War Poetry and Verse


The War Prayer
Ashes of Soldiers
SONNET  by: Wilfred Owen
The Soldier-Poet and His Poetry
Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field
Familiar Names
In Flanders Fields

In every life,
there comes a time
to walk in shadows and in sunlight,
to hear silence and song,
to shed tears of sadness and of joy,
to forget what has been taken,
and remember
what has been given.

Author Unknown

The War Prayer

Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came--next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams--visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!--then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation--
"God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory--

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside--which the startled minister did--and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne--bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import--that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of--except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two--one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this--keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor--and also you in your hearts--fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words-- 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle--be Thou near them! With them--in spirit--we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it--for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.


Ashes of Soldiers
Walt Whitman

        Again a verse for sake of you,
        You soldiers in the ranks—you Volunteers,
        Who bravely fighting, silent fell,
        To fill unmention’d graves.


Ashes of soldiers!
As I muse, retrospective, murmuring a chant in thought,
Lo! the war resumes—again to my sense your shapes,
And again the advance of armies.

Noiseless as mists and vapors,
From their graves in the trenches ascending,
From the cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee,
From every point of the compass, out of the countless unnamed graves,
In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes, or single ones, they come,
And silently gather round me.  

Now sound no note, O trumpeters!
Not at the head of my cavalry, parading on spirited horses,
With sabres drawn and glist’ning, and carbines by their thighs—(ah, my brave horsemen!
My handsome, tan-faced horsemen! what life, what joy and pride,
With all the perils, were yours!)

Nor you drummers—neither at reveille, at dawn,
Nor the long roll alarming the camp—nor even the muffled beat for a burial;
Nothing from you, this time, O drummers, bearing my warlike drums.

But aside from these, and the marts of wealth, and the crowded promenade,
Admitting around me comrades close, unseen by the rest, and voiceless,
The slain elate and alive again—the dust and debris alive,
I chant this chant of my silent soul, in the name of all dead soldiers.

Faces so pale, with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather closer yet;
Draw close, but speak not.

Phantoms of countless lost!
Invisible to the rest, henceforth become my companions!
Follow me ever! desert me not, while I live.

Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living! sweet are the musical voices sounding!
But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead, with their silent eyes.

Dearest comrades! all is over and long gone;
But love is not over—and what love, O comrades!
Perfume from battle-fields rising—up from foetor arising.

Perfume therefore my chant, O love! immortal Love!
Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers,
Shroud them, embalm them, cover them all over with tender pride!

Perfume all! make all wholesome!
Make these ashes to nourish and blossom,
O love! O chant! solve all, fructify all with the last chemistry.

Give me exhaustless—make me a fountain,
That I exhale love from me wherever I go, like a moist perennial dew,
For the ashes of all dead soldiers.

SONNET    by: Wilfred Owen

On seeing a piece of our heavy
artillery brought into action . . .

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great Gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!

Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse.
Spend our resentment, cannon -- yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.

Yet, for men's sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, they spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.

But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

175mm gun @ sunset

Photo credit: Michael B. Mountain
7/15th FA - Vietnam War





The following story is from the December 1969 ARMY DIGEST

The Soldier-Poet
  and His Poetry

by: SP5 Richard Dey

The soldier-poet is something of a phenomenon, not only among soldiers but in the history of poets as well. There is none like him, and with his verse, he makes his own anthologies. With no real knowledge of or interest in poetry, he is a man who sings for a brief time and then no more. He never wrote a poem before his war and chances are he'll never write one after it. Whether his silence comes from domestic content or a last firefight, we do not know. He is the type of man who would have remained silent -- except that the overwhelming circumstances of unusual times compelled him to speak.

On Buna and other South Pacific islands during World War II, they said that when a GI started composing verses he'd been in the jungle too long. No doubt this was a derisive comment but, in many instances, true.

