When he wrote the following diary entry in September of 1918, John Dos Passos was already a veteran of the ambulance service, having served in the battlefields of Verdun and Mort Homme in 1917, as well as on Italy’s Mt. Grappa. But he now found himself entangled in the unremarkable bureaucracy of Camp Crane in Pennsylvania where he was registering for duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, his less-than-perfect eyesight once again a point of scrutiny. It would be another tedious month before he and his unit left Camp Crane for Camp Merritt in New Jersey, ultimately arriving in Europe just as the Armistice was declared, with no further action seen. In time, his writing would mature and find its true form, culminating in works like his debut novel, One Man’s Initiation: 1917.
The Diary Entry
Sept 27th 
The little man who made out my papers at the local board spoke feelingly, lyrically even, of the excitements of war and the thrill of thinking you might be potted at any minute and wrang my hand with considerable effusion as I left to go to Allentown. The next morning I went early to the camp, a converted fair ground with a race course and a lovely grove of trees where the grackles made a pleasant cheering racket last evening. There I spent the day with a sergeant and his assistant in a large bare gymnasium-like room, drowsy and over heated. The sergeant sat at a desk and arranged little stacks of papers in piles, then pursed up his lips, cleared his throat, took up the papers and glanced over them with hurried care and rearranged them. His assistant with great difficulty copied the account of the case of a man who had been discharged for imbecility. He could not typewrite and he could not read the writing of the doctor who had made the diagnosis so he went tick tap click, damn, tick tap click damn and erased every other word. In the course of proceedings numerous papers were made out about me, I was examined physically and my eyes were found wanting. I telegraphed the miraculous Major to get me a waiver. Now there is nothing to do but wait to see what forthcomes. A waiver or a return to my local board with thanks.
The Papers of John Dos Passos, including his original diaries, are held at the University of Virginia Library’s Special Collections (Guide). In 1973, some of those diary entries appeared in the excellent book, Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos, published by Gambit, from which the above entry is excerpted. Reprinted here by kind permission of the Estate of John Dos Passos.