Charming, puckish, defiant, Jay Wenk seems so young at heart in his ardent crusades as a gray bearded veteran against war or as a minority member of the Woodstock Town Board that it’s surprising to read his memoir of when he really was young, a good Jewish Boy Scout from Brooklyn who hoped that the war against the Nazis would last long enough that he could join in, which he did, riding the subway into Manhattan on his eighteenth birthday to the Army induction center from which he was bussed out to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Within months, he was on the German front for the end of the war and the occupation afterwards. In his introduction to Study War No More: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Fights the Nazis, Jay describes himself as “a very naïve and insecure eighteen year old,” but I appreciate the way he lets that young man describe his experiences as he felt them at the time, a crazy mixture of humor and horror, noble purpose and violent chaos. Not until he was older would Jay become the crusader we meet today. In fact, he didn’t recognize that he suffered from post traumatic stress until he watched 9/11 on television. He’d thought that his military service was long behind him. “The first Tower collapsed onto itself, then the second,” he writes, “and I was emotionally transported back to wartime Germany as a combatant.”
I find it telling that Jay’s favorite anti-war poem doesn’t rely on gore. It’s calmly devastating.
By Carl Sandburg
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.