Today, in Vietnam, a GI writing verse after patrolling through jungles, highlands and rice paddies probably hears the same thing said about himself. Yet, he is writing to understand something, to grasp an elusive meaning that sits in his mind like a mirage in the stifling air. Perhaps he tries a little harder than his buddies, because he reaches for that understanding by laboring to express his half-formed thoughts with the written word and, more than that, to mold them into the difficult form known as a poem.

To the trooper fighting, war is a statement, usually declarative; he hears it as an order. And for the soldier-poet, it becomes one long and often unanswerable question -- in spite of his loyalties or ideological beliefs. He's there, in a torn country thousands of miles from home, with War or maybe it's Death or Loneliness or Love or Hope doing the interrogating, racking his mind. He may or may not find any answers, but the verse he pens at least attenuates those questions and conflicts tormenting him.

The soldier-poet is the common man. Give or take a year or two, he has a high school level education. In previous wars, he was the doughboy and the dogface; today he is the grunt. It is the fact that the man is a soldier that makes him a poet. The soldier-poet is precisely what his compound name implies; his soldiering and poetry are inseparable. The intense experience of war brings forth the poetry. It stimulates the necessary energy to write and it provides the material that make the themes with which he concerns himself.

Under the stress of combat, he comes of age emotionally and spiritually. His thoughts and feelings become more acute, more definite. If he struggled with problems of identity before entering the Army, he soon finds one after he's in, for soldiering and writing poetry demand a fairly intense sense of self.

In circumstances that threaten him, as school, sports or a job back home never could, the soldier-poet finds himself faced with conditions which he often cannot account for or easily reconcile as part of the human experience. While there's still time, while his passions blister with the chaos of war that surrounds him, he writes -- in a letter to his mother, his wife or girl, on any piece of paper he happens to find. Often, his buddies find that same piece of paper in his pocket after he is dead.

Some of America's finest poets have served the military, from Walt Whitman as a medic in the Civil War to James Dickey as a combat pilot in World War II. Though war played a part in the firing of their imaginations, America at war has produced no soldier-poets comparable to the British of World War I -- poets like Wilfred Owen, whose fame rests primarily with his war poetry. But every war has produced an immense wealth of verse written by the stiff and unaccustomed hands of soldier-poets.

The poetry of these men must come when and how it can-while sweat still drains the body or later when the enemy is quiet and charged emotions have time to collect and re-charge themselves.

Circumstances of the war itself often determine and help shape the poetry. For instance, unlike World War II and Vietnam, World War I was not a war of movement. Much of the fighting was done from trenches which gave its soldier-poets long periods of humdrum passivity. This afforded enough time for them to write and re-write their poems and is frequently cited as the reason for their extraordinary quality.

It is interesting to speculate on the composition of the poems. Why would the soldier choose the poem as the medium for his expression? The poems themselves may offer the answer in that they are generally emotional -- poems that express emotions in an elementary, uncomplicated way. The fact that they boldly display emotion may indicate another clue. The soldier, summoning up his knowledge of poetry, probably associates feeling with it. After all, isn't that what his 8th grade teacher had told him about the nature of poetry?

Many of the poems are alike which indicates a kind of hand-me-down form. Perhaps they think of a song and improvise their own words to its tune and rhyme scheme. Perhaps they read other poems written by soldiers, see how one or two of them were composed and take their style from that.

They may recall an old nursery rhyme or something about a poem they once read in English class. However they came into being, the poignancy of soldier poems comes not, generally, from the language or the thoughts expressed; but rather from the innocent and spectacular fact that they were written at all.

The particular war in which the soldier-poet finds himself is always present in his poetry, usually as a backdrop or as a point of reference. It is the place of each poem, the Cape Kennedy for each flight of fancy, emotion or thought regardless of what the poet writes about.

Against its background of fire and shadow are set all the themes, one of which, the omnipresent subject, is love.

The night is endless, dark and deep.
Tears fall each night before I sleep.
My arms reach out to hold you near,
And fall back sadly because you're not here.

