Myrer, “Once an Eagle”

“…he missed her, he missed them all – but the savageries and affections of the past week had turned them all to shadows.  That part of his life was over; and now, lying on the dense mat of grass, he knew in one sense it always had been.  But it was fun remembering…”

Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer, pp. 186

                “’Oh.  I’m not overly fond of wearing ribbons.’

‘Really?  Why is that?’

He stared at her a moment.  ‘Because I think it’s out of place.  There aren’t enough medals struck since the beginning of time to reward the bravery and suffering of the past four years.  Many men have done courageous things that have never been rewarded, and bushel baskets full of medals have been handed out to staff officers for no reason or than favoritism or propinquity.’

‘That is an interesting theory, I have never heard it advanced before.  But surely courage under fire –‘

‘How can you assess courage precisely?  Every man has something he’s mortally afraid of, and there is no man living who won’t finally break under pressure if it’s cruel enough and incessant enough…So how can anybody but God decide who is worthy of a medal and who isn’t?’  He stopped and lowered his gaze, aware that his voice had risen.

Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer, pp. 358-59

                “Damon laughed with the others; but he was ill at ease.  It was pleasant enough sitting here in the ladder-back rocker sipping beer, but he couldn’t escape the sense that they all felt he was evading the issues of life, which were palpably farming and putting in gas ranges and refrigerators; that he had chosen to slip away into a remote and unnecessary world…

Sitting on the old porch, rocking idly, he watched the great apple tree where the children were playing.  That was his daughter swinging up and away, shrieking, her dress in a feathery billow above her flat little knees:  his daughter…Tommy was telling about Donny’s birth at Hardee and Tweaker Terwilliger, and he watched the others’ eyes on her.  They didn’t know how to take her – she was too volatile, too high-strung and sophisticated for them.  A woman who had been brought up in the Army, of all places…He thought with a little shock:  And they don’t know how to take me either.  It was true.  He had run off to Mexico and France and won all those tin medals, there was the picture of Black Jack Pershing decorating him for valor cut from the Omaha Herald and framed, hanging above the chiffonier in the parlor; and here he was, silent and preoccupied, in slacks and a faded old shirt, an emissary from this unfathomable world of violence and punctilio.  Time changed people; time and experience estranged them irrevocably.  The realization was like a chill wind.  He wasn’t needed anymore…”

Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer, pp. 518-19

                “…let them roar their relief, their jubilation.  It was over.  Again.  Over.  But – and the slow, deep anger stirred him again – these Americans there below him would never know:  that was the one thing that was insupportable in this long, exultant moment.  None of them would really know.  The papers had ranted and roared for four years, there had been the newsreels – now and then some spare, honest efforts among the combat cameramen and correspondents; and now and then one of the returned veterans seated here behind him might, huddled by the fire or in a darkened bar, seek to tell his wife or girl or parents something of it.  But it would be only the feeblest approximation of the truth, deflected by desire, forgetfulness, sorrow, by a thousand stealthy, affectionate censors.  And maybe – who could say? – it was better that way…”

Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer, pp. 1163

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