Author: Townsend Walker
Location: San Francisco, California
Townsend Walker lives in San Francisco. His stories have been published by Crimson Highway
and Static Movement.
Two others are forthcoming in 971 Menu
this summer. On the nonfiction side, he’s had three books and seven journal articles published on derivatives, foreign exchange, and leasing. After a career in finance, he went to Rome for four months in 2005 and started to write short stories. That’s his new career.
Mort pour la France
I see you’re looking at the obelisk in the center of Place Verdun, here in Fountaine. I thought they would’ve done a better job, used marble perhaps. But there wasn’t much money after the war. People did what they could. Lucien, the carpenter, he was only an apprentice and it shows. He shaped up the form in wood, and then concrete was poured in.
See the plaque at the base of the obelisk, there, on the side facing the church? Forty names under the heading Mort pour la France (Died for France). I’m in the middle, Émile Duprés. Right there between my brothers Charles and David, and above Henri and Leon, my cousins. No one remembers the Duprés family now. The war to end wars ended our family. Since then, no one has stopped long enough to hear the story. Stay a while.
Forty men on this plaque; that’s a lot for a small village. When the war broke out in ‘14 there were seventy men here. Forty-five went out; five came back. The ones that came back weren’t the ones people wanted to come back. War doesn’t choose that way.
It’s not on the plaque, but I was the only one from the village who was an officer. The lieutenant in charge of our platoon was killed; I could read and write, so I was made lieutenant. Someone had to read the orders, and write back that we would follow them.
The war was conducted according to its rules. Generals 50 miles from the front line wrote orders. They sent them to colonels and captains 20 miles away. They sent them to lieutenants. The orders were always the same, “Charge the enemy.” We weren’t people there on the front line; we were ammunition thrown out on the battlefield. And the battlefield took what it wanted—arms, legs, whole bodies. We had a war everyone said was glorious.
My parents were proud to have an officer in the family. For the first time my father was able to look the mayor and priest in the eye. Cristine was proud, too. She was able to tell everyone that her son’s father was an officer. It didn’t help little Nicolas get any money after the war, though. She wasn’t able to prove I was his father. We’d been in a hurry.
Being an officer didn’t mean much. It only hurried the end. When I led the charge on the Boch trenches the day after Christmas, there was an explosion, then fire, and I was inside the fire.