"Civilized men sleep soundly because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." [This is attributed to Orwell but was more likely Kipling, repeated by Churchill]. I like this version over others beginning "People sleep..." as this one connotes "men" who could fight but opt out, letting others protect them.
Rudyard Kipling/Winston Churchill
The Second World War
The poem below has always been intended for veterans on Veterans' Day
. . . & always . . . vets of WWII and of all conflicts . . . and peace time duty too
. . . & for veteran families
I'd like to pour a cauldron full
upon this page for you
For I know something of life then
and can feel they're yearnings too.
But it was not my place in time
perhaps my cup is too small
Then to know the flavor of war
you needn't taste it all.
Instead take just enough
sipping slowly to be sure
like those (who being there)
gulped it scalding hot and pure.
Those who were there of course
have served it up to me
long and lonely hours
on cold and stormy seas
cool or luke warm beer
in steamy island shacks
bitter, lonely, vigil prayers
so that lovers might come back
or a hard and frigid foxhole
in a still, white Belgian wood
awaiting German panzers
right where grenadiers once stood.
Now I can taste as surely
as if I'd gripped the deck rail tight
salt spray across a slanting deck
fear hanging heavy in the night
or the bitter sweet of waiting
like a father, son or wife
the way my mother waited, praying
to guard my father's life.
I can taste that tangy soup
spiced with all a life can feel
crushed cigarettes, an empty glass, a kiss
served with brass and chilled with steel.
Over 70 Years Ago:
This poem is primarily a World War II poem, as the scenes are all from that war. A lot of Americans' lives were changed in a few moments of action at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I suppose every American's life was changed in some way that day.
As with life, everyone's military family history is different. My families limited military history is Navy, with a great respect for all the other services. Dad's was Atlantic convoy escort duty with the added disadvantage of serving on a fast minesweeper. They weren't fast, logging about the same speed as the freighters they protected, not the 30 + knots of the destroyers (greyhounds of the seas) that also did the same job. One quarter inch of steel plate and 0% armor separated the sailors from a watery grave. Stories are many, like: napping in the prow of the small ship as it heaved in the heavy seas and a battle star earned for sinking a German submarine at the mouth of the James off of tidewater Virginia. Another sailor told me of being the subject of a man overboard rescue. He napped under the edge of a battleship's giant main battery turret and was blown into the sea by the concussion, during a gunnery drill he failed to awaken for. Members of other services will probably agree, sailors are the most creative, and a bit crazy, when it comes to napping.
As time passes we miss the nuances that really aren't; they're really major things. For example, when the American army faced German panzers in the Belgian winter of '44 (references in the 6th. stanza above), few today, who do not study war, know that serveral models of German tanks outclassed America's main battle tank, the wonderful little workhorse Sherman. We are so accustomed to America's technological superiority that it is widely unknown that in the greatest land battles in history, at the absolute key moments and during grueling day to day slug-fests in the worst conditions, Americans won while being totally technologically outclassed with respect to their primary weapon, the main battle tank . . . Exceptionalism.
All services, peacetime and otherwise, no matter what duty or what war, are worthy because: it is "duty" and it is a branch of the military services, in the service of America, . . . not just in the service of your country, in the service of "America." This poem honors all, even those who serve by waiting. It just happens to be about World War II. Whether you served long or saw combat doesn't matter. When you signed your name, you metaphorically signed that check we've all heard mentioned . . . "payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including my life" . . . and you signed as a family . . . they also serve who stand and wait (though everyone may not have been able to keep the course, they tried).
70 plus years ago November 9-10, and yet, not so long ago . . . My parents, in their 30s, were drawn into the crucible of war that followed: Dad's fast minesweeper escorting convoys to Africa and England & Mom dealing alone with childbirth. My wife's parents hid from the Japanese in the mountains of the Philippines: her mother, a doctor, helping those she could through the war years & her father giving news to people from an old car radio. The tenor of our times and the events and feelings today that remind me of those times in the poem dictate that its sentiments be expressed now and often.
The Crystal Night
The reference here is to the night
mentioned in the title of the poem
in which Germans who were in general
agreement with the Nazis in power
proceeded (with clandestine Nazi
encouragement) to vandalize homes,
businesses, and synagogues of German Jews.
The event was characterized in
particular by broken window glass on
the cobblestone streets, one of the dominate
memories of those who were there. From
this came the name the Crystal Night.
One can only hope that history will not
repeat itself here in our fair land; however,
there are those in the secular left camp
of the liberal movement who have already
questioned the waste of buildings being
used as churches.
One of the greatest horrors to come out
of the German Nazi experience is not the
abuses of minorities (as bad as that is)
but the herd mentality; the mass politically
correct group-think; the majority uncritically
following the propaganda of the popular,
the in vogue views of the day. Anything
sound familiar here?
Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938
Why sometimes does evil
express itself like this
in beautiful names and sounds and songs
or the treachery of a kiss?
So little children's voices once
heralded a Reich, an age,
dressed in symphonies and glory
its soul steeped in rage.
The tinkling glass upon the stones
announced the long, dark night
through which the Jew was herded, shuffling
from which he crawled into the light.
Through all the mud, dust and snow
of frozen camps and hearts
he's come, crying, can still cry at least
and walks erect, apart.
And only a remnant Nazi
from place to hiding place creeps
pursued around the world
as the former slave now sleeps
sleeps free, alive tonight
and every night and day
a living marker for the ones
who died and have no graves.
Their ashes were scattered
across the forgotten Reich.
For them and him and hope and struggle
all nights are crystal nights.
by Robert Jackson
copyright © 1991
If you were a World War II veteran, maybe you read Bill Mauldin's Willy & Joe.
They also serve . . . at right a Filipina doctora who, with her husband and two small children spent three years of war hiding from the Japanese in the mountains of the Philippine Islands. All the while she doctored villagers and even guerrilla fighters, who were resisting the Japanese, and her lawyer husband was able to get news on an old car radio powered by a car generator and a homemade water wheel. He informed all in that particular region, including the guerrillas, of the American landings on Leyte that began the liberation of the islands. At the time they were quite young and recent medical and law school graduates respectively. After the war they went on to found Saint Vincent Hospital & San Vicente School of Midwifery, which have now been absorbed into a major University in the Islands.
CLICK FOR SOLDIERS' ANGELS