When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home

by Marian Small
Friesen Press

"The return to civilian life was even harder for the wounded soldier to achieve, and it was especially difficult for John. He had entered the war a whole man, filled with the love of adventure and his country. He had returned, broken in body and in spirit. He loved Mary with all his heart and was happy to be reunited with her, but he was not the same man she had fallen in love with when he was twenty-one."

John Small is an ordinary American boy growing up in Ohio, compelled by a "spirit of adventure" within him. That sense of adventure leads him at twenty years of age to a life-long career in the armed services. First enlisting in the Ohio National Guard, he joins in the search of the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa, in 1917. But his biggest adventure, and not necessarily one he intended, comes under the looming threat of Germany, bringing John to the frontline of France and into the full scale horrors of World War I.

As part of the American Doughboys, John records his day-to-day life in France in a diary book given to him by his beloved, Mary. Through entries and letters, he details his first hand accounts of warfare: violence and bloodshed, gas attacks, starvation, the trenches of the Western Front, and the pains of being wounded. The deeper John is immersed into military action, the more evident is the strength of his love for Mary and desire to return home. Yet, as a wounded and damaged soldier, John's struggle is long from ended.

Remarkably, at the near age of 90, Small gifts us with her father's story, a deeply personal, honest, and stark reminder of the long term effects of war. Pieced together by his letters and diary entries and coupled with sepia-toned photographs, we enter John's world as seen through the eyes of a young man's life changing experience in combat. While Small provides biographical and historical background, the narrative truly belongs to John. His words and thoughts remind us of the necessities in life we may take for granted "the forgotten luxuries" of food, water, and shelter—and how a soldier's dedication for our freedom is one we should never forget.

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