Time for any GI in any war is time away from home and loved ones. Though the soldier in Vietnam knows his tour lasts only a year, his sense of death and distance is not diminished.

I trust in God
The day will come
When slowly but surely
You and I will be as one.

Several poems express faith in religion, usually the Christian concept. The poem will begin, "Darling, God placed me miles from you," implying a very explicit belief in God, as ruler-father of all, and end with

But if I don't come home once more,
God's promised to let us meet at Heaven's door.

From another poem with the hymn-like title, "Lead Us On," are these lines:

        Lead us on, 0 Lord, as the night closes in.
        We ask for strength to open our eyes and thank
        You once again.

However, for many of the poets, patriotism and the American ideal of Freedom become a kind of religion insofar as these concepts answer their questions and give them reassurance of reason. One poet wonders

... can this be for real?
Can a young man such as I
Be sent to war to kill or die?

and he answers, yes, "To keep men and country free."

The war in Vietnam has been attacked and reattacked for its morality and the United States for its involvement there. The issues have not gone unnoticed by the soldier-poets. One, in his poem entitled "The Answers," writes

I would rather lose my life here,
  Fighting for what I believe
Than have the enemy cross the ocean
  To the country, where I live.

The concept of the Free World against the Communist World provides that poet with his answer. For another, the answer is found in the history of America's fight for Freedom.

These people of Vietnam need us for peace,
As we needed the French for our release.

In a poem called "Why Am I Here?" are these lines:

I'm here to fight for Freedom ...
To end the sadness and the grief
War brings to everyman ...
To end a war that should not have started,
To bring joy to the broken-hearted.

and he answers, yes, "To keep men and country free."

The war in Vietnam has been attacked and reattacked for its morality and the United States for its involvement there. The issues have not gone unnoticed by the soldier-poets. One, in his poem entitled "The Answers," writes

I would rather lose my life here,
  Fighting for what I believe
Than have the enemy cross the ocean
  To the country, where I live.

The concept of the Free World against the Communist World provides that poet with his answer. For another, the answer is found in the history of America's fight for Freedom.

These people of Vietnam need us for peace,
As we needed the French for our release.

In a poem called "Why Am I Here?" are these lines:

I'm here to fight for Freedom I'm here to fight for Freedom ...
To end the sadness and the grief
War brings to everyman ...
To end a war that should not have started,
To bring joy to the broken-hearted. I'm here to fight for Freedom ...
To end the sadness and the grief
War brings to everyman ...
To end a war that should not have started,
To bring joy to the broken-hearted. I'm here to fight for Freedom ...
To end the sadness and the grief
War brings to everyman ...
To end a war that should not have started,
To bring joy to the broken-hearted.

The majority of soldier-poets write with a basic conviction in freedom.

Freedom. . .
Is the soldier's cry.
We cherish it, we live it,
And for it ... would willingly die. Freedom. . .
Is the soldier's cry.
We cherish it, we live it,
And for it ... would willingly die. Freedom. . .
Is the soldier's cry.
We cherish it, we live it,
And for it ... would willingly die. Freedom. . .
Is the soldier's cry.
We cherish it, we live it,
And for it ... would willingly die.

The controversy over Vietnam and the protesters, people often the same age as the young soldier, arouse great resentment among those who do the fighting and the dying. While contrary attitudes on the home front have always aggravated those at war, the present conflict has stirred many of the soldier-poets to write poems in protest of the protesters. "Living And Dying," one of the most remarkable poems to come out of the Vietnam War, is bitter and written by an enraged man. It begins:

Take a man, then put him alone.
Put him 12,000 miles from home.
Empty his heart of all but blood.
Make him live in sweat and mud.

The poet speaks of the "Peace Boys" protesting, taking drugs, burning draft cards and then asks, "Am I supposed to die for you?" The question, filled with resentment, generates this testament:

I'll hate you to the day I die.
You made me hear my buddy cry.
I saw his arm, a bloody shred.
I heard them say, "This one is dead. .
He had the guts to fight and die;
He paid the price-But what'd he buy?
But who gives a damn what a soldier gives?

