As I said in the previous post, I am reading Peter Van Buren‘s most recent novel, Hooper’s War: A Novel of World War II Japan, It is structured as a story told from end to beginning, both ending and beginning as narrated from a retirement home in Hawaii by a ninety-year-old Nathaniel Hooper, looking back on an eventful several days of his life, seventy years (and an alternative universe) behind him.
With Former Lieutenant Hooper on my mind, it was no surprise, then, that I was especially open yesterday to a real combat veteran, some twenty years younger than the fictional officer. It was only our second meeting, but he was anxious to tell me a tale much shorter than Hooper’s, yet perhaps, for him, just as profound.
In another Asian war some twenty years later, this combat vet had come up the rear of a very famous battle, just as his fellow soldiers had broken through the lines. He readily admitted that he had thus been spared the horror of witnessing death occur right before him, next to him, behind him. But at nineteen (the same age as young Lieutenant Hooper, miles and years away—and yet not), he did have not to only witness, but also to cross over and, even, at times to step upon the remains of what Death had left behind. He stressed the words remains.
In Mr. Van Buren’s book, Mr. Hooper had a story to tell, to any who might be willing to listen. My patient also found himself having a story to tell, although found himself is indeed the right expression. For he narrated to me that, almost as an out-of-body experience, he had recently spoken to a group of peers about his memories of that day. Even as he told me of his conversation, he could not fully grasp, intellectually or, if you will, physically, that he had actually spoken the words that he had spoken.
He had wondered whether he had said too much. His companions told him that he had not. He was willing to accept their assessment.
I suspect that my patient’s tale was far less skeptical of War than was the tale of Van Buren’s Hooper. Yet I could not help but recognize that both still spoke the same story: once War has been, it is and will be. Whether fifty or seventy years later, it will still demand to be spoken, from out of a body and a soul that still can find itself filled with War’s remains, demanding those remains be emptied into a world, whether that world wishes to receive them or not.
Whether speaking in anger, in sadness, in distress—even, sometimes, in awe—War will have its say, in different voices, with different inflections, with stories coherent or not, with sentences complete or not.
The soul must tell its tale. And so I listen. And read.