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Edwin P. Hart is 91

Neil Schmitz, professor of English, wrote the following tribute to senior auditor Edwin Hart.

By NEIL SCHMITZ

Published April 25, 2013

Edwin Hart

Edwin Hart

Nov. 6, 2012: I come into my English 242 classroom. Edwin P. Hart, a senior auditor, stands near the entrance and, as I breeze past him, says with his boy Buddha smile: “I’m 91 today.”

Nov. 13, 1943: Edwin is in the 21st Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. It is the Battle of the Solomons.

Thirteen days ago, Edwin’s regiment stormed ashore on Bougainville Island and has advanced under constant fire a short distance inland into the impenetrable jungle. It is morning, misty, wet, everything dripping, foxholes slimy. Edwin, a scout, moves through the green fastness, alone in the jungle, creeping and crouching, where are the Japanese, looking for the signs of their presence. Japanese soldiers open fire on him from a concealed position. He dives for cover and in that position is struck, the bullet entering his upper chest and lodging itself in the lung. Seriously wounded, Edwin painfully crabwalks back through the jungle, a long distance to the American line. 

Nov. 6, 2012: That Japanese bullet is with us in 103 Clemens. 

Not all senior auditors can bring such honorable wounds to our courses. Among senior auditors, Edwin is in his own category. He’s been auditing for several decades. He has not yet emptied all the wells of wisdom in the department. I know I am a stop on his way.

He’s probably, at this moment, scrutinizing Susan Eilenberg’s Milton course. There is a silent competition in the department for senior auditors. I had, I thought, Hill Haas’s attention. I thought he was mine. He’d sit in class with that debonair smile on his face. Then, abruptly, he left me for Joseph Conte and Damien Keane. Two courses, I think, and my well of wisdom was empty. Ave atque, Hill Haas, gone this semester. 

The thing about senior auditors: They calm you down. Edwin has a kind of Buddha composure. I’m always calmed down when, first thing, I see Edwin seated in his chair next to the door. On Veterans Day, I told the short version of Edwin’s Purple Heart story and we applauded him and the bullet. This amazing bullet, made in some Japanese munitions factory in 1943, boxed, shipped to the Solomons, delivered to a soldier, in his bandolier, loaded, fired, here it is, inside Edwin. I’m fairly ancient myself. Edwin is from the time of Troy. 

Dec. 7, 2012: Class finally dismissed, dispersing. Edwin approaches the lectern. He’s brought his Purple Heart. He opens the blue box and there it is, like a crown jewel. I’ve never actually seen a Purple Heart this close up. It is big, impressive. 

Terrence Malick’s “Thin Red Line,” that magnificent movie, gives us the Battle of the Solomons, Marines in action on Guadalcanal, the jungle where Edwin took the bullet.  Same jungle, Guadalcanal, Bougainville. Edwin is from the time of Troy.