I believe that a serviceman or servicewoman who died in war – anyone of them who gave “The Full Measure of Devotion” as President Lincoln called it — deserve a voice. I have attempted to do so for one such patriot. Ironically, it is an individual who may be the best and least known. Some of what I have written is imagined, it is true, for we cannot know the true nature of this death, except that it happened, and it happened in the service of the country. I thus honor this person, and apologize that my words can never match the level of the sacrifice. I believe this with all my heart. His story begins:
I met my end in France in 1917, felled through the heart by a sniper’s bullet. I was one of General Pershing’s doughboys, but I let him down – another American corpse was as much use to him as a gunny sack. It was a war where death was thought inevitable, save for the brutal wound that could see you home.
With a bit of luck, the stretcher bearers might have found my lifeless body and my next of kin notified. But high explosives did their work, and what they started, the rats finished. Trench warfare isn’t a pretty thing, you know. My only wish was to lie beside fallen comrades, but another twist of fate awaited me.
I am only one of millions who died in the Great War – the war to end all wars, it was called. Countless thousands of us remain, friends and foe, buried or missing in some faraway land, our blood forever mingled in the foreign soil. Did you think of us on the 11th day of the 11th month?
I’m all right: My remains now repose in honored splendor. Imagine that — a boy from the farms of the Mid West, or the cities of the Eastern States or Pacific Rim, resting in such a place. I could be an immigrant, or a first generation American, but no matter: A sentry marches in slow cadence forward and back — exactly 21 steps. The sentry stops, pauses for 21 seconds, then resumes the endless march, up and down. My sentinel is always there — in the warmest days and coldest nights; in hurricanes, lightning storms, or the heavy snows of winter. And I’m just an ordinary American boy.
But I know that I represent our honored dead from the Great War – all the men and women — from across our country, our lives sacrificed for the freedoms that you now enjoy. In front of me, rests comrades who honored us in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I expect we’ll have more company soon: liberty comes at a price – an awful price, sometimes – but this is what I believe.
You say, what is my name? Why, if you’d asked me that around 1916, and you happened to be a pretty girl, I’d be mighty pleased to tell you; but I’m honored that you just stopped by, or simply think about what brought me here. I am a mere soldier whose epitaph on the marbled sarcophagus at Arlington is as much for my fallen brothers and sisters as it is for me– “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God”. Remember us – now and always.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.