The cruel war was over – oh, the triumph was so sweet!
We watched the troops returning, through our tears;
There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet glittering street,
And you scarce could hear the music for the cheers.
And you scarce could see the house-tops for the flags that flew between;
The bells were pealing madly to the sky;
And everyone was shouting for the Soldiers of the Queen,
And the glory of an age was passing by.
And then there came a shadow, swift and sudden, dark and drear;
The bells were silent, not an echo stirred.
The flags were drooping sullenly, the men forgot to cheer;
We waited, and we never spoke a word.
The sky grew darker, darker, till from out the gloomy rack
There came a voice that checked the heart with dread:
“Tear down, tear down your bunting now, and hang up sable black;
They are coming – it’s the Army of the Dead.”
They were coming, they were coming, gaunt and ghastly, sad and slow;
They were coming, all the crimson wrecks of pride;
With faces seared, and cheeks red smeared, and haunting eyes of woe,
And clotted holes the khaki couldn’t hide.
Oh, the clammy brow of anguish! the livid, foam-flecked lips!
The reeling ranks of ruin swept along!
The limb that trailed, the hand that failed, the bloody finger tips!
And oh, the dreary rhythm of their song!
“They left us on the veldt-side, but we felt we couldn’t stop
On this, our England’s crowning festal day;
We’re the men of Magersfontein, we’re the men of Spion Kop,
Colenso — we’re the men who had to pay.
We’re the men who paid the blood-price. Shall the grave be all our gain?
You owe us. Long and heavy is the score.
Then cheer us for our glory now, and cheer us for our pain,
And cheer us as ye never cheered before.”
The folks were white and stricken, and each tongue seemed weighted with lead;
Each heart was clutched in hollow hand of ice;
And every eye was staring at the horror of the dead,
The pity of the men who paid the price.
They were come, were come to mock us, in the first flush of our peace;
Through writhing lips their teeth were all agleam;
They were coming in their thousands — oh, would they never cease!
I closed my eyes, and then – it was a dream. There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet gleaming street;
The town was mad; a man was like a boy.
A thousand flags were flaming where the sky and city meet;
A thousand bells were thundering the joy.
There was music, mirth and sunshine; but some eyes shone with regret;
And while we stun with cheers our homing braves,
O God, in Thy great mercy, let us nevermore Forget
The graves they left behind, the bitter graves. — Robert Service
We’re a patriotic nation, by golly. We get angry when foreigners say a bad word about the United States. We solemnly lay our hands over our hearts when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited before every meeting. We bristle if anyone dares talk about burning the American flag.
Yet we defile two holidays that should be among our most sacred – Memorial Day and Veterans Day – by allowing them to be celebrated with Giant Discount Mattress, Tire, and Auto Sales! – to quote the advertisements in newspapers and on TV. One would think that on these days, out of all the days of the year, when families mourn and a few citizens give respect to flag, country and our youth’s sacrifices, the mammon-seekers could close.
In the 1930s and during World War II, we came together and formed, out of a terrible Depression, the greatest country and government in the world. We were willing to sacrifice 100,000 of our youth in two corporate wars and today we are trying to shake ourselves loose with dignity from another fiasco perpetrated by oil cartels.
We left our Korean and Vietnam veterans on the streets with few if any means of putting their lives back together. Over a long time, the populace finally became aware that we had a great problem, yet Congress and the corporations refused to provide adequate funding to help our veterans. VA medical care remains a disgrace and there is far too little treatment for the depression and PTSD our warriors suffer as well.
Shame on us.
Not of this can be remedied with a snap of the fingers, but one place to start might be in rethinking Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I as a veteran take great offense at the way these have been commercialized.
I know I am shouting into the wind, but I do it nonetheless. As you read this old poem, maybe it will open your eyes. Let’s honorably respect the survivors of war and the families of those lost or suffering. Boycott the sales and let the corporations know why you’re doing so. In so doing, you will honor our veterans.
Galen Larson writes from Montezuma County, Colo.