11 November 2005 by Published in: General musings 3 comments

As the clocks tolled the arrival of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns finally fell silent. After more than four years of butchery, The Great War, The War to End All Wars, World War I, came to an end.

The anniversary of the end of the war was known as Armistice Day. However, it changed to Veterans’ Day in recognition of the sacrifices of the many men and women who have sacrificed to give us the country we have today. As you go about your business today, think of those brave men and women, and thank them for their sacrifices. Thank them for the country we have today.

A Canadian doctor named John McCrae, weary of the butchery of World War I, left a simple but eloquent tribute to those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.

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.

I’ve always been an admirer of Lt. Wilfed Owen, who was the embodiment of the warrior-poet. Owen was a brlilliant Scots poet who served in the British army in World War I. He was killed in action a scant two weeks before the armistice, having been through inimaginable hell. With the war-weary eyes of one who had seen too much, Owen chronicled his time in the charnel houses of Europe. His most famous poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est” follows:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Here’s another of my favorite Owen poems. In light of the war in Iraq, it seems especially appropriate today:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

To all who have sacrificed on my behalf, thank you for your sacrifices and for your service.

In memory of Staff Sgt. Morton L. Wittenberg (U.S. Army, WWII) and Staff Sgt. Joseph R. Pacitto, USMC (Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm). May you both rest in peace with the thanks of a grateful nation..

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Comments

  1. Dave Kelly
    Wed 16th Nov 2005 at 8:17 pm

    Just an afterthought. I don’t do well with memorial days. They’re personal.

    I like Owens. I like Bierce. They’ve seen the beast.

    For some reason Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem seems to capture the right mood with Owens, and tragedy, and remembrance. (Not bad for a gay boy who spent WWII chasing woodchucks in Canada) 🙂

  2. Wed 16th Nov 2005 at 8:56 pm

    Dave,

    I haven’t read Britten’s work, but I will do so. Thanks for the tip.

    Eric

  3. Dave Kelly
    Wed 16th Nov 2005 at 11:06 pm

    (chuckle) B Britten: 20 Century British composer.

    Best recording is Britten’s own. London label. Vishnevskaya, Pears and Fisher-Dieskau soloists.

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