Voices from the Past
You can leave behind home and mother,
Your sweetheart, the one you love best,
You can leave your place to another
But you can never leave loneliness.
It isn’t so bad in the daytime,
But when night comes with shadows deep,
We lie in our cots and tremble
Never a chance to sleep.
We only think of the past-
Never a thought of rest-
Down deep in our hearts we harbor
That feeling of loneliness. (1)
These thoughts and feelings of a Western New Yorker mirror those of countless others who sacrificed their lives, their futures and their innocence in the Great War. We honor today not just the following seven soldiers, but the many others who are long gone but not forgotten. PFC Donald McCreary, PFC Louis Edward Kriedemann, SGT Arthur J. Clay, PFC Alton Schurr, and PFC Lawrence Ferdinand Ernst were East Aurorans who died in battle while in service to their country. (2)
We also honor two Buffalo residents who received our nation’s highest military medal. SGT Benjamin Kaufman was Medal of Honor winner because, while wounded, he personally attacked and destroyed an enemy machine-gun post. (3) COL William J. Donovan was also a Medal of Honor winner. He was highly respected by his men. Of him, one of his men said:
“We used to discuss him between ourselves and not one man disagreed in the opinion that he would make a record. I have seen him advancing with men in places where he had no right to be and there were times when we believed it would be his last fight. I have seen him throw his arms around a youngster who was receiving his first ‘dose of medicine’ from the Hun and say ‘Buck up old timer; you are not going to let those Dutch guys lick you, are you?’ Maybe it was the way he said it, but, believe me, a word like that from him, and you would go through hell.” (4)
A total of fourteen soldiers from Western New York were part of this study. Each student in the class was assigned two of the fourteen soldiers to research. At the end of the effort it was determined that we had enough information to allow each student to make one of their soldiers “come alive”. Throughout this document the soldiers will make reference to one another. Although seven soldiers “describe” their individual journeys in this document, they are representative of the fourteen soldiers from Western New York who gave so much to us.
What makes this document historical fiction is that it uses fact as the basis for the thoughts and feelings rendered by the subject soldiers. We believe that the experiences of the soldiers in all wars are based very much on non-factual, intangible traits. Among these are camaraderie, anger, hate, love, cynicism, skepticism, patriotism and fatalism. To discuss the lives of our soldiers without fleshing them out emotionally would be to treat their lives antiseptically and drearily. It is their thoughts and emotions which make them real to us. Given this starting point, it is only right to paint a picture of a thinking human in our study. We have created monologues from those soldiers, not in direct quotation, but in words which we believe they would have used, or had been used by their peers.
This piece of historical fiction is meant as a memorial to those fourteen citizens of Western New York. They represent five of the forty-three American divisions and over 2 million men who served overseas in World War I. The record of those five divisions speaks for itself. The divisions totaled almost 125,000 men and lost 12,037 soldiers killed in action, 44,947 doughboys wounded in action, and 1,152 servicemen captured by the enemy.(5) Fifteen out of 219 East Aurorans never returned home, eleven of whom were killed in battle. This mortality rate of over 6% is more than double the US average during the war.(6)
Listen now to the voices from the past, as they share their experiences encompassing their fears, loneliness, and comradeship.