I skipped ahead and scanned the Korea letters to get that chore over that’s been nagging at me. Had me thinking about Homer’s Odyssey that I’ve taught so many times and how it narrates the great story of Odysseus out of chronological order, beginning almost at the end of his story, then circling around to near the beginning, with a few flashes to the present here and there, and then arriving again where it started to provide a fitting finish to his tale of war and wandering and homecoming. When I’m done with all the scanning and then the transcribing and I have time to put in writing all the essays I’ve been composing in my head, I suppose I’ll start at the end, as well, or the near end, with these letters.
There are only 30, although I’m sure a few could turn up misfiled with the WWII letters, but I can’t imagine that one or two more would change the overall gist of them which is to get the task of war over and go home. The tone is not at all like that in the letters from the earlier war. Here it is all single-mindedly focused on getting home, with each letter marking the tally of missions, counting up to the fulfillment of the 100. There will be plenty to say about these letters–I do love doing analysis of text–but one thing I think I hear is an echo of the great Achilles setting Odysseus straight about the value of being a dead hero:
Let me hear no smooth talk
of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils.
Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
for some poor country man, on iron rations,
than lord it over all the exhausted dead.
Or to borrow from another great epic, “There’s no place like home.”