Through a Glass and Darkly – Veterans Day

My Father's Grave - Camp Butler

Today, Veterans Day, is a day to reflect and appreciate the countless citizens who served or are now serving our country in military uniform. My father and his brother were in the Navy in WWII, having enlisted right after Pearl Harbor. Dad served in the Pacific Theater and was involved in numerous battles from his medium-sized gunship. As part of a first generation of immigrants from Austria, he was grateful for his country and proud to serve. My mother and her four sisters moved from the Midwest to San Diego when the war broke out and went to work in the aircraft factories. Everyone sacrificed and viewed those sacrifices as just part of what you did. I am fascinated to listen to my 89 year-old mother talk about those times today. She never complained about years of her youth being interrupted by war. That the love of her life, the man that would be my father, was shipped off with the full knowledge that he might not return. They served as a matter of duty. My mom paints a stark contrast between WWII and the wars we are in today.

But if you’re a solider, it doesn’t matter under what circumstances you are sent to war. You go. You serve. You do your duty. Nothing could possibly diminish that dedication and sacrifice.

When I came of age the armed services draft had just ended, so I had a choice, and chose not to have that experience. I was on the tail end of the Vietnam cusp and remember that rebellious time so very well. It was the first televised war and people called it “unpopular.” It kind of begs the question. What does a popular war look like?

I’m keen on the cinema, so when any eventful day approaches I comb my collection and watch a film that is significant to me and the day. You have to understand, I put on films the way many people would pop in a CD. Movies are the visual soundtrack of my life.

For this Veterans Day I chose Patton. The 1970 classic that capped a decade of extraordinary films devoted to exploring WWII. It was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola (I have argued for years that he should write more) and dominated by George C. Scott in a tour de force performance that garnered him an Oscar in the title role. I’m watching the film on Laser Disk format. Yes, Laser Disk. I actually miss that form factor. Great sound.

Patton was obviously a controversial character. He was a brilliant military strategist but completely unconventional. Although he prayed daily he was convinced he had fought in all the important battles in past lives. Maybe even in battles beyond Earth. This poem, Through a Glass Darkly, provides a revealing window into the mind and soul of someone who has been a warrior for lifetimes.

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.

I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I’ve called His name in blessing
When after times I died.

In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.

While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.

Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite’s leveled spear.

See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.

Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.

Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.

I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.

Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy’s field I lay.

In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.

Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor’s Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it’s quivering gloom.

So but now with Tanks a’clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell’s ghastly glow.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.

Thank you veterans!

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