The 4th of July Meets Memorial Day

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MemorialI intended to write this for Memorial Day but got sidetracked by the hoopla around the joy of Dakota’s graduation, so I’m offering it instead as a tribute on the 4th of July.

In these politically troubled times, it’s easy enough to forget that we can hate the carnage and waste of war, but still love and honor the courageous men and women who’ve served and sacrificed themselves in the name of a country they love and the freedoms they mean to defend and uphold.

I ran across this poem recently quite by accident and was so touched by it, I’d like to pass it on to you. It reminded me of a family incident a few years ago, that showed me how easy it is to overlook the true heroes around us, or perhaps, simply not know their stories, so we can honor them appropriately.

At my Aunt’s 90th birthday party a few years ago, the table talk turned to the 50th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion which was in the news.  Before lunch was done I’d learned to my astonishment that an aunt by marriage had been a Lieutenant with the first Nurse Corps to land on Omaha Beach on that fateful day of invasion, and that an uncle had received the Croix de Guerre for conspicuous bravery in France.  Not only had neither of them ever bragged about their courage, they’d never even mentioned it.  So in their honor, and in tribute to all the other unsung heroes of our all too frequent wars, I offer this sweet and poignant poem:

Just a Common Soldier
(A Soldier Died Today)

by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

Veteran mourningHe was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
Young SoldierAnd the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

Soldiers at the Vietnam WallIt’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

Military Funeral

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

© A. Lawrence Vaincourt

For more information about this poem, please visit:


This second poem which also seems to me appropriate on a day so full of flags and fervor, is one I’ve had hanging on my wall for years.  I found it when writing An Excess of Love (it’s on page 437) and it never fails to move me to tears.

 Two Sides of War (All Wars)

by Grantland Rice

All wars are planned by older men,
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.
But out along the shattered fields
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.
Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.
But where their sightless eyes stare out,
Beyond life’s vanished joys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

young soldier

© Grantland Rice

Posted on June 29th 2012 in Poetry, Politics, The Philosopher’s Teacup

4 Responses to “The 4th of July Meets Memorial Day”

  1. Gerry Says:

    My nephew Michael was KIA in Iraq in 2005. It warms my heart to think there are people who never knew him, think of him and all the other brave men and women who died in service to our country. Thanks Cathy.

  2. Cathy Says:

    I’m so very sorry to hear about the loss of your nephew, Gerry…he and all the others who fought and died for a cause they believed in deserve to be honored and remembered with gratitude.

  3. Rozanne Gates Says:

    Hello Cathy, I always cringe a bit when the conversation turns to war and “heroes.” My father was a Colonel in the US Army during WWII. It was his proudest achievement. But I evolved. War is for the moneyed class. Wars are fought by innocent people lured into thinking they are doing something good for their country when in fact they are only working for corporate interests. We would be much safer, much richer, and more educated if we abolished armies, abolished war and start rethinking the word “hero.” I dream of the day when the corporations decide to give a war and everyone refuses to go. We are not doing anyone anywhere a service by glorifying people in uniforms who have volunteered to protect corporate interests around the globe. I for one am sick of it.

  4. Cathy Says:

    I understand your disheartenment about war and your distrust of those who provoke them, Rozanne, but I disagree about heroes. I don’t think those in uniform volunteer to protect corporate interests, I think they volunteer with good heart and considerable courage to protect and defend an ideal they believe in. If they are led to this by leaders who lie or by unscrupulous and greedy political interests, they are not the ones to blame. I believe those men and women who sacrifice themselves by giving “the last full measure of devotion” do so honorably, bravely and in good conscience, and therefore deserve both our understanding and our gratitude. I’m afraid we may have to agree to disagree on this subject.

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