This Week in History: Ernest Hemingway Severely Wounded During World War I

Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Signature’s This Week in History remembers events of the past, and the icons that set them in motion.

On July 8, 1918, an eighteen-year-old Ernest Hemingway was wounded on the Austro-Italian front during World War I. He was working as a Red Cross ambulance driver at the time, an experience that shaped his 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms. 

"When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality," Hemingway once said. "Other people get killed; not you ... Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you."

Hemingway sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs. Despite his injury, he carried a soldier to safety, an act that earned him an Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. Hemingway underwent surgery and spent five days in the hospital before being transferred to a hospital in Milan, where he spent the next six months. During his stay there, Hemingway fell in love with an older Red Cross nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky.

After World War I, Hemingway married his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. The two moved to Paris, where they spent their days with other expatriates, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. Hemingway was influenced to embark on his own literary career, and in 1925, he published his first book of short stories. The Sun Also Rises, arguably one of his greatest works, was published the following year. These contributions lasted longer than his marriage to Richardson.

Hemingway wrote  The Old Man and the Sea in 1952. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. The following year, Hemingway was severely wounded in two successive plane crashes. His injuries left him increasingly depressed and anxious. Hemingway, known to be a bit of drinker, committed suicide in 1961. Though Hemingway himself proved to be mortal, his legacy is nothing short of indelible.