Eric's Reviews > The Boys' Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-45

The Boys' Crusade by Paul Fussell
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Feb 23, 12

bookshelves: war
Read in February, 2012

Richard Yates was one of the terrified teenage draftees in what Fussell (after Vonnegut) calls “the boys’ crusade”—the high school class of 1944 starting the fall in the shitty mud and bloody snow of Northern Europe, the hastily trained replacements of the summer’s losses. Biographer Blake Bailey records that Yates emerged from the months of German shelling and gunfights in quaint villages with what would be a lifelong motto for endurance of adversity: keep a tight asshole. When things are rough, he'd say in a smoky growl, "keep a tight asshole." Fussell made me understand that this is not just a metaphorical call for composure under fire—it’s a good physiological tip. If you were a GI sweating and sleeping in cold-congealed mud, you were probably sick, and you probably had diarrhea; it was therefore imperative that you maintain a good clench in the extra time needed to dismantle your voluminous winter gear. I’ll never forget the soldier who, racing for the latrine, “slipped and fell in the mud and crapped in his clothes. He lay there and cried in frustration.”
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