Heroes Of Yesterday

I’ve read books or stories from virtually every war in which men and women of our nation, including my immediate family, relatives and ancestors, have been involved.  Their sacrifices have deeply touched my heart as I live a life of freedom, a blessing either limited or unknown to so many elsewhere in this world.  Yet, both of our families have not known a loss of life in war during this past century.

A few years ago, friends of ours shared some treasured family papers with me before the reign of Covid-19 when friends could freely visit.  Several boxes of treasures were given to this friend by a relative, mementoes she never knew her mother had kept.  They included old photographs and newspaper clippings.  What especially touched her heart were family photos and letters, especially from one of her brothers who had died in World War II.

Her mother had saved numerous clippings of the war from a local Binghamton newspaper.  Here were reports of a war’s ups and downs, of the efforts of battle-worn troops, of men who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and of soldiers who returned home safely.  Also included were touching news reports by Ernie Pyle, a reporter embedded with troops in the European theater and later in the South Pacific.  

Pyle was a beloved reporter in the U.S. and abroad.  He had a way with words, evoking an empathy from his readers for the servicemen he wrote about.  A reporter who opened his readers’ eyes, he put a personal touch to the effects of war, and to the emotions of hard-won battles for freedom’s sake.  I remember him well… no, I did not grow up during the war, but had purchased and read his book, “Brave Men,” as a teen.  Perusing my friend’s papers, I knew I had to take Pyle’s book down off my bookshelf and refresh my memory.  

Continuing to read through the newspaper clippings, thoughts and emotions swirled around and the poem below began taking shape.  I have always been grateful to those men and women who have joined the military to protect our freedoms and to gain the same for the oppressed around the world.  But to think about each one who has ever gone off to war, to remember them as their family knew and loved them so well… is to contemplate the little child who ran into the loving arms of parents with boundless energy, full of love and joy… the playing and learning he or she did under their wise and watchful eyes… the teen coming to terms with adolescent struggles… the young adult who emerged from military basic training with a new sense of purpose… the seasoned soldier whose loyalty to his or her unit proved a perseverance, endurance and bravery they never knew they had… and the final tribute paid to one who gave his or her all that others might live… is to contemplate the heart and soul of each one who left behind a sweetheart or spouse, beloved parents and siblings, and even children… the one forever remembered for a life interrupted, of the greatest sacrifice made, and of the legacy now carried in the heart and soul of those who have grieved their loss.

As we celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow, may this simple poem evoke in you a heart of thanks for all who have served and not returned home safely, paying the ultimate sacrifice in any war.  Without a willingness to put their lives on the line for the sake of freedom, we would not be enjoying our “…land of the brave and home of the free.”   

Heroes of Yesterday

Linda A. Roorda

Where tyranny reigns evil’s at the helm

As the young and free who know only peace

With faces brave must enter the fray

In the fight for rights we take for granted.

~

Responsibility trains boys into men

With troop cohesion, a unit’s tight bond

To honor and hold each life in their care

For freedom’s defense and the rights of all.

~

Orders to battle and the hell of war

The call to arms which tests the mettle

For within each heart lies the chance to prove

The value of truth to fail or succeed.

~

From red alert to general quarters

Emotions run deep in calm before strife

Of imminent fight and future yearnings

Always thinking, “If I get through…alive…”*

~

The sounds of war above stealth and fear

The zing of bullets and bombs that explode

Challenges met, overcome with courage

Proving capable the common valor.

~

Back home they reflect, living fear and dread

Loved ones waiting for word from afar 

A card or letter received with relief

Until the knock comes when time stands still.

~

The letters home that ceased too soon

As horrors of war burn deep in the soul

Who’ll be the judge at the end of combat

What the heart ponders to serve and protect…

~

To gain advantage with success for peace

To hold these truths that all may live free

To lift the spirit and rebuild from loss

As we remember peace has a cost.

~~

*”Brave Men,” Ernie Pyle, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1944, p.5