Here, Anthony Hecht writes home from his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. He tells of the humdrum nature of army life and his anxieties for the future. His wartime experience would serve as a prominent influence in his writing as well as his personal life, as he would later suffer from recurring PTSD.
1944 Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
I made several desperate attempts to get in touch with you, both by phone and telegraph, but things are so arranged at this post, that is almost impossible to get to the right place at the right time.
To allay all your worries right away—I am well and among friends. In the past week I have done what it took 3 weeks to accomplish at McClellan. I learned how to operate, aim and fire the MI rifle, and I fired it for record on the range. It was all very well for me, since I’d had it all before, in profusion, so it was merely redundant. But there are others here who never even saw a rifle before, and it rather rushed them. Our “basic training” here is supposed to last six weeks, but we came here when a group was just half way through their cycle. The plan is to finish us both up together, which means that we will be doing in 3 weeks what they do in six. All this haste is due to the fact that the division is going on maneuvers on the 23rd of April. Two weeks out in the field—and two weeks back here—then two weeks in the field again. This is liable to keep up for 2 or three months.
My morale is better than it was during my first few days here—but, on the other hand, I don’t think it will ever be quite what it was at McClellan because I haven’t got the A.S.T.P. to look forward to. There is nothing especially pleasant in the offing and the future (“zukunft” to you) bodes no particular good.
I do not choose to write about the present simply because it’s routine boredom. I do not care to speculate on the future because it looks too ominous. This leaves only the past to think about and I’ve thought about it so much, I’m already beginning to feel like Marcel Proust. […]
I have been reading King Lear a fine play by William Shakespeare—I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He used to write sonnets for high-school anthologies.
I fear that I shall once again fall into that mental slump, which is so necessary to being a good soldier. After one week here, my thoughts have already become less coherent. This is liable to be the most depressing feature of army life again for me. Even on your own free time you cannot manage to think the thoughts you want to, and escape from the army for a while. Everywhere you look you see barracks, jeeps, rifles, soldiers, insignias and everything that pertains to the army. You can’t get away from it. It’s like a horrible obsession.
I sent Al a copy of one of Roger’s poems, a sonnet. I’m sure he’ll like it and I’m anxious to hear what he thinks of it. I’ll let you know what he says.
I trust you received my books all in good condition. I’m afraid I shall not be reading them for quite a while.
Seen any rosy fingered dawns lately?
From The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht. Hecht, Anthony, and Jonathan F. S. Post. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.