The Kansas City Star
In July of 1945, Staff Sergeant Jerry Salinger checked himself into an Army hospital in Nürnberg [Nuremberg] Germany for “battle fatigue”. Salinger, part of the Army’s Counter-intelligence Corps (CIC), had been attached to the 4th Infantry Division’s 12th Regiment. He landed with the 12th on Utah Beach in the second wave on D-Day June 6th 1944.
From what we know, Salinger spent the month of July 1945 recovering. In a letter dated July 27th 1945, he shared his hospital experience with Ernest Hemingway. Salinger had sought out and met Hemingway at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris shortly after the city’s “liberation” in late August 1944. Salinger recounted that meeting in a September 9th letter to his agent at the time, Whit Burnett.
It seems to me that from out of his brief stay in hospital, Salinger emerged a writer again. From his July 27th 1944 letter to Hemingway, I hear Holden Caulfield talking. Salinger references “A Farewell to Arms” – “…a notable absence of Catherine Barkley…”. He even mentions Holden Caulfield. In “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) Holden’s older brother D.B., a WWII veteran, encourages him to read “A Farewell to Arms”. D.B. liked it. Holden thought it was “phony”. Hard to tell what Jerry thought of it.
What happened in that Nürnberg hospital during Salinger’s notable absence?
In my own experience with this thing we call depression or PTSD, as it’s named today, I found that writing was a way to see what I thought. Actually, I should use the present tense.
…see what you think… some excellent guidance from a psychiatrist named Don. For me, the seeing turned into a journal, actually a number of them; something I continue to create. Sketchbooks where I allow myself to write.
I think of other people wrestling with the grey clouded fluff of mental darkness and guilt, recovering from rather inhumane human experiences, possessing a file with PTSD or something like it written therein, people without files wandering, people medicated, people self-medicating with off-the-shelf things, and those like me who scrawl and scribble, work, paint and sing, even write something coherent once in a while.
I think of Salinger and my Dad. Two veterans of the same war, who walked the same fields at the same time. Two survivors. One guy I read. The other guy was very hard to read. In reading the one guy closely, I’ve learned to read the other guy, my Dad. Both guys are gone but there’s many more women and men to replace them. The veterans of recent wars are crafting their “Catchers” I hope.
I get weary reading correspondent renderings of wartime narratives. Those authentic stories will hopefully emerge from those who lived them. My wish is that they imbue their stories with subliminal stories like “Catcher”… wherein they write themselves out of the story and yet embroider their writer’s DNA into the atmosphere and characters. That’s hard to do and one cannot expect a book deal from such an artistic endeavor.
It’s interesting to consider that Salinger created Holden before landing on Utah Beach. Interesting to me is how Holden emerged from those eleven months of combat. I wonder what happened in that hospital?
And I wonder what’s happening in hospitals today with our Holdens, Catherines, Jerrys, and Janes?