Hemingway was admitted to the Red Cross hospital in Milan after sustaining injuries from an exploding mortar shell on the Italian front in 1918. Amongst the first of the wounded to return from the area, his bravery earned him the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor, as well as a good deal of media attention.
The first wounded American from the Italian front arrived yesterday by the steamship Giuseppe Verdi of the Transatlantica Line with probably more scars than any other man in or out of uniform,' reported the New York Sun. His wounds might have been much less if he had not been constructed by nature on generous proportions, being more than six feet tall and of ample beam. He is Ernest M. Hemingway, before the war a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and hailing from Oak Park, Ill. The surgical chart of his battered person shows 227 marks indicating where bits of a peculiar kind of Austrian shrapnel, about as thick as a .22 caliber bullet and an inch long, like small cuts from a length of wire, smote him. Some of these bits have been extracted after a dozen or more operations and young Hemingway hopes finally to get them all out, but he still retains a hundred or more.
It was during his subsequent six month convalescence at the hospital that Ernest met and reportedly fell in love with a nurse called Agnes von Kurowsky. Although details of the romance remain rather obscure -- Agnes would later claim it was nothing more than a flirtation, whilst Ernest insisted it had been a fully physical relationship -- it has, nevertheless, been highly publicised.
Not only did the encounter provide Ernest with inspiration for a number of works, including A Farewell to Arms (1929), but it also gained attention through the later offerings of Henry S. Villard, a Harvard graduate who would go on to become an ambassador for the US. A fellow ambulance volunteer at the time, Villard was hospitalised two weeks after Hemingway for the treatment of malaria and jaundice. What he observed there would pave the way for the 1989 publication of Hemingway in Love and War. This in turn, would lead to the 1996 release of 'In Love and War', starring Chris O'Donnell as Hemingway and Sandra Bullock as Agnes.