RARA-AVIS: Willeford War

From: Mbdlevin@aol.com
Date: 28 Jan 2001

Bill Denton writes:

<< If/when the first complete Willeford biography is done, this would have to
 be detailed and then we'd all stop wondering. Many veterans never talked
 about the war, which is understandable, but it's also understandable that
 younger people are curious. >>

I could only do so much when I was doing my little bit of Willeford research for the Dictionary of Literary Biography. A few things to note. In the early 1970s, there was a devastating fire at a military archive in St. Louis that destroyed a good deal of WWII personnel records. Willeford's likely went up in flames, though some material is, I believe, duplicated and at the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts in Ft. Lauderdale. Military operations, including individual participants, can be tracked through unit records, which survive. These records are in Maryland somewhere, I think. In the Foreward to "Cockfighter Journal," James Lee Burke writes "[H]e never wrote about taking his tank into an encircled village and carrying twenty-three GIs back to the Allied Lines without losing one of them." Somewhere, I thought I read--in Herron's book maybe--that he went back twice. What Willeford did write about the war is entirely uncelebratory: humorous, grisly vignettes, which he calls "schematics," that appear interspersed between poems in
"Proletarian Laughter." Following his hemorrhoidectomy (as described in "A Guide for the Undehemorrhoided"), Willeford writes "I...proceeded to put in the longest night of my life, a night at least twice as long as the night I spent in a tank turret in Bergdorf, Lusembourg, during the Battle of the Bulge." He also writes in this book: "My experience as a combat soldier had taught me that sustained, well-controlled anger in periods of great stress is a survival factor that works when other methods have failed." A friend of Willeford told me about a story of Willeford leading men into an artillery barrage--I gathered that it was on foot. As I understand, you have to move forward to get under the artillery--retreat takes you back into the shells. Apparently some men did not sustain the advance, and it was all very ugly. Doug

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