The Art of War


There were artists in World War II, though the veterans I have interviewed wouldn’t consider themselves such.  But I have seen their works, either on a voluntary basis or by pawing through pristine museums they refer to as “boxes of old junk.”

They sketched, they carved, they took remarkable photos.  They drew cartoons.  They kept concise, thrilling journals and they sent home hundreds of beautiful letters.  They crafted gleaming objets d’art from spent artillery shells and wrecked airplanes.

Pocket-sized works created during the quiet moments of war.  Young men who couldn’t know they would never forget and they grabbed what they could of their strange and sudden new world.

Walter J. Ruegg wrote his first five poems as an automatic rifleman with the First U.S. Cavalry in the Philippine Islands.  He finished them in the hospital.  His wound was a bad one–he is one of few people who could identify his own intestines in a lineup–and the circumstances following it were less than ideal.  He said that putting these events into poetic form helped him to “cope with the unacceptability of war.”  He made it home to his wife and son and forgot about the poems.

The loss of his beloved wife Marie in 2002 devastated Mr. Ruegg.  Forget about his war experience, that was a sock hop compared to this new, otherworldly pain.  He returned to writing to combat the depression of losing his best friend, a woman he fell in love with after one glimpse from a street car in 1940.  The 250 poems he has since published in her honor are a tribute to that day and every day thereafter that he shared with her.  They also solve the riddle of how he once survived an unsurvivable injury: there was no way he was not going home to her.  Now his poetry keeps Marie nearby, for any reader to meet and admire.

Accept a volume of his poems with caution. Read enough of them and insecurity sets in, panic, in fact, just go ahead and know that no one will ever write poetry like this about you (me) and try to move on with your life.  Unless you are one in a million, a girl you’d save the world for, a girl like Marie Ruegg.

Click here to view Mr. Ruegg’s interview and poems.


2 Responses to “The Art of War”

  1. Mike Bauhof Says:

    Walter’s poem is a moving example of how soliders deal with war and what war does to them. What you hear so often (probably because it’s true) from vets is that they can’t explain what it was like to live through war. Sometimes there aren’t words for that. Maybe that last line (“You’ve seen your share of Hell”) is about as good as we can do.


  2. dustin Says:

    I love them and you great grandpa. As you wrote in one of your poems when its your time saint Peter will tell you to come into heaven. I will never forgett you or what you have done.

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