Echolalia is a mental disease which makes people immediately repeat things that well
people around them say. But Billy didn't really have it. Rumfoord simply insisted, for his
own comfort, that Billy had it. Rumfoord was thinking in a military manner: that an
inconvenient person, one whose death he wished for very much, for practical reasons,
was suffering from a repulsive disease.
Rumfoord went on insisting for several hours that Billy had echolalia-told nurses and a
doctor that Billy had echolalia now. Some experiments were performed on Billy. Doctors
and nurses tried to get Billy to echo something, but Billy wouldn't make a sound for
'He isn't doing it now,' said Rumfoord peevishly. 'The minute you go away, he'll start
doing it again.'
Nobody took Rumfoord's diagnosis seriously. The staff thought Rumfoord was a
hateful old man, conceited and cruel. He often said to them, in one way or another, that
people who were weak deserved to die. Whereas the staff, of course, was devoted to the
idea that weak people should be helped as much as possible, that nobody should die.
There in the hospital, Billy was having an adventure very common among people
without power in time of war: He was trying to prove to a wilfully deaf and blind enemy
that he was interesting to hear and see. He kept silent until the lights went out at night,
and then, when there had been a long silence containing nothing to echo, he said to
Rumfoord, 'I was in Dresden when it was bombed. I was a prisoner of war.' Rumfoord
'Word of honor,' said Billy Pilgrim. 'Do you believe me?'
'Must we talk about it now?' said Rumfoord. He had heard. He didn't believe.
'We don't ever have to talk about it,' said Billy. 'I just want you to know: I was there.'
Nothing more was said about Dresden that night, and Billy closed his eyes, traveled in
time to a May afternoon, two days after the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Billy and five other American prisoners were riding in a coffin-shaped green wagon,
which they had found abandoned complete with two horses, in a suburb of Dresden. Now
they were being drawn by the clop-clop-clopping horses down narrow lanes which had
been cleared through the moonlike ruins. They were going back to the slaughterhouse for
souvenirs of the war. Billy was reminded of the sounds of milkmen's horses early in the
morning in Ilium, when he was a boy.
Billy sat in the back of the jiggling coffin. His head was tilted back and his nostrils
were flaring. He was happy. He was warm. There was food in the wagon, and wine-and a
camera, and a stamp collection, and a stuffed owl, and a mantel clock that ran on changes
of barometric pressure. The Americans had gone into empty houses in the suburb where
they had been imprisoned, and they had taken these and many other things.
The owners, hearing that the Russians were coming, killing and robbing and raping
and burning, had fled.
But the Russians hadn't come yet, even two days after the war. It was peaceful in the
ruins. Billy saw only one other person on the way to the slaughterhouse. It was an old
man pushing a baby buggy. In the buggy were pots and cups and an umbrella frame, and
other things he had found.