This poem, a brimming heart "empty of all but blood," is not a political poem asking for concurrence of views. Soldier-poets don't have the time for debate: they're fighting a war. At no point in the poem does the poet state his views. His song is a cry for support, a cry to his fellow man for compassion for the men dying regardless of why.

Certainly, no sane man likes war nor wants any part of its horror. But to the soldier who finds himself in war, there is a job to perform-a mission to complete.

Rid this country now of hostile force,
And the world will be on the right course.
So push away your feelings, do your job this year;
If for nothing else, so your son doesn't come here.

The conditions of war suggest lessons to the soldier-poet, make him more appreciative and compassionate.

When I return to those I love
Let me be a little kinder.
For life's too short to be otherwise
And let this war be my reminder.

The soldier-poet is not always the infantryman or combat arms specialist. Truck drivers, men in basic training, cooks, clerks and mechanics write verse. Nor do all the soldier-poems deal with love, fear, glory, honor, patriotism, challenge, despair, pity or any of the other serious themes that war suggests. Men write of their rifle, "Overnight we inherited our third arm," their platoon or company, R&R, beer, mail, their tanks and trucks:

She is made of steel
And cannot talk
But she must have had some feeling
For she never made me walk.

Many of the poems spring not from passion but from boredom, and many of the more personal poems impress one as being the result of boredom's introspection. Some are written simply for amusement or to recount a humorous incident. Others seem like glorified letters and are addressed specifically to a wife, a son, a brother.
The death of a buddy acts as the seed from which numerous elegies flower.

By its own definition, all war poetry is similar, at least thematically, regardless of the war in which it was composed. There are, however, notable differences. World War I poems reflected the wretched conditions of trench warfare.

Both World Wars and their scope of destruction and involvement of vast numbers of men vary significantly with the limited wars in Korea and Vietnam. An individual soldier can experience the pity and horror of war within the time frame of one battle and be shocked as never before. Even a two-hour battle gives sufficient material for a poet to work with. But World War II had the dulling element of endlessness which affected its soldier-poets as today's soldier-poets can never be affected. World War II plodded along campaign by campaign, and for the dogface a 12- or 13-month tour overseas with a week's paid vacation in an exotic city of his choice was unheard of.

In several ways, the poetry reflects some of these differences. Homesickness of years, not months, was a genuine infection and a common theme.

We are Bewildered and weary,
Lonely to the point of madness,
And if we shout and curse
Through our quiet dreams,
Forgive us.
We are merely looking for a way to go home.

Throughout Europe and finally in Japan men destroyed cities and saw wholesale destruction as soldiers in Vietnam have never seen. That kind of colossal destruction of what man himself built kind, in a sense, of what he stood for aroused keen, guilt-laden, mercyseeking poems in the soldier-poet. And because the world war employed more men, because it was one in which more people believed, the soldier-poet was often a man of a fair acquaintance with poetry -- a sophisticated poet. A sonnet entitled "The Beautiful Ruins" by SSG Charles E. Butler begins, "Do not be proud that you destroy the cities." and ends saying,

If this is to be done,
Let it be done without the shame of pride,
That in an hour to come our unbelieving
Sons, judging us, must say: "The cities died;
Our fathers did this; but they did it grieving."

The pity these lines present us with, that mankind seems so hopelessly inculpable of growing in equal proportion to the material advancement of its civilization, is a thought all soldier-poets would have us hear.

The reddened beaches of the South Pacific provided a bloody well from which poets drew their material. A photograph released by the United States showed three soldiers, apparently of a first waive assault, dead on Buna Beach, New Guinea. From a beautiful poem echoing the pity and warning of World War I poetry, and indeed all war poetry, are the following lines written by SSG Butler who saw the photograph in Britain.

