Monday, May 31, 2010


WWI Cemetery in Verdun Royalty Free Stock Photo

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae


I really didn't belong there. I wasn't supposed to ride that far. I'd crossed two main roads and a highway. I wasn't even in our city anymore. My mother would have had a fit. Well, I thought, what she doesn't know won't hurt me. I leaned my bike against the chain link fence and climbed over.

The old cannon sat rusting in the vacant lot beside the American Legion. I'd been dying to get to it ever since I'd first noticed. Tucked away in an overgrown corner, it menaced North Main Street. I crouched behind its shield, peeking over the flap. The breech was rusted shut. No matter. North Main Street was the road to Berlin, each passing car a Panzer, and I was Audie Murphy. Now Jerry would get his.

Incoming! I shouted orders to my imaginary platoon. Down! Get down! Eeeeeeeee - BOOM! Quick, load, LOAD! I sighted along the barrel. Ready - FIRE! BOOM! One down, men. Here comes another. RELOAD!

No cap gun could compare. This was the real thing.

The real thing.

I felt his eyes on me before I saw him. The Legionnaire stood by the flagpole, lighting a corncob pipe. He nodded and gave me a casual wave. He wasn't going to kick me out. I waved back. The battle raged on.

Sure is a hot one today.
I whipped around. He had come up behind me. If it had been Jerry I'd be in big trouble. Up close, he was slight, but with the straight back and square shoulders that mark so many military men. He had a commanding air: a man that even street punks like me reflexively called "sir."

Yes, sir
The afternoon sun slanted in through the overgrowth. For the first time I noticed the heat. A cicada buzzed somewhere overhead.

That's a World War II 105mm howitzer you're playing on. You know that?

No, sir.

You like history?

Yes, sir.
He nodded approval.

Know anything about World War II, son?
I told him some things I knew. He nodded again.

I was there, son.

Really? Were you a general?
He laughed.


Maybe I'll be a general someday.


You really fought in World War II?


What was it like?


Did you kill anyone?

He paused and stared at me. Silently, slowly, he drew on his pipe and exhaled. The blue smoke hung motionless in the stillness and heat. No cars passed. The cicadas seemed very loud. He looked off into the distance. He looked at the cannon. He looked at me.

You know what I hope, son?

No, sir.
He gestured toward the Legion building.

I hope some day we close this place down.


I hope some day we don't have any members anymore and we can close down. We're the only organization I can think of that wants to go out of business. That's the truth, son.

Um... I don't understand, sir.

I know you don't. Just remember what I told you. Got that?

Yes, sir.

Been nice talking to you. I've got to be getting back now. You have a nice day. And son?

Yes, sir?

Remember what I told you.

He turned and left, trailing the scent of Captain Black. For some reason I didn't feel like playing anymore. I pedaled home slowly under the reddening sun. All the way, I could hear his voice in the back of my head. I can still hear it now.


Respectfully Yours,



Cheryl Kohan said...

A wonderful post...very, very thought provoking.

lime said...

obviously it made a deep impression on you. both my grandfathers fought in ww2. both came home but only one was whole and there was indelible mark left upon them both, which had its own effect on subsequent generations of their families.

thank you for this post. so poignant. so right.

Hilary said...

What an incredible post. I could feel the struggle going on in his head, deciding how to answer your question. He gave the perfect response. You remembered. Thank you for this.

ds said...

Very powerful and moving.Thank you for remembering, and for sharing.

Suldog said...


(It deserves more words, just for the bulk, but it doesn't need any more.)

Ananda girl said...

What a lovely tribute to that man and so many others. I pray he gets his wish some day soon.

Tabor said...

We all hope it closes down someday. Thanks for visiting my blog and congrats on the POTW.

Daryl said...

Awesome ... congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary

Friko said...

A wonderful post.
You know that I also wrote about the effect of a war on children, except that my children were Jerries.
Nobody ever wins a war.

Pauline said...

this gave me chills - if only we all remembered so we could close those places down...

Bossy Betty said...

Powerful post. I could see it happening. Thank you for this wonderful, thought=provoking writing.

SandyCarlson said...

I have a friend who is a Marine and has talked about the "Did you ever kill anyone?" question. So this post hit home.

Over here in the Nutmeg State, we have canon on our greens. They are unfriendly, essential, reminders of who we are, and they challenge our idea of who we will become.

Unspoken said...

Congrats on the POTD mention!