AUGUST 19, 1943
HYDE PARK, Wednesday—I have just been reading a book called: "Khaki Is More Than A Color," by Sergeant M. H. E. Marsden. He tells the story of the boy, any boy, in our democratic American Army, how he feels when he goes in, how he adjusts to the new way of life, how he learns to drill and to use a rifle. It is an excellent commentary on the fact that we did not bring up a generation of young men to conquer the world.
It is the story about the ups and downs of our men in training. There is none of the excitement that comes in a book when a man is telling his actual fighting experiences. Here is a boy who loves music, who makes the remark when he goes home on leave: "At dinner it seemed strange to see the candles, the silver and the white cloth. I can't seem to get used to things like that."
How quickly our boys adjust to what has to be done, getting down to the real necessities of life, learning how to make their own beds and wash their own clothes, rejoicing when they get a decent mess, but somehow worrying through with whatever they have to eat and wherever they have to eat it. They wash their own canteen kits when they use them, pass in line to leave their plates when they are in barracks, sometimes being told like children what to eat by top sergeants, who do not do it quite as gently as it was done at home when they were young.
Once grown accustomed to living with an army of men around them, they say to themselves when they go home, as Sergeant Marsden does, "I suppose that in time I will get used to living with so few people in my life." They love these few people and rejoice in their leaves and the opportunity to be with them, and yet have learned the lesson of companionship, which comes to the man in the ranks when he lives so intimately with the men around him.
These men grow very close and yet, when they have to separate, that is accepted as part of the fortunes of war. Perhaps the deepest lesson of all is that a man stands by himself on his own feet and carries his own burdens.
Christmas in camp and the knowledge that now they are trained, and the closing words of the book probably epitomize the way a lot of boys feel when they know they are off. No exact time is set, but it is soon and they have a sense of plunging into the dark. "I wound my watch and laid it on the desk, I can hear it there now ticking away the time." The time before what? Before the great adventure from which some boys will return and some will not.
A mother whose boy will not return wrote me the other day and said something which I think all of us should remember: "I have always felt that it does not matter how long you live, but how fully you live." When you read the book you'll know that Sergeant Marsden means that too, and many others feel it as well.