Lest we forget…
Autumn’s daybreak yawns, light awaiting
Magpies chatter exotic prattle
Huge flocks of geese in southerly migrate
Children in muted laughter playing
I often wonder such pleasantries
The sights and sounds, ambrosial air
Wafting symphonic tonality
These days, our living, peacefully
We walk in green fields, tall grass swaying
Dewdrops clinging, remnants thirsting
Fall winds chill as the sun would rise and
You and I upon a meadow, dancing
Yet far and away in distant lands
Air raid sirens wail unabated
Buildings crumble, human remains were
Tactical targets, politics blamed
Wildfires rage and battle scars worn
Heroes lay fallen, hearts turn to stone
Children lay weeping, lovers forlorn
Through the ages grieving, lost, alone
Rubble is bulldozed, forsaken plains
Abandoned, a city lays in ruin
Smoke rising, cinders’ symbolic burn
Upon lands, amid killing fields…home
Years a collective, nations would mourn
Soldiers of many never came home
Lo, on fields of remembrance poppies grow
Our flags drawn to half mast, wreaths bestowed
Heads bowed, heart and soul, our tears would fall
Bugles hymnal, The Last Call bemoans
The soldier’s ultimate sacrifice
Through them our peace…and remembrance
May someday peace be our only resolve…
I had the good fortune of spending five years managing two beautiful independent retirement living residences not long ago. At the second residence I met a lovely couple, Bill and Elizabeth. Just before they moved into our residence Bill had suffered a stroke which affected his speech, one arm and his lower extremities quite severely.
Bill is a veteran. Shortly after they moved in I had occasion to visit Bill and Elizabeth. Our conversations together were always humorous, warm, friendly, personable. On this occasion they shared that Bill had served during the war, in France. He was a paratrooper whose mission with his squadron was to parachute, in the black darkness of night, into open seas and wade onto the shores without a word or audible sound.
One fateful mission, Bill’s final mission, the squadron waded cautiously onto the sandy beach. The night was especially fearful as their cloak of darkness was altered significantly by a brilliant moonlight. As they mounted the beach, rifles raised in anticipation, there was a sudden outburst of flashes and loud cracking noises followed by explosions. With nowhere to go but forward they pushed on, Bill’s mates screaming horrifically as they were felled by gunfire and mortar.
Suddenly Bill too was struck, multiple times, dozens in fact. He staggered, still attempting to advance against the invisible siege that was taking a devastating toll on his squadron. Again he was hit with surging pain, bleeding profusely as he fell face down into the warm sands. Consciousness faded away and the horrendous din of rapid gunfire, explosions and screaming began to subside as though he were deafened. Bill looked in panic side to side only to see dozens upon dozens of his squadron friends laying prone, motionless around him.
Bill was one of the lucky ones to come home. He had survived the horrors of the beaches of Normandy, France…one of the lucky ones they say.
Bill lived out his life with his lower extremities riddled with shrapnel. Pain was a constant. Even into his latter years he still felt a strong sense of anxiety, a vulnerability during a full moon phase. Bill also lived out his life in a wheelchair, unable to navigate more than a transfer in and out of bed each day. Surgery back in the day to remove so many pieces of shrapnel would have been of great risk and consequence.
Bill wore a smile on his face each and every day. We shared life, sadness, pain and anguish that he suffered during his days of service overseas. Yet somehow this gentle soldier carried that smile with pride and dignity. Remembrance Day was a tremendous day of formality and emotion at the retirement residences. We had at least a dozen veterans with us at any given time, many who had wives that also served for their country. To see them together in tribute on this special day, their uniforms crisp and worn with pride and solemn dignity, was really quite special, moving.
One day I rounded a bend in the corridor on Bill and Elizabeth’s floor only to find them side by side. I was shocked to see Bill standing, awkwardly hanging onto the hand railing with both hands, beads of sweat on his forehead. Startled, I hurried to Bill and asked what had happened and offered my help. Elizabeth responded first, with a smile, saying “Bill has been working on a newfound dream.”
I turned to Bill and asked again what he was doing. He stood even taller, a smile and glint in his eye, replying “some day soon I am going to walk from our suite down this hall to the dining room hand in hand with my dear Elizabeth…without ‘old faithful’ ” he said nodding at the wheelchair vacant behind him. Elizabeth hugged him, asking if he was sure he wanted to continue. Bill didn’t have to answer. I moved closer to hug him too, a group hug I will never forget. Bill continued forward one slow, cautious step at a time, looked at me with determination I had never seen in a human being before. He said softly…this isn’t Normandy. I get to win this battle…”
Friends, pause today to remember those fallen in active service but also give thanks for the life of freedom and safety that we have lived out of the sacrifice of so many. Show your respect and appreciation and if you should have the opportunity, give a veteran a hug today. Give them the respect and dignity that is their due. They carry a heavy burden and need our support, our love, our admiration.
Remembrance Day, November 11, 2015
For Uncle Sonny; Rest in Peace
© Don MacIver 2015; All Rights Reserved