Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the USA. This is a time when we remember those who've been killed and injured while fighting for our country. The Canadian equivalent to this holiday is the Novemeber 11 Remembrance (or Armistice) Day. Americans commemorate Veteran's Day on November 11, but those ceremonies are typically more low-key than Memorial Day events. As I write, tens of thousands of American veterans are gathered in Washington, DC. They come back every year for their own unique Memorial Day rites.

The photo below was taken last summer as Dave and I visited (again) the battlefield at Gettysburg. This is a section of the cemetery that was reserved for the graves of unidentified soldiers. The poem is my attempt to articulate the thoughts that flooded my mind as I stood in that silent, desolate, yet strangely peaceful, place.


Here lie buried the earthly remnants of 425 men.
We know not who they were.
Perhaps, before they were soldiers,
They were artists, or poets,
Blacksmiths, or miners,
Farmers, or merchants.
We’ll never know,
For they’ve joined the ranks of those who eternally remain

Did they leave behind grieving
Mothers and fathers,
Brothers and sisters,
Wives and sweethearts,
Sons and daughters?
Did they die quickly and mercifully,
Or slowly and excruciatingly?
Did they die with Bibles in their pockets, near their hearts,
Or clutched tightly in their hands?
Did they die with the names of loved ones on their lips?
Did they die cradled in the arms of companions?
Or did they die alone,
Shivering in anguish and terror?
We’ll never know,
For they’ve joined, forever, the ranks of those who remain

The demons Death and War
Were not satisfied with stealing their lives.
The demons gloated as they heaped insult upon injustice
And erased, forever, the identities of 425 men.
We’ll never know who they were,
For they’ve joined the ranks of those who remain, eternally,

Simple stone slabs are all that remain
To commemorate the lives of men who died
Blocks of stone are all that remain
To mark the graves of men
Who sacrificed themselves for causes
Greater than their own desires and dreams.
We’ll never know who they were,
For they’ve joined the ranks of those who will always remain

These men will always be remembered
As Champions,
Because the stuff that made up their spirits,
The beliefs, ideals and hopes that made them men,
Those things continue to live in the lives of others.
For even the full force and fury of the demons Death and War
Are too feeble to vanquish men’s souls.
And even though the flesh of these 425 men, heroes all,
Perished long ago, their spirits flourish eternally.
Now, it is only their names that remain


Dave said...

Sobbering. Thank you.

Barbara said...

very moving post. thanks for sharing this.

Erik said...

Very impressive and touching. It shows the foolishness of the dark side of mankind, victimizing lifes. It shows that "a life" is not only one person's life but also his/hers family and intimates, in whom (s)he continues to live.

Stephen said...

This is a powerful poem. It reminds us once again that war and the folly of war victimizes subsequent generations. As I reflected upon those 425 young men and what was not - those that never would be born - the missed opportunities and what would never be I think of the tens of millions of other nameless and forgotten individuals throughout the world. It's a tragedy of epic proportions.
But you have immortalized these 425 young men. They will not be forgotten. You made sure of that when you sat down, took the time to reflect upon was once was and what could have been.
Thank you!!