Saturday, August 11, 2007

You Must Be Wrecked to Join

Unique among American veterans organizations is La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux—The Forty & Eight. The name dates to World War I, when American servicemen were transported to French battlefields in cramped and often odorous boxcars.

Each French boxcar was stenciled with a “40/8”, denoting its capacity to hold either forty men or eight horses. This ignominious and uncomfortable mode of transportation was familiar to all who traveled from the coast to the trenches; a common small misery among American soldiers who thereafter found “40/8” a lighthearted symbol of the deeper service, sacrifice and unspoken horrors of war that truly bind those who have borne the battle.
Candidates for membership are called Prisonniers de Guerre (Prisoners of War). Once "wrecked" (initiated), they become Voyageurs Militaire (military travelers). The head of the organization is the Chef de Chemin de Fer (President of the Railroad).

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