Ernest Hemingway Joins The Red Cross
Hemingway first went to Paris upon reaching Europe, then traveled to Milan in early June after receiving his orders.
The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue; it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit in the town of Schio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which had landed just a few feet away. At the time, Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious, killed an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another.
Early in 1918, Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort and signed on as an ambulance driver. In the spring he returned for a quick trip home, and up to Michigan to fish, before leaving for New York. He left New York in May, and arrived in Paris as the city was under bombardment from German artillery. By June he was stationed at the Italian Front. The day he arrived in Milan he was dispatched to the scene of a munitions factory explosion where rescuers retrieved the shredded remains of the female workers. A few days later he was stationed at Fossalta di Piave. On July 8 he was seriously wounded by mortar fire, having just returned from the canteen to deliver chocolate and cigarettes to the men at the front line. Despite his wounds, Hemingway carried an Italian soldier to safety, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. According to Hemingway scholar Hallengren, Hemingway "was the first American to be wounded during World War I". Still only eighteen, Hemingway said of the incident: "When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you ... Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you." He sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs; underwent an operation at a distribution center; spent five days at a field hospital; and was transferred to the Red Cross hospital in Milan for recuperation. Hemingway spent six months in hospital, where he met and fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse seven years his senior. Agnes and Hemingway planned to marry, but she became engaged to an Italian officer in March 1919, an incident that provided material for the short and bitter work "A Very Short Story".