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Robert Mercy author of I Hear No Bugles

Robert Mercy talks about his writing and interests…

READERSVOICE.COM: Did your Korean War experiences give you the motivation to cram so many things into your life, or have you always had a lot of interests?

ROBERT MERCY: All things being relative I would say that I’ve always been curious, and from the age of twelve on “psychic phenomena” struck a resonating cord. This was the result of a Reader’s Digest article on “how to analyzing people by their sketching of a tree.”

Soon I asked everyone I met to draw a tree and was more greatly surprised than they by my nearly always correct interpretations. However, from my earliest recollections, as the opening chapters of my book reveals, I was mesmerized with the idea of soldiering, which of course was a direct result of war movies.

In truth my raison-d`etat for life was in becoming a soldier and anything learned was to enhance that goal. Most people never have their fantasies fulfilled—and perhaps for good reason, because in doing so they are often left void of any other motivating desire, dreams, and/or interests. Hence the adage: “One must be careful what they wish for.”

What personal close-quarter combat did teach me, though not immediately, was the value of human life. The miraculous intricacies of the human body and its uniqueness only became clearer to me when I delved into the medical aspects of Dermatoglyphics, which we might touch upon later. Once departed from the military I could have followed the historic employment route taken by most young Middle-class men of that generation and opted for a civil service job.

Circumstances and the residual affects of being so heavily influenced by film lead me into acting, which in turn afforded me the luxury of having a lot of ‘free time’ to pursue my budding interest in art, psychology, dream interpretation.

I eventually opened a Drama Workshop on 5th Avenue in NYC and drew upon those modalities to turn out some very successful actors. It seemed that walking through one door led me through another…and another. Now my concern is that there isn’t enough time to accomplish more.

RV: Had you done any writing before this memoir and if so, what?

RM: Not really, except for one attempt in 1963 in writing a shooting script for the very popular MGM TV COMBAT, in which I’d periodically acted as an SS officer. I submitted an unusual plot-line and was literally shocked when they stole the manuscript under a subterfuge then aired it a few months later. I was both flattered and disheartened by the event and didn’t write again until the late seventies when I started on I Hear No Bugles. [To be fair, I cannot absolutely verify this – ed.]

RV: I thought the book was honest. I also thought it was a page-turner; I read the 400-plus pages in two days. What sorts of feedback have you got from people, especially any that were in the Korean War?

RM: Thank you for your appraisal of my book as being “honest,” for I strove to keep it so by avoiding “dramatic license.” My motivation was to contribute a factual day-by-day history of a combat soldier in the Korean War.

I’ve received many letters from former GIs who identify with each step the protagonist took in Bugles. Often as not, too, I’ll inevitably hear, “Wow, I didn’t know that so and so was killed or wounded”.

When talking to soldiers from my own unit it’s as though we’re piecing together a puzzle; and they’re mostly grateful that someone put it all into words that they couldn’t find for one reason or another.

RV: It would be hard to forget some of the things you described about your battle experiences during the Korean War, but did you ever have trouble remembering anything, or details of missions, and how did you clarify any of these details?

RM: I credit the clarity of my recall to the fact that since boyhood I’d so conditioned my mind and body for those events that their occurrences were indelibly seared into my psyche; to the degree that sixty years later I still occasionally dream about them. I nevertheless did use our Regiment’s documented history (army archives Washington, DC.) for accuracy of given dates and times.

RV: There are many disturbing scenes in the book. The one of the G.I. wounded in the legs who wanted to die rather than face enemy torture was horrifying. I was wondering if the writing of the book helped deal with any bad memories or trauma you might have had.

RM: I’d say that it did—to a degree. I’d worked over three weeks on that one passage, during which I cried, got drunk, relived every second of his terror then lighted candles, offered prayers to Buddha and begged the soldier’s forgiveness.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.