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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

Thanks Soldier

J. D. Pendry

Our God and soldier we alike adore Ev'n at the brink of danger; not before; After deliverance, both alike requited, Our God's forgotten, and our soldiers slighted. - Francis Quarles, 1632

Charles, my neighbor, is 82 years old. He still moves around quite well. It's easy to see that in his younger days he was athletic. Mows his own grass, spends most of the day outdoors, and is always coaching me on how to defeat the weeds in my yard. What he tells me works so I listen. Occasionally he plays golf with a couple of his friends - same age. I've been thinking of begging my way into his foursome. Why not? I've been humiliated by every other category of golfer, it's only fair that I add senior citizen to the list.

Charles was away for a couple of weeks so I cut his grass for him. When he returned, he was delighted that I did that. He showed up at the kitchen door with a chocolate cake, freshly baked by his wife Ruth. Actually, Ruth doesn't need much of an excuse to send Charles across the cul de sac with a cake which could explain why my britches are getting a little taut in retirement.

Charles and I had some coffee with a piece of Ruth's cake. My piece was much larger than his was. He told me that he was an electrician by trade and that if I ever needed any electric work around the house I was to call him first. He asked me if I liked my new job with the Veteran's Administration to which I gave a positive response. "I'm a veteran", he stated proudly. "I was at Normandy." Then he got a distant look on his face and stared at the tabletop while continuing to talk. "You'd see the men on either side of you get it and all you could do was try to keep moving. To this day I don't know how I made it, or why."

That talk with my neighbor caused me to look at him much differently. He is a man at ease with himself, a hard worker and one who is very modest about his gift to our country - as are most veterans I know. That short talk also caused me to think of the number of old veterans I've seen and passed by over the years without thinking about their sacrifices or service to our country. Thanks to Charles, I won't do that again.

It also makes me think of the quote which began this story. Whenever there is a need - "the brink of danger" - many of our country's young men and women step forward and make the sacrifice - some of them the ultimate one. Once meeting the need - "After deliverance" - our nation seems to quickly forget the gift of freedom given to them by such a small percentage of their whole - and our veterans are simply too modest and humble to keep reminding them. When the danger is gone the attention is quickly averted to Hollywood's heroes and the interests of politicians - "our soldiers slighted."

When I lived at Fort Myer, I'd often walk in Arlington National Cemetery. The tourists gathered at the Tomb of the Unknowns would ooh and ahh over the crisp performance of the Tomb Guards, giving little thought to the occupants of the tomb and how or why they came to be there.

When walking in Arlington, I always made a point to pass by a section filled with rows of headstones marked Union Soldier Unknown. The feeling I got when near this place is not easy to describe. It's feeling a breeze when there is no breeze and sensing others around me when there are no others. I think about what these men gave and what their families, who may never have known what became of them, also gave. Without their gift, where might we be today? What might our country look like?

When we're in a reflective mood and showing respect to those who've gone on to the final recall we think about such things. We owe our respect and gratitude to all Veterans past and present. It's the living ones, however, who are usually slighted.

When you see an old veteran like my friend Charles, take a minute and think about Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, The Bulge, Remagen Bridge, the Ardennes, Bastogne, Normandy and concentration camps. If they're a little younger, think about the Chosin Reservoir, The Pusan Perimeter and Inchon. Add a few years and think about Chu Lai, Khe San, Hue, Phui Bai and the Mekong Delta. Then think about Grenada, Panama, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, Desert Storm and Somalia. If any of these are not familiar to you, I suggest some study of history is required. While studying the short history of our country your challenge is to find a significant period to which our veterans did not make a major contribution.

The next time you're impatiently standing behind some old fellow in the commissary or pharmacy line think about the dash for freedom he may have made across Omaha Beach to ensure we could have such a place as a nice commissary in which to shop. Then look him right in the eye and say thanks.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry