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Donald A. Yerxa


First-Person Shooter: Start of the Art: Military History. 1

It was hot that July morning as I crouched in the brush aside a main path in the woods. I wore an Army-surplus shirt with patches sloppily and inaccurately sewn on. A far-too-large helmet liner with twigs attached for camouflage sat precariously atop my head. A toy version of an M-1 rifle was at the ready. Soon a squad of my friends, clearly battle-tested crack German troopers, would appear on the path, and I would sink further into the thick brush awaiting my opportunity for glory.

"Here they come."
"Don't breathe!"

"Vroom! Tanka-tanka-tanka!" roared my weapon, now curiously transmogrified into a cross between a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and a semi-machine gun, with sound effects perfected by hours of watching Combat on TV. Germans "died" dramatically in front of me, and I emerged triumphantly from my ambush, mouthing politically incorrect, Pattonesque epithets.

War was great fun for a young boy growing up in South Portland, Maine in the late 1950s and early 1960s. All shots hit home! (Though I recall that tremendous disputes erupted whenever new kids joined us from another neighborhood. It seems that there was no universal referees' guide for such war games, and some kids insisted that the skimpiest of foliage conferred bullet-proof status!) Death was theatrical and oh so temporary. And everyone was a hero—except for the obligatory younger brother of one of your friends, who insisted on playing with the big kids and promptly got killed—not unlike the occasional new character introduced in a Combat episode. New characters invariably got killed.

Of course, what we did in the woods back then bore almost no resemblance to the realities of combat. Fortunately, I did not come to learn about this disparity through direct experience. Like many historians—and not a few military historians—I have never been in combat. I must rely upon the accounts of those who have, and the work of scholars who have studied them. Two who have done just that are cultural ...

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