI.

American Nurse Maude Fisher Writes to Mother of War Casualty

On November 29, 1918, Maude Fisher, a nurse in the American Red Cross during World War I, writes a heartfelt letter to the mother of a young soldier named Richard Hogan to inform her of her son’s death in an army hospital.

“My dear Mrs. Hogan,” Fisher began, “If I could talk to you I could tell you so much better about your son’s last sickness, and all the little things that mean so much to a mother far away from her boy.” Richard Hogan, who survived his front-line service in the war unscathed, had been brought to the hospital with influenza on November 13, 1918–just two days after the armistice was declared.

Thus, the “war to end all wars” had come to an end. That did not end the suffering, however.

The influenza soon developed into pneumonia. Hogan was “brave and cheerful,” Fisher assured Mrs. Hogan, “and made a good fight with the disease…. He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.”

Before two weeks had passed, however, Hogan was dead.

Would his death have borne different meaning if it had come from German shrapnel? Would that have mattered to a grieving parent? I don’t think so.

Knowing the woman would only receive an official governmental notification of her son’s death, Fisher gave a more personal account of his last days, including his joking with the hospital orderly and the other nurses’ affection for him. According to Fisher, Hogan was buried in the cemetery at Commercy, in northeastern France, alongside other fallen American soldiers of the Great War.

Yes, “alongside other fallen American soldiers of the Great War”!

“A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy,” Fisher wrote. “He prayed that the people at home might have great strength now for the battle that is before them, and we do ask that for you now. The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it,

until it forgets your “boy” and all the other boys laid to rest in the cemetery at Commercy

and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy,

This is where I have trouble. It’s the “gift” part. Would wars exist if parents worldwide freely bequeathed their offspring to some cause or another, as they once did in ancient Sparta? And what about our “boys” and “girls” today who comprise the all-volunteer military, and what about their parents? Is the death of an American soldier today a gift? To whom? For what?

but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.”

But I am not assured that war death is not in vain. Since Vietnam and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, soldiers have been referred to as “assets.” Kind of softens the blow if an asset is lost rather than a person. Chicken hawks use flippant terms like “acceptable risk” and “collateral damage.” No, I am not assured that the world is a better place because it is smeared with American blood.

What I do know is that our era of endless war begets wounded generation after wounded generation.


The illustration at the blog’s top corner is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.



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