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November 12, 2008
Washington, DC

In honor of Veteran's Day, it seems fitting to pay tribute to Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, born out of Hemingway's own experiences in World War I. From the Reader's Guide, here's an excerpt about Hemingway's war service from the essay, "Hemingway and World War I."

Ernest Hemingway was determined to be part of the action, but an eye defect kept him out of the main branches of the military. Hemingway was undaunted. In April of 1918, he applied to the Red Cross to drive ambulances in Italy and was accepted. He passed his physical exam and was fitted for a uniform that gave him the honorary rank of 1st Lieutenant.

Hemingway arrived in Milan in early June and was stationed at Schio in the Dolomite hills northwest of Venice. He saw little action. Frustrated, and with a desire to be closer to the front, Hemingway requested transfer to the Red Cross's "rolling canteen" service, which operated along the more contested Piave River.

He had only been in Italy for about two weeks when he was nearly killed just after midnight on July 12, 1918, while distributing chocolate and cigarettes. The fragments of an Austrian trench mortar shell (called a Minenwerfer) ripped into Hemingway's legs and killed several men around him. Despite his own wounds, he heaved one injured man into a fireman's carry and began to move him back toward the command post. A machine gun then ripped open Hemingway's right knee. The two men collapsed but somehow made it to safety. For this feat, Hemingway would later be awarded the Italian Croce di Guerra -- the silver medal for valor.

Learn more about Aurora Public Library's (Illinois) Big Read of A Farewell to Arms at www.neabigread.org.

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