Remembering the Ghost Soldiers

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Only one of every one hundred of us can remember the first Veterans Day, in 1919, when it was called Armistice Day.

The war had ended just a year before, 80 years ago. And it was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." World War I All tolled, five million people died during that war. America alone lost 116,500.

Of course, it wasn't the "war to end all wars." By 1954 when President Eisenhower signed legislation to rename it Veterans Day, we had survived World War II, and were in the midst of the Korean War. Another 350,000 had died. And Vietnam was still to come.

Today, we remember. Westfield does a particularly good job of remembering each year. And this year was no exception.

The parade, the Westfield High School band, and the veterans, themselves. The flags, music, and speeches. I've marked the day in London, in a Cathedral, with bells pealing and speeches given from the pulpit at the eleventh hour. And, I've marked it in our own Parker Park, many times, surrounded by our war memorials and our memories. Both places were remarkably quiet, and solemn.

It's always difficult to come up with remarks year after year at the Veterans Day ceremonies. So, this year I didn't prepare any of my own words. I borrowed words from Elizabeth Quesenberry, who sent me a poem, a poem about ghost soldiers.

She told me she wrote it in 1983, when her own son was a Marine during the bombing of Beirut.

Elizabeth calls it "reality poetry," written in memory of all American soldiers killed in war.

Here, then, is "The Ghost Parade."

"Out of a cold and a misty night, the ghost of brave young soldiers march by.

"Brave young soldiers, once flesh and blood, who had only wanted to live. But fate had destined them to die.

"Side by side, row on row, they go, these spirit soldiers with haunted faces and hollow eyes.

"Hollow eyes unable to see.

"These spirit soldiers, marching, marching, marching, on they go, marching in a parade of death, a parade of death, for all eternity.

"This ghost parade has no blaring bands, no waving flags, or cheering crowds who care.

"This ghost parade has only deadly, solemn silence, that pervades a chilled and misty air.

"Never again will these brave young soldiers, stroll upon a beach of cool wet sand, or under the moonlight reach to touch their true loves' soft and gentle hand, never again to feel the warm sun upon their youthful face, or to see the soaring of a lark.

"Alive, now, only in memory of their loved one's sad and broken heart.

"These spirit soldiers were once alive.

"So brave, so young, so strong of body and of mind.

"Now all that remains are photographs in family albums. Pictures of their past capturing moments of stillness in time.

"When, we ask, will this eerie parade of spirit soldiers ever come to a halt and its final end?

"We can only hope that someday in the evolving scheme of our universe, we will all become caring beings, instead of what some are today. Cruel and violent men."


Thank you for remembering.

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