My uncle, Dr. Allen H. Benton, was a man of many talents. He grew up on the family farm in the midst of the Great Depression, took an extra year of high school for something to do, and reluctantly resigned himself to a life of farming. It was far from what he wanted, but in the 1930’s there was little choice. Until the impossible happened.
In 1940, Sears, Roebuck offered scholarships to Cornell University for poor farm boys to study agriculture. There were twenty scholarships available, my uncle was chosen to receive one, and off he went to Ithaca, New York–about forty miles away. Not long after, he switched his major from agricultural education to ornithology and wildlife management, and decided he had found his intellectual home.
But Uncle Sam had other plans: Allen was drafted just after his twenty-first birthday in 1942. He served with the 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team, saw action in Luzon, the Philippines and Japan, was honorably discharged with the rank of Technical Sergeant, and returned to college to complete his degree.
In the ensuing years he married, had a family, and worked as a professor of biology at both the Albany and Fredonia campuses of the State University of New York. He became a noted authority on birds, studied the habits of fleas and other critters, and wrote.
His books were mostly scholarly works, textbooks and the like. He wrote a birding column for a couple of local newspapers. Under the name of Albert Ezra Fitzwarren (and sometimes other names), he published small volumes of wit and whimsey, mostly tongue-in-cheek tales, eventually a couple of memoirs, and poetry.
It was this last genre that caught my attention one day. Uncle Allen had given me copies of his books: one was entitled Slivers of Jade. It was a book of sonnets and, while one most often associates sonnets with romance, Allen’s sonnets were about war.
We met upon a narrow jungle trace.
He aimed his gun at me, I aimed at him.
There in the silence of the jungle dim
One shot rang out…
These thirteen sonnets chronicled Allen’s military life from Fort Riley, Kansas to Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Ord, California, the South Pacific, and eventually back home to rural New York State. Slivers of Jade–as well as selections from book, The Wheel of Life: Haiku by Followers of Basho–are the inspiration for my upcoming novel, War Sonnets. Told from the perspectives of an American soldier and a Japanese soldier, each chapter begins with a poem (sonnets for the American, haiku for the Japanese).
Home! Going home! I’m going home today.
War’s brutal horrors past, I’ve lived to see
The happy faces of my family;
But I am not the boy you sent away…
A killer, yes; but I am still your son.
*copyright @1986, published by Marginal Media