Grave of a Warrior

OldSoldierby Steve Lancaster    2/22/14
It happens several times a year, mostly when we are traveling and almost always in my beloved South. Someone will notice my Vietnam veteran hat and quietly thank me for service. As a Southerner, I cannot in any way be impolite and I always thank them for noticing. These are mostly people 40+ — some whose children and grandchildren have been to the Middle East. Most of the time they don’t take time to tarry; they have the look about them of people who value the privacy of an old man. They just touch and fade away. I seldom have the opportunity to chat with them or learn their names, but they are people who know how to spend a few minutes with others and pass on. They are never intrusive, in fact almost curt for Southerners.[pullquote]She knew, I suspect with a mother’s knowledge and love, that her son had died a complete man, secure in his love for his family and the love and respect of the men he served with.[/pullquote]

I was at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs a few years ago, sitting quietly on the veranda watching the traffic on Central Avenue, and a lady who could be my mother approached me. She was at least in her 80’s but still spry. She asked to sit and then told me that her son had served in Vietnam and had died there with the 1/7 in 1968, Tet. I expressed my condolences and she said that he had died not for his country, state, or even for the USMC, but for the few men in his unit. She was very proud, not because of his sacrifice, but because he never lost his faith in the men he served with.

She knew, I suspect with a mother’s knowledge and love, that her son had died a complete man, secure in his love for his family and the love and respect of the men he served with. We talked for a while and she said that it was time for her to go. I asked her if there was anywhere that I might take her, and she said she wanted to visit the cemetery where her son was buried. I called my wife told her I would be awhile and took her to the cemetery.

It was an old cemetery, with graves dating back to the early 1800’s. There were graves of veterans of the revolution, 1812, Mexico, Civil War, Spain, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the current wars. Her son was in a side section in a family plot. A 4th great-grandfather in the revolutionary war and others in various conflicts; and her son. A simple stone with a Navy Cross inscription. She turned to me and said that he was the last of the line. Her husband had died not long after her son and she could never remarry.

You might think this a sad and sentimental story, yet I find great hope. In almost every town, city and urban area of this great country there are hundreds if not thousands of similar stories. These mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters have lost a loved one, not because of patriotism, although that plays into the picture, but because they loved and respected the men and women they fought with. In the end that is the reason the American warrior so deadly efficient in battle. When we lose the feeling of brotherhood and unit cohesion we will be the lessor as men and as a nation. • (1168 views)

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4 Responses to Grave of a Warrior

  1. Glenn Fairman says:

    “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves acursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day! ” –Henry V

    Great piece.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Steve, that’s a very fine essay. I’ve never served in the military. Frankly, I don’t think I’m soldier material — and not because I couldn’t’ kill another man, but I just think there’s a different balls-to-the-wall manliness that it takes to be a soldier.

    And the soldiering trade can as easily produce the kind of good-guy American soldier shown in the photo caring for a cat (just a photo I picked at random) or the kind of beasts (as is typical throughout history) for whom killing and plunder are a way of life. (I’ve been reading to many books on ancient Rome, no doubt.)

    You’ve been there, so I have no doubt that when you say that a man is fighting for the other men in his unit that that thought is likely paramount in his mind, even if there is the larger context of fighting for one’s country and thus, for one’s family, by extension. But what sets the American soldier above, say, the typical (taking the entirety of history as a backdrop) soldier who also fought for his men but otherwise was often a brute and who often fought for quite contemptuous regimes?

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.” Since that rank includes my father (whose name graces a certain wall in DC) as well as Abraham Lincoln (my first cousin 5 times removed), the lines move me every time I hear them.

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