In case you didn’t know, today is not a day for barbecues, for fun, for baseball or bargain hunting. Today is the day you give thanks for the men and women who gave their lives so you could live yours as fully or as foolishly as you choose. Do not forsake them. Do not forget them. Ever.
Trees in the old days used to stand
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand
Who came from Carentan.
This was the shining green canal
Where we came two by two
Walking at combat-interval
Such trees we never knew.
The day was early June, the ground
Was soft and bright with dew
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.
The sky was blue, but there a smoke
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke
To towns we could not see.
Could you have seen us through a glass
You would have said a walk
Of farmers out to turn the grass,
Each with his own hay-fork.
The watchers in their leopard suits
Waited til it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot
And let the barrel climb.
I must lie down at once, there is
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,
Don’t count again on me.
Everything’s all right, Mother,
Everyone gets the same
At one time or another.
It’s all in the game.
I never strolled, nor ever shall,
Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.
There is a whistling in the leaves
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.
Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant’s silent
That taught me how to do it.
O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain’s sickly
And taking a long nap.
Lieutenant, what’s my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too’s a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.
Carentan, O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.
Carentan, O Carentan
by Louis Simpson
Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.
The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.
Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copyboook gothic script.
We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that’s hard and good when he’s decayed.
But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.
For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.
(Capt. Keith Douglas, UK, was killed in action by mortar fire while advancing from Bayeux, 6/9/44)
(Son to Father. . .)
Do not call me, father. Do not seek me.
Do not call me. Do not wish me back.
We’re on a route uncharted, fire and blood erase
On we fly on wings of thunder, never more to
sheathe our swords.
All of us in battle fallen – not to be brought back by
Will there be a rendezvous? I know not. I only know
we still must fight.
We are sand grains in infinity, never to meet.
nevermore to see light.
(Father to Son . . .)
Farewell, then my son. Farewell then my conscience.
Farewell my youth, my solace, my one and my only.
Let this farewell be the end of the story,
A solitude vast in which none is more lonely,
In which you remained barred forever
From light, from air, with your death pains untold.
Untold and unsoothed, never to be resurrected.
Forever and ever an 18 year old.
No trains ever come from those regions,
Unscheduled and scheduled.
No airplanes fly there.
Farewell then my son,
For no miracles happen, as in this world
Dreams do not come true.
I will dream of you still as a baby,
Treading the earth with little strong toes,
The earth where already so many lie buried.
This song to my son, then, is come to its close.
Extract from a poem by Jr. Lt. Vladimir Pavlovich Antokolski, Red Army.
Killed in action, June 6th, 1942