Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day, 2008. This morning, U.S. troops are deployed in a vicious occupation/"peace action" in Iraq and an ongoing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. This is the longest running "hot" war the United States has ever fought, 1893 days, and the second longest combat engagement of troops, surpassed only by Viet Nam where the first several years were compromised of small "adviser" forces only. This war has many critics, some of them honorable people, such as former Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Webb, a decorated Marine combat veteran.

But, this is a day to put aside criticism and even analysis and instead simply honor our fallen dead. American troops do not make foreign policy. They are the blunt end of it who go where they are told and obey their orders. They put themselves in harms way so that we can be safe. The fact that they have been cynically misused for political purposes on occasion does not detract from their valor and sacrifice.

So, as I do every year, I am going to post perhaps the best Memorial Day/Veteran's Day poem ever written. It was written by Sgt. Joyce Kilmer of the "Fighting 69th" of the 42nd (Rainbow) Infantry Division, a unit of New York National Guard. Kilmer was a world class poet and scholar. He did not have to serve. Rather, he voluntarily left his family and comfortable position to serve his country and his fellow man. He was a devout Catholic and much of his work reflected his deeply abiding faith. Kilmer was killed in action July 30, 1918 while on a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of the Marne.

Memorial Day
"Dulce et decorum est"

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace . . . Who brought a sword.


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