Robert Echelbarger

Robert Echelbarger of Mason City, Iowa was a private first class who worked his way up to a sergeant during the Korean War. Beginning in 1946 he served a two-year hitch in the military, then joined the inactive reserves. He was recalled to active duty when the Korean War broke out, and served with F-2-5 Marines in Korea from during 1951. Echelbarger’s poem “I am” is followed by, “Those Damn Hills,” an entry from his journal.

 

"I am"

I am a man with a mind that cannot rest.
I wonder what causes these flashes of thought.
I hear they are ghosts of unsolved problems returning to haunt me.
I see the spirits of yesterday coming forth.
I want them exorcised so I can be at peace.
I am a man with a mind that cannot rest.

I pretend the thoughts have no meaning and cannot harm me.
I feel the presence of those I have wronged.
I touch upon their lives in my mind now and again.
I worry that I may be called upon for an accounting.
I cry because of the agony churning within my mind.
I am a man with a mind that cannot rest.

 


Questions for Reflection: “I am”
  1. How does war generate past feelings? How does it point to a warrior’s vulnerability?
  2. In his thinking, why is it important for Echelbarger to put aside the past?
  3. Echelbarger in “I am,” wonders why his mind can not rest. Why is this so? 
  4. What, if anything, will bring calm and peace to a warrior?

 

Those Damn Hills

Those damn Korean hills finally defeated him, this magnificent looking man. I noticed him slumped by the trail as I struggled by on my blistered feet. His head was bowed in defeat, as tears ran down his dirt streaked cheeks. The cry “Fall out and take ten” rippled down the line. I dropped to the ground at his side and breathed a sigh of relief. I loosened my cartridge belt and thought, “I wish I had something to eat.” I loosened the straps on my pack and stretched out on my aching back.

As I looked him over, I noticed the broad shoulders. His muscles bulged through torn and dirty clothes.  I asked him, “What’s wrong buddy, did you run out of gas?” His reply was labored, “I just can’t climb these hills anymore, I just can’t climb.”

Our platoon sergeant, who was walking the line, stopped by this poor specimen as he reclined.  In a voice edged with a rasp he growled, “On your feet and off your ass. Where in the hell are your ammo cans at?” The Adonis looked up at this wisp of a man and a look of anguish registered on his pan. His voice seemed to come from a long distance away as he replied, “I left them at the bottom of the hill. They are just too much to carry, they are just too much.”

The sergeant’s eyes seemed to penetrate his very soul.  They had the look, of one who could kill. In a voice that was deadly and low, he growled, “Get your ass back down the hill and get those cans.”  The look in his eyes and the deadly growl gave the poor guy a surge of power.  He lurched to his feet and stumbled back down the trail. The sergeant followed him step by step, chewing ass all the way.

I looked at that body all muscled and brown.  I wondered, “How long can I last pounding my feet on the ground?

How long can I keep climbing these everlasting hills?  After all he was much stronger than I, or so it seemed. More than one Marine has been beaten to his knees, by the multitude of hills and trees.  How long can I last, how long?

 


Questions for Reflection: “Those Damn Hills”

  1. Describe what is meant by “physical endurance” in your own words? Has there ever been a time when you felt that you could not physically continue with a task? What were your thoughts at the time? What was your body saying to you? Was your mind saying one thing and your body another? 
  2. How would you access the reaction of the sergeant in this journal entry?
  3. In your thinking, what was the immediate thinking of the tired soldier after he was reprimanded by the sergeant? Why might he have thought what he did?
  4. Why did he lurch to his feet?
  5. What keeps warriors moving forward when facing obstacles as those described in this journal entry?