The following letter from Italy was written in June 1944 by Lt. Forrest T. Foss of Massachussetts. Sent to the Christian Science Monitor, the letter was never published and was later forwarded to his wife, who now lives in Bethesda. Foss was killed in action a month and four days after writing the letter.
Somewhere in Italy
2 June '44 Editor, Magazine Section Christian Science Monitor Boston, Mass.
I'm afraid. Tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, I'm going up to the front; and I'm afraid. It's like a heavy lump inside my chest, pressing down on me even when I'm busy at some chore and not thinking about it.
I try to think back along the chain of events that have brought me here. It's over three years that I've been in the army, training myself to fight, and yet the reality of it has never touched me until now. What did I think about? About escaping, I guess, for a weekend or a furlough or just a night's distraction. Always enduring the present discomforts until I should be able to get away for a little while.
For the few weeks I was married, the army even became just an annoying job that sometimes didn't let me get home to my wife and the new, amazing joys of being married.
Of course I thought of the war and warfare. No one could have grown up in the Twenties and Thirties reading Remarque, Dos Passos, and Sherriff (R.C. Sherriff, British author of the play "Journey's End" and other works) without knowing the ugliness and prolonged horror of war. But I knew only rationally, as a fact in history. Now I am really beginning to know it, to know the shaking fear.
This is a just war. We do have the right on our side, and evil is with the enemy. I believe all this. I believe it devoutly. This war must be fought and won if life is to be worth living. If one must die before his three score and ten, this is a cause worth fighting and dying for. But still I hang back. No matter what the cause, I want to stay alive.
How did it happen that I came to be a leader of a rifle platoon? In the past I should never have dreamed myself leading men through an artillery barrage to meet and wipe out murderous machine-gun nests. I was a clerk, not athletic, interested in bookish things, and talk. They put me in the infantry in the beginning, and there I've remained. Never really have I tried to get away from it, try to sell my talents for something else.
The other branches all work hard and dangerously, but they don't walk alone into the face of the enemy, waiting for you with terrible destruction. I would have been glad had they taken me out to do some other specialized job. There's nothing disgraceful in being picked for a job that happens to be less dangerous, but then I never was able to exert influence to be so chosen.
I did seek to be an officer in the infantry, not that I wanted it very much; but it was expected of me. Truthfully, I believe I wanted it too, evidence of accomplishment even though the army wasn't pleasant for me. And now I'm simply called on to do an infantry job. I have no just complaint, except to having been born at a time when the world's troubles are being settled with blood.
Being dead is peace and rest; all things cease, and there is no more pain. But I don't want to die. I have a wonderful wife to come back to. She's gay and bright and understanding. I've just begun to live the full life.
They talk about how it comes. A shell fragment cuts off a man's head or topples him in two at the waist. I thing about the agony of being wounded and recall hearing of the shrieks of men whom the aid men cannot reach.
Once, in an air raid, the bombs fell close, and I felt sheer, gripping terror, awful, overwhelming helplessness. I can't let myself go and give myself over to fear. There will be men depending on me, relying with their lives on my knowledge and courage. I shall have to go forward with sureness.
They also tell of men reduced to hysterics and endless trembling. These men can't help themselves. Some of them go all the way over into insanity. Who is proof against that sort of thing?
Yet I know I must do the job. I want to do what I must. Most men go ahead though frightened, continue to go ahead as they've been trained and eventually become callous to the horrors and impervious to the fear.
So it will be with me, I know; but right now I'm afraid, terribly, terribly afraid.
Lt. F. T. Foss O-1305409
349th Inf. A.P.O. 88
c/o P.M., N.Y., N.Y.