‘I closed too many eyes’ – Arneson writes of his brother-in-law’s WWII account

Published 7:49 am Friday, May 25, 2018

“Well, guess I’m not the same fellow who went in the Army about two years ago. I never thought one person could see this much horror in a lifetime! I feel like I’m 76 instead of 26. But we all have to keep our wits about us because we have the feeling if we don’t win this it won’t be worth living …”

Bayer Ross, U.S. Army medic, Sept. 1, 1944


The late Bayer Ross, like many of his generation, rarely spoke of his service in World War II – but after gentle prompting by his brother-in-law, Paul Arneson, Ross was able to explore his feelings about the war and give a unique insight as a medic in the war at the same time.

Ross, who died in 1990, wrote a lot about his time overseas, faithfully keeping journals of his travels, and the horror he witnessed.

Using Ross’ letters and family conversations, Arneson was able to pay tribute to his sister’s husband, and his sacrifice in the account, “I Closed Too Many Eyes,” referring to a medic’s job to close the eyes of a soldier declared as deceased.

Arneson and his book will also be the focus of an author night and book signing at Sweet Reads in Austin at 6:30 p.m. on June 21.

Arneson, a retired U.S Air Force colonel who lives in Washington, D. C., had long conversations with Bayer over the years. Although Arneson was almost 20 years younger than his brother-in-law Arneson feels that Ross perhaps trusted a fellow military man with his feelings.

Decades later, there were incidents that still brought tears to Ross’ eyes, Arneson said during a phone interview with the Herald on Wednesday.

And while Ross saw horrific things during his time – “he was there for all of it, the entire European Theatre – North Africa, Sicily and western Europe,” Arneson said, as well as a liberation of a Czech concentration camp — Ross’ overarching concern throughout the war was not for himself, but for his parents, who were left with no sons to help them in the family dry cleaning business. The three sons— Don, Bayer and Art – had all worked in the business in their hometown of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, before they left for the service.

Ross’ brother-in-law, Paul Arneson, wrote “I Closed Too Many Eyes” to pay tribute to Bayer Ross and his service.

“What really tugged at my heart was how worried he was about his mother and father; he was scared he would come home to his father who was grief-stricken because he lost the business.”

There was joy, too – Ross talked about his worry of a fellow medic, who suddenly disappeared during a battle; later, he was found to be still alive in a prisoner of war camp.

Ross was also “incredibly prolific; he kept track of absolutely every move he made” during the war, Arneson said, adding that while some movements described by Ross in his letters were redacted, his diaries  “were never looked at. That wouldn’t  be the case today.” It is a fascinating record of war service and its impact on one man.

Arneson will also talk about the process he went through writing and publishing his book during his visit to Austin on June 21.

“I’m excited about coming to Austin, seeing the community and Sweet Reads,” he said. “Oh, and the Spam Museum too, of course.”

“I Closed Too Many Eyes” will be available for purchase that evening.