As Memorial Day dawns this year, I find myself once again thinking about those members of my family, as well as friends, who have stepped up to serve in the Armed Forces. Most have come home, but not all. A few made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. I honor them and grieve for them and their families.
I am honored to count as a friend Jonathan LaForce. Jonathan is a veteran of Afghanistan and a Corporal of Marines, formerly with Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. The following is something he originally published in 2014 and reading it has become part of my tradition for Memorial Day.
At once, 600 pairs of boots stamp into the grass,
Palms crossing in the small of our backs.
7 months and 2 weeks after it started,
This is how we end the deployment.
“Murderous muscle-bound myrmidons!”
Two hours under the sun,
Performing a final act to honor a good man.
And though we’d rather leave
Discipline demands we stand,
As if performing the Birkenhead Drill.
“Jack-booted gun-toting thugs!”
The man’s name is stated,
His deeds recounted, and of him,
No foul word nor claim can be said.
A genuine truth this, for he was
In all regards a Christian gentleman.
“War criminals! Baby killers! Rapists!”
He was twenty-one that day
Old enough to drink, to vote, to shave
Old enough to pick up a rifle
Old enough to start a family
Old enough to wear the symbols
Of an American Marine.
But Death cares not for such things
And a roadside bomb laid him low.
It’s why we’re here today,
Listening to his mother plea for her baby.
El Dio, Mijo, Padre Celestial.
“First Sergeants, call the roll!”
We brace ourselves, knowing what’s on the way,
Sure as god, sure as death.
“PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra!”
Not once, not twice, but thrice his name’s repeated,
A white hot brand searing into our minds.
The boots come out, placed with care,
Then a rifle, held in place by the bayonet
Stabbed deep into the soil.
Finally a helmet to cap it all off.
This is the marker of a man who fell in battle.
It dates back to earlier days,
Tarawa, Belleau Wood, Chapultepec.
They escort his mother up first
We watch as she faints,
Falling over unable to contain the grief.
And all of it makes us angry.
Rage and grief combine as we approach that marker.
Paying our respects to the fallen.
Wishing for one awful moment to trade him places
Before we send him on to the eternities.
Our society hates us…
The ruling elite despise our symbols
Celebrities mock us at every turn,
Fearing and hating our capacity for violence.
They fervently believe that all we are
Is unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring beasts of war.
They’ll never know what it means
To “stand to” by dawn’s early light;
To run up the colors each day,
Wondering if you’ll live to see them lowered,
In the southern Afghan desert;
To plug a slashed jugular
And save a young marine’s life as bullets crack over head.
To load and fire and load again
Cannons roaring like dragons.
They’ll never see the myrmidon’s tears,
Etching scars not just in our faces
But our minds, our hearts, the fabric of our souls
They never see the drinking, the grief,
The ways we harden ourselves outwardly;
They never see the guilt of surviving
Of living and wishing to die,
If only so that at one better than you could live.
Angels never cry,
We give hope to those we protect.
No one sees the myrmidon’s tears