Philip Roth: "Defender of the Faith" (from http://angol.btk.ppke.hu/tanegysegek/defender_of_faith.doc) page 1 of 27
Defender of the Faith by Philip Roth
IN MAY OF 1945, ONLY A FEW WEEKS AFTER the fighting had ended in Europe, I was rotated back to the States, where I spent the remainder of the war with a training company at Camp Crowder, Missouri. Along with the rest of the Ninth Army, I had been racing across Germany so swiftly during the late winter and spring that when I boarded the plane, I couldn't believe its destination lay to the west. My mind might inform me otherwise, but there was an inertia of the spirit that told me we were flying to a new front, where we would disembark and continue our push eastward-eastward until we'd circled the globe, marching through villages along whose twisting, cobbled streets crowds of the enemy would watch us take possession of what, up till then, they'd considered their own. I had changed enough in two years not to mind the trembling of old people, the crying of the very young, the uncertainty and fear in the eyes of the once arrogant. I had been fortunate enough to develop an infantryman's heart, which, like his feet, at first aches and swells but finally grows horny enough for him to travel the weirdest paths without feeling a thing.
Captain Paul Barrett was my C. O. in Camp Crowder. The day I reported for duty, he came out of his office to shake my hand. He was short, gruff, and fiery, and-indoors or out-he wore his polished helmet liner pulled down to his little eyes. In Europe, he had received a battlefield commission and a serious chest wound, and he'd been returned to the States only a few months before. He spoke easily to me, and at the evening formation he introduced me to the troops.
"Gentlemen," he said. "Sergeant Thurston, as you know, is no longer with this company. Your new first sergeant is Sergeant Nathan Marx, here. He is a veteran of the European theater, and consequently will expect to find a company of soldiers here, and not a company of boys." I sat up late in the orderly room that evening, trying halfheartedly to solve the riddle of duty rosters, personnel forms, and morning reports. The Charge of Quarters slept with his mouth open on a mattress on the floor. A trainee stood reading the next day's duty roster, which was posted on the bulletin board just inside the screen door. It was a warm evening, and I could hear radios playing dance music over in the barracks.
The trainee, who had been staring at me whenever he thought I wouldn't notice, finally took a step in my direction.
"Hey, Sarge-we having a G.I. party tomorrow night?'' he asked. A G.I. party is a barracks cleaning.
"You usually have them on Friday nights?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said, and then he added, mysteriously, "that's the whole thing."
"Then you'll have a G.I. party."
He turned away, and I heard him mumbling. His shoulders were moving and I wondered if he was crying.
"What's your name, soldier?" I asked.