It's coming on Memorial Day; I'm reading All Quiet On The Western Front and thinking about the lives lost in war. Millions, mostly young men, sent to fight because old men in suits say they must. Some believed in the causes, others only believed in their country. In the battlefields they didn't dwell on what to believe, only on survival. Do what your superiors tell you; kill or be killed. Winners or losers, it's the same story. But a part of those survivors never left the battlefields where their comrades bled and died. They bury their pain and the horrors burned into their eyes and hearts, and try to forget the murder of innocence. They will never again be the person they were before they saw war firsthand. That person is only a ghost hanging on to dear life. Now there is a soldier who weeps every time he hears “Onward Christian Soldiers” because it was his best friend's favorite hymn; the best friend who died in his arms. Now there is a soldier who will not eat honey, once a childhood favorite, because while crossing an Italian battlefield he stumbled on an enemy corpse turned into a hive by honeybees. Now there is a soldier who remembers the first time killing, up close and personal. He sees the slack jaw and lifeless eyes, the hand that reached for one last look at the family photograph in his breast pocket. Drops of blood splattered the faces of a pretty woman and child, who will never see him alive again. The soldier walks away thinking of things he rarely does because his mind is preoccupied with staying alive. He's no different from the dead man in the field. He's taken the life of someone with a family who love him and will, no doubt, grieve when they hear the news, dished out by telegram or somber-faced superiors who come knocking on their door. He wonders if they might have been friends if they had been born on the same side of the boundary line that defined right and wrong. He wonders how he can go on, and knows he has no choice. Now there is a soldier, out of uniform for decades, who howls in the night, trapped in dreams of unholy blood, the gore of the battlefield, and his best friend dying in his arms. He cannot forget. It is Memorial Day. We cannot let him remember alone.
~Elise Skidmore ©2021