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

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