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Working as a brig guard in the Navy


I failed as a conscientious objector so became a brig guard
WD Snodgrass Poet
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I mean it… it seemed to me simply at that point that I simply must become a conscientious objector. I couldn't go and do something of that sort, but I simply didn't have the nerve to face my society and say:  ‘No, I won't’. I know that for instance that Bill Stafford, whom I… I had lived near to there, in Iowa City, had… had done four years as a conscientious objector and as a matter of fact he… he was taken out with a bunch of other conscientious objectors some place in the South and they had the rope around his neck already when… when the sheriff arrived. I didn't have that kind of nerve, and so I went.

I think as a matter of fact that many of the people felt much as I did, that they would go and try to do something of… of that sort, but as a matter of fact, it later came out that during World War II, three-fourths of the men in combat were unable to pull a ri… a trigger. The guns all jammed, they thought. Now they… they put people through a kind of psychological training so that they become more able to… to kill other people.

Anyway, I… I simply didn't have that; I went ahead and... and I became a… they… they sent us to Saipan where I became a brig guard and I ended up doing some things that… that really are fairly disgraceful. They brought… one night the SPs — shore patrol — brought aboard the ship two guys who had… whom had… who were drunk on the beach, and we threw them in the brig. Later that night they claimed they had been raped by some of the guys in the… other guys in the brig. Whether this was so or not, of course we will never know. Things of that sort happened, not infrequently.

American poet WD Snodgrass, entered the world of poetry with a bang winning several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, for his first collection of poetry, Heart's Needle. A backlash followed his controversial fifth anthology “The Fuehrer Bunker”, but in recent years these poems have been reassessed and their importance recognised.

Listeners: William B. Patrick

William B. Patrick is a writer and poet who lives in Troy, New York. Among his work are the poetry volumes "We Didn't Come Here for This" and "These Upraised Hands", the novel "Roxa: Voices of the Culver Family" and the plays "Rescue" and "Rachel's Dinner". His most recent work is the non-fiction book "Saving Troy", based on the year he spent following the Troy Fire Department.

Mr. Patrick has been Writer-in-Residence at the New York State Writers Institute and has taught at Old Dominion University, Onondaga Community College, and Salem State College, and workshops in Screenwriting and Playwriting at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Roanoke, Virginia. He has received grants from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Tags: Iowa City, World War II, Saipan, United States Navy, William Stafford

Duration: 2 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008