Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gentle Heroes

Armistice Day
The Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month
Then ...the Captain March 1970
with his Miracle Tail Rotor Blades
which returned his crew and those they rescued
to safety .
To all Vietnam Veterans,
welcome home!
Thanks to my son...
Operation Enduring Freedom
& Iraqi Freedom
We are so blessed that you will be here this Christmas!

Thank you Colonel,
for your service and your heroism!
Yes, these and a few dollars these days will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks!
(That's all he ever said about them for years....but I know better.)
Hardest earned ...
43 Air Medals
Bronze Star
Distinguished Flying Cross
(click on photo to enlarge)
Happy Veterans Day
and a heartfelt thanks to all of our men & women
who have served and sacrificed



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.

Canadian John McCrae was not satisfied with this poem, and tossed it aside. A fellow officer saved it, sent it to several publications. It became the most famous poem of World War I. Even so, it has that powerful quality to transcend its time and place. The message is always the same: a soldier survives and tells the story of those who did not. How can we possibly understand the depth of feeling -- the grief -- and yes the guilt many veterans continue to bear all because they survived? Yes, there is glory, but many veterans say it pales and is hollow when they remember the "gentle heroes" who never returned.

When my husband returned from Vietnam, among his personal treasures was a manila folder of several poems composed and typed by his co-pilot, Michael. I read them over and over...and so did many people over the years. Michael died on the very day my husband was returning to the Central Highlands from his R&R in Hawaii. Michael had gone out on a rescue mission, and his helicopter took enemy fire and exploded in flames. No bodies were recovered, and he remained on MIA status for many long years. One poem, written only two months before he died, poignantly echoes the call to remember...

If you are able,
Save for them
A place inside of you
For the places
They can no longer go...
Be not ashamed
To say you loved them
Though you may or
May not have always
Take what they have left
And what they have taught you
With their dying
And keep it with your own...
And in that time
When men decide and feel safe
To call the war insane,
Take one moment
To embrace those gentle heroes
You left behind.

by Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
January 1, 1970

(Click on the Title Line of this post to visit the
In Flanders Fields Museum)


Rowan said...

I confess that I always think of those who died in the two World Wars, but you are quite right to emphasize that men have been dying in many other wars since then and are still doing so today.

FireLight said...

Rowan, I realized when I finished that I had made no mention of WWII or Korea: The Forgotten War. My father served a total of 7 years in those wars, as I have mentioned on some previous posts. We can never say enough or do enough. However, I want to add how very much I appreciate all of the memorials for soldiers....the ever present honors that one finds when visiting small and large towns throughout England. There are quiet, intimate ceremonies that happen every day. As I rememeber, every morning at eleven, a soldier formally attends a small memorial chapel inside Salisbury Cathedral. I remember it as a place of honor for WWI soldiers. Please enlighten, add to, or correct me if I have this wrong. I think I was there in the late eighties. I know I was so moved by it that tears filled my eyes.

willow said...

Take one moment
To embrace those gentle heroes
You left behind.

This pretty much says it all. Beautiful, poignant post, FireLight. I loved seeing the Colonel's medals. I get chills to think of what they represent.

Jen Chandler said...

Such a wonderful memorial to those who sacrificed. Thank you for posting this. Amazing collection of medals. A true hero.


Country Girl said...

It only takes one moment. Beautiful.

Michael said...

Wonderful blog Marnie...words beyond me. Thank you so much.

Janelle Goodwin said...

How very poignant and beautiful. This post touched me deeply.

Derrick said...

Hello FireLight,

Two beautiful poems that say everything for everyone. I have always wondered at how the seemingly random chance of war provides two very different fates for two men. The last three WWI survivors who left us this year were a perfect illustration of that.

FireLight said...

Indeed, Derrick. Every soldier's story is so important. I am as much overwhelmed by the ones we know as the ones we do not.

FireLight said...

Jannelle, each year at school when I prepare to read this to my students during classes, I literally have to screw up my courage to share Michael's poem.
I have great trouble with the last three lines.
It is my intention to make his moment matter.

FireLight said...

Michael, how blessed we are to have our sons with us and to honor them!

FireLight said...

Country Girl, yes only a moment! Perhaps on Memorial Day I will post a few more of his other poems. He had a talent for poetry.

FireLight said...

Jen, I have learned that living with a veteran really means you live with all his fellow heroes too.
"We few, we happy few...we band of brothers!"

FireLight said...

Willow, those medals live in a little shadow box, but we do sometimes attend a military ball or reception, and they get a chance to sparkle.
I want him to write at least some of the stories. Maybe, just maybe.....

About Me

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Recreational scholar, former high school and junior college English teacher. Animal lover (especially horses, dogs, and people), live in the South, sometimes poet and essayist... "Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Wales...I can hear those ancient voices calling..." Van Morrison from Celtic Heartbeat