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



Farewell Old Soldier

J. D. Pendry

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. - General Douglas MaCarthur

I suppose I never gave much thought to the meaning of General MaCarthur's famous quote and I won't attempt to translate his thoughts for you now. What I will tell you is that each of us - soldier, NCO and Officer leave a legacy when we leave the service. Positive or negative, we leave something of ourselves in every soldier we touch. They pass on the values, work ethic, and approach to leadership we left with them to others. Over a long career a leader can touch and influence many lives with his or her leadership example. What a leader does in this regard is lasting...he never dies.

On June 17, 2000 First Sergeant (Retired) Bernard Dziagwa listened to the final sounding of taps. Shortly before his passing, a grateful officer took the time to thank him in a letter for his mentoring, leadership and the significant contribution made to his own personal development. With his permission, the text of that letter follows. Farewell old soldier and thanks for a job well done.

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10 March, 2000

Dear First Sergeant (Ret) Dziagwa,

It has been about twenty five years since we last spoke and I just needed to know that you and Amy were still out here and doing well. Something told me this was the time to make contact with you and as luck would have it my first attempt to locate you was successful thanks to this computer at my desk. I'm so very sorry to hear of the passing of your daughter. I know that it has been years, but please accept my condolence from my family for loss of your daughter. The loss of a child is something that lives in a deep part of the parents' very soul and lingers there for a lifetime. Our only comfort is in our faith that someday we will all be united again.

You are in my prayers for your recovery from your own illness and for you and Amy to find the strength to endure. And, I hope this letter finds you in good spirits.

Your voice was like music to my ears when I talked last month. And, although I never had the opportunity to do so, I would like to take this moment to thank you. I cannot tell how many times I've reflected, over the years, about how a young lieutenant from New York City with no special talent could stay in the Army. But in doing so my thoughts always take me back to my first assignment at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the 249th Military Police Company and you, my first, First Sergeant. Of all the things I have learned over the years as an officer, you taught me some of the most important lessons "to take care of our soldiers and trust your Noncommissioned officers."

You may not have known it at the time, but you made a lasting impression on this soldier and countless more. You demonstrated how a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, who truly cared for his fellow soldiers and the Army, could subordinate himself, "to an officer with less time in service than you had in the mess line," and train that officer to share common values. It struck me how truly professional our Army was by your example. And, when I had the opportunity to command the 249th Military Police Company, I knew I was privileged to have you as my First Sergeant. Your impression on me has affected everything I have done and continue to do today as a soldier and has kept me focused on what's important in our Army...its people.

You made that possible by setting high standards, by rolling up your sleeves and making anything possible. All of the finest officers I have known validate that same experience with a significant Noncommissioned officer early in their careers. The experience in the 249th Military Police Company was the defining moment for Second Lieutenant Powell, for it convinced me to stay in our Army and helped to shape who and what I am, and for that I shall always be grateful.

You once told me, "you'll know when it's time to retire...". I never thought I would stay in the Army this long (twenty seven years and counting), but once again, the NCOs got it right when they called me a "Lifer" behind my back. In another few years, I too will leave the ranks and join countless others who came before. Of all the things I've treasured most, I have found my greatest satisfaction came from the accomplishments of soldiers, creating an environment that produced success and in the relationships I've had with Noncommissioned officers, especially those Noncommissioned officers with whom I've shared command.

In closing, I'd like to say you left the Army in good hands because you left a lasting positive impression on soldiers. Hopefully, we have passed on those same values of taking care of our soldiers and trust in Noncommissioned officers... and some, by our own example.

Words poorly express the contribution and sacrifice soldiers and their families make to our nation.

Only those who faced an enemy know.

Only those who felt the fear, or loss, or exaltation for a loved one know.

The experience is everything, nothing compensates for it, and yet after it is done, all we ever have are the memories of people, places and things that touched the senses and emotions.

Long after ribbons fade and medals tarnish, tucked away with treasures that represent a lifetime, we still have memories when...

We Were Soldiers Once... and Young.

Sincerely,

Colonel Owen C. Powell, Jr.