A project I’ve been working on for much of the past year is finally complete—well, partially. What is Whining Past?
Whining Past is an experiment in historical documentation. It is the transcription of a journal kept by Captain Raymond Earl Hill of the U.S. 365th Infantry Regiment during his service in World War I. The journal recounts Captain Hill’s entire experience in France—from his arrival in June 1918, through the armistice of November 1918, to his return to the States in January 1919.
For much of the past year, I’ve been transcribing this fragile, century-old document so that friends, family, and general history geeks can read, first-hand, the experience of Capt. Hill, my great-grandfather.
Cap, as he was known to my family, died in 1981—six years before I was born. Despite the ripe age of 90, Cap’s official cause of death was listed as a lung infection stemming from an injury suffered during the war. On November 11, 1918—the last day of fighting in Europe—Cap was exposed to a near-lethal volume of mustard gas. The poisonous chemical temporarily blinded him, left him hospitalized for days, and permanently riddled his lungs with emphysema.
Despite this horror, Cap belied not a whit of the physical or emotional toll such an experience musthave taken—not to my grandfather, not to my mother, and most of all not to the journal that was his record.
Out of respect for such a life, and for the countless service members who never had the privilege, my family and I have decided to publish this journal. It is my intent to contextualize the journal with dates, locations, references, and photographs. The result, I hope, will be a thorough record of just one experience in a war that claimed more than 37 million lives, and a testament of admiration for a man I never knew, but with whom I can share the ghostly remains of the written word.