Drifting in and out of consciousness as the tendril wraps around him, Willie dreams of his mother and father, fantasizing about the candy served at the Lincolns’ receptions not long before his death. Remembering the way he used to play with his father, he realizes he’ll never be able to roughhouse with him again. Unless, that is, he remains “strong.” “Must stay,” he thinks. “Is not easy But I know honor Fix bayonets How to be brave Is not easy Remember Col. Ellis Killed by Rebs For bravely tearing down the Reb flag from a private I must stay If I wish to get Home.”
When Willie says, “Remember Col. Ellis,” he refers to Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first Union officer to die in the Civil War, and the conflict’s first known casualty. In 1861, the president asked him to remove a Confederate flag from a hotel in view of the White House. He was killed while doing this, and his name later became a rallying cry for Union soldiers. In this moment, Willie conflates wartime bravery with the strength it takes to remain in the Bardo, a testament to just how taxing it is for him to tarry in this liminal realm as a child, and also showing his youthful investment in his father’s cause.