Monday, July 24, 2017

In memory of my father

Soldiers of the 96th,
we are your families.
We are your wives, sons, daughters,
grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
and all those who bore your children
or share your bloodline.

Your legacy comes down to us
in books, in movies,
and in black-and-white photos
that show ordinary men
working, playing, taking a break,
training in the snow for a war in the Pacific,
and sailing thousands of miles
to places that had no Kansas wheat fields,
no Iowa corn,
no Ozarks or Appalachians;
places with strange names like
Buri, Dagami, Shuri, and Medeera;
and with hills and ridges that we gave our own names to
and would long remember in our dreams and nightmares:
Hen Hill, Conical Hill,
Hacksaw Ridge, and The Big Apple.

So many of you never returned,
reaching your end in rifle fire,
a hail of machine-gun bullets,
or an exploding shell.
Those of you who did return
were not the ones we had sent overseas;
you bore their names,
but you carried dark secrets
that you would not share with us;
secrets that clouded your thoughts during the day,
and spawned terrible nightmares after dark --
Nightmares so real that you might mistake your lover
for a Japanese soldier
and find yourself shouted awake
with your hands at her throat.

We could not condemn you later
for drowning those demons in alcohol,
or silencing them with a bullet.

But amazingly, some of you
chose to live, love, and work again
in the country that had sent you away.
Look at me; nearly seventy years ago,
one of you chose to marry, build a home,
and create and support a family of five.
Only two of us remain,
but we remember,
and stand in awe at what you accomplished.
Despite your pain, you worked 72 hours a week for 20 years
to support that family and watch its children grow.
You stopped only when the oil company that sponsored you
declared you too old to be of service to them.
Deprived of your ability to serve others,
only five years passed before disease took hold of you
and slowly erased your mind and memories
over the next eight years,
until nothing remained.

Your ashes sit atop a high point of land
that now looks westward across the same Pacific
through which you sailed to hell and back.
Your devoted wife, my mother, sits close beside you
under a stone that proudly proclaims your union and service.
I hope to join you there some day.

Few will notice your memorial
among the thousands of other stones there,
but it is my hope that some will remember you,
as we do here today.
Soldier, leader, husband and father
we thank you for your service
and your inspiration.

1 comment:

Wayne Farmer said...

The above poem is a tribute to my father, SSgt George William Farmer of the US Army, 96th Infantry Division, 381st Infantry Regiment, Company G, 2nd Battalion. During World War II he fought and survived the land attacks against the Japanese Army on Leyte and Okinawa, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.