Today, I'd going to share something I wrote several years ago when Veterans Day drew near. In the essay, I tried to speak for all who served by writing about a fictitious soldier, one who might represent all the soldiers, sailors, and marines who served in WWII and later in Korea, Vietnam, and the more recent wars in the Middle East.
Any Soldier, Any War—Maybe You Know Him
By Nancy Julien Kopp
Some call it Veterans Day while others say Remembrance Day. They are the same day commemorating the same wars, the same men who gave their lives fighting for what they believed in. Some volunteered while the draft nabbed others, but nearly all carried an unseen banner of the country they loved right next to their heart.
Any soldier, any war—maybe you know him.
He left mother and father, sweetheart and friends. Gone were his carefree summer days, spent with boyhood chums. Schoolbooks lay forgotten, dust settling over the covers. Baseball bats and marbles, toy cars and lead soldiers tumbled into a box, saved for the next generation. A letter jacket in the closet, placed there by a boy--would a man return to claim them?
The boy who braved the high school football field turned into a young man whose hands trembled as they quickly wiped a tear from a cheek the first time he went into combat. Knees quaked and his heart beat double-time until training of both boot camp and a lifetime before that kicked in. The little unseen banner of his country fluttered right over his heart bringing calm and a determination to do all deemed necessary.
He fought in scorching heat and bitter cold, through fields of flowers in spring and myriad fallen leaves in autumn. He battled through daytimes and in moonless nights.
In the quiet moments, thoughts spiraled backward to home, to Mom and Dad, and Christmas trees, and baseball games, and to turkey dinners and ice cream sundaes. He fingered a treasured photo of Carol, the girl he loved, and swallowed the lump in his throat that rose whenever he studied her face. He’d taken the picture on one of the last days before he left for the army camp. A wisp of her dark hair had blown across her forehead, and her hand looked poised to sweep it back into place. She’d posed with her free hand on a hip and a quirky smile on her face, as though she might make a wisecrack at any moment. He slipped the picture into his pocket when the thunder of guns drew closer.
He adjusted his helmet, gripped his rifle in both hands, and scanned the line of trees ahead. Was there some soldier from the other side creeping closer? Did he, too, think of home during a lull in the fighting? Did he have a photo of the girl he loved? Wasn’t he fighting for his country, too? The insanity of it all sometimes swept over him like a wave crashing on the beach.
Countries disagreed and made war, but only the men who fought were lost. Some soldiers died, while others lived to carry the horrors of war forever, to hide deep within, letting them surface only occasionally. Despite the human loss, countries rose again from the ashes like a phoenix to grow strong, to wait for a new generation, to wage war yet again.
He promised himself to never forget his fallen comrades, the towns and families they’d liberated, the good that evolved from the scathing waste of war. He’d march in every Veterans Day parade until his legs would carry him no more. And he’d wipe a tear from his cheek when other boys left childhood things to cross the sea and fight the next enemy.
He’d wear the poppy in his buttonhole right over the unseen banner that still fluttered across his heart.
For God and country, he would remember, with pride and regret, those who did not return.