        Was it evening then,
        And quiet, falling to sleep in the silence,
        You, with your cheek soft on the ultimate pillow
        And your outstretched hand reaching no more for
          the gun,
        Or love, or the things of life, sleeping there,

You have come a long way, a world away, to sleep.

... Forgetful now for ever of the slow
Whispers of the curling water
Sifting the sand around you ...
You are a message now, forgetful, sleeping;
The idiot print of Time on the wave-washed
shore ...

The storm will pass . . . Silence will cover it;
Sleep . . .

The storm will pass . . . Silence will cover it;
Sleep . . .

Death to the families of the war dead and to the soldier-poet who feels each loss is a personal thing. As one poet of World War II wrote:

He died as one of scores
And on a distant beach. But when they bring
the news to those who count the cost of wars
A private’s death becomes a private thing.
How, strange that war's arithmetic discounts
The spread of sorrow as the sorrow mounts.

A Vietnam veteran, Specialist 4 Ken Heinrichs, speaks too of death. In a poem where he envisions his own, he equates the impersonal attitudes of the "State" with his feeling of death's uselessness and meaninglessness. After he was "yanked" from his mother's womb and had died on "a red-green game board," he writes:

They shipped me home in
Another womb of
Ventilated plastic and
Displayed me in a
Closed coffin.

Yet, the same soldier-poet, in the ironic, objective poem that follows, can find meaning in a soldier's death, meaning that comes from the probable fact that the soldier saved the lives of others.

Posthumously awarded,
The medal was pinned
On his mother as a
Brooch would be.
He fell on a grenade
And died with
God on his side.
He died a sacrificial death.

The development of free verse -- poetry similar in construction to the preceding poem -- no doubt has helped the cause of the soldier-poet, making it easier for him to write. When the amateur poet uses words and syntax unfamiliar to him instead of his vernacular, his lines, struggling to express the emotions of human affections, often become awkward.

We dream of things so far away
  Hoping and praying we shall return some day.

The soldier-poet generally has no mind for scansion or any devices beyond simple versifying. His poems are not literary nor are they the products of revision. If their images and metaphors, their similes and illusions are hackneyed, if one poem sounds like another, the soldier doesn't know that. He didn't care. It is enough that he wrote. Normal criticism is not meant for most of his poems. Or, more precisely, the poetry is not meant for the criticism.

Though the soldier-poets writing in Vietnam occasionally send their works to their Commander in Chief -- the President -- on the whole, the poems are not as superior as those to come out of World War II.

There are reasons for this. One, as has been suggested, is that this war, horrible as any war is, still is not as horrible as were, say, the two World Wars. Someone once wrote, "Poets grow by their suffering." Poems take years, often lifetimes to write. For today's soldier-poets, it may be that a one-year tour, long and bloody as it can be, is not long enough for the poems, serious or light, to grow.

Another reason may be encouragement. Though the Pacific edition of Stars & Stripes publishes poems in its column "Boondock Bards," there is no publication today; as lively and encouraging is the wartime Yank magazine.

The best war poems, the poems that go beyond the patrol and the loneliness and the day-to-day repetition, are about Man. If there is anything that would enliven the work of soldier-poets and bring their efforts up to their potential, it would be for them to consider the grammatical first person as a universal "eye," instead of the narrowly personal one. Too often the use of the first person limits itself to present dimensions, objectives and objects.

The poem is the soldier-poet's response to the condition of the world, the world at war, his and others. A few poems, whether by design or accident, do transcend the immediacy of war. Some, as the following lines from a poem written to a brother by Specialist 4 David Smith who died just three weeks after he sent his poem home, get there by way of bravado and patriotism.

We fight each day through drenching rain,
And then through scorching heat,
We walk through the hills and valleys,
Aided only by aching feet.
When the inevitable time has come for you to
Answer the call,
Remember our fight for Freedom . . .
So our flag may never fall!

Though, in a sense, the lines rally for the Freedom of all men, it is a call to arms. But the soldier-poet knows the horror of arms, the value of world harmony, of a breath that knows no quicker heart beat than that of love, and peace. Sergeant James W. Hill, in his poem "The Guard," offers these lines:

I am the watchman of the night,
the keeper of the gate;
I am the watchman of the night,
and time is getting late.

I am the watchman of the night
for all free humanity,
Since all the races and creeds I watch for
have feelings just like me.

As the watchman of the night,
man’s trust is placed in me, and
Diligently, as I watch, I'll keep good company:
God is my companion and I pray that
He protects who watch like me,
Until the time that peace will come,
and a watchman we shall not need.

All poems from the period of World War II are taken from the Yank; Those of Vietnam from the anthology "Boondock Bards" published by Stars & Stripes, or from the private sources of the author. --Editor

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field

Vigil strange I kept on the field one night:
When you, my son and my comrade, dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave, which your dear eyes return’d, with a look I shall never forget;
One touch of your hand to mine, O boy, reach’d up as you lay on the ground;
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle;
Till late in the night reliev’d, to the place at last again I made my way;
Found you in death so cold, dear comrade—found your body, son of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding;)
Bared your face in the starlight—curious the scene—cool blew the moderate night-wind;
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battlefield spreading;
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet, there in the fragrant silent night;
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh—Long, long I gazed;
Then on the earth partially reclining, sat by your side, leaning my chin in my hands;
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you, dearest comrade—Not a tear, not a word;
Vigil of silence, love and death—vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole;
Vigil final for you, brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living—I think we shall surely meet again)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear’d,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop’d well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head, and carefully under feet;
And there and then, and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited;
Ending my vigil strange with that—vigil of night and battlefield dim;
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding)
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain—vigil I never forget, how as day brighten’d,
I rose from the chill ground, and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.



Familiar  Names

Familiar names on a marble wall,
     cambered, black, and much too tall.
By choice or by chance, we answered the call,
    and the war made horrors, horrors of all.

So far away, too young you see,
     It's no return that's bothering me.
The spirit to laugh and the joy to be,
     help me find them again, set me free!

Corruption, graft, and too much sin,
     bar the door, don't let him in.
Easy to lose and tough to win,
     for twenty years since, where you been?

A nation of homeless and jailed we are,
     It's expected you see, consider it par.
Watergate, arms deals, politicians with gall,
     war will make whores, whores of all.

Twenty years later, another new war,
     when can we shout "Horrors No More!"
War's dying children should make us all wince,
     remember it well, catch a good glimpse.

Twenty years forward, we can look with hope,
     citizen, politician, even the next Pope.
To find the right answer to war's timely call,
     by not rushing right in, making horrors of all.


I have seen strength,
   like an oak in the storm...
I have felt gentleness,
   like a golden summer dawn...
I have heard laughter,
   like a splashing waterfall...
I have felt protection,
   like a shelter all around...
All from a lif
e that gave me life...
   All from my father's love.

REMORSE   by: Emily Dickinson

Remorse is Memory awake,
Her companies astir, -
A presence of departed acts
At window and at door.
Its past set down before the soul,
And lighted with a match,
Perusal to facilitate
Of its condensed despatch.
Remorse is cureless, -- the disease
Not even God can heal;
For 'tis His institution, --
The complement of Hell.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by DAN LANDA, May 27th, 2012 

To the ones who fought, 
You have suffered a tough lot. 
You embarked on a quest, 
And you gave it your best! 
You did that and so much more! 
You've endured many a sore... 
You fought for us to be free- 
And so there'd be hope for you and me. 
You gave your lives and health for peace, 
And what came about at the least? 
Your efforts shall NEVER be in vein... 
As you've trudged through intense heat and rain. 
THANK YOU, soldiers! THANK YOU, vets! 
With you, nothing's only 'as good as it gets'. 
Happy Memorial Day, to you and to ALL. 
Cheers to the heroes of winter, spring, summer and fall. 



Sixties Project -- Poetry Archive