I am that which others fear to be,
Whom others shun, whom others adore.
I am the olive-drab man,
With camouflage thoughts and a khaki heart,
Who stands in the shadow of the flag,
Who marches to the sound of the guns,
Who rides to the rescue with bugles blaring.
I live hard, pack light, sleep easy,
And scan everything as through a gun-sight.
Before I could vote or drink,
I stood solemn vigil over unfashionable ideas,
And learned to keep the peace
By keeping the faith.
I yelled and cursed my way into manhood,
So silence would speak louder than words,
And quiet could fill-up my emptiness.
My ferocious spirit was tamed
On the aspirations of small-minded men;
And my expertise was whetted
On the arrogance of big-mouthed men.
I sought giants and dragons
And damsels in distress,
But found only echoes and reflections
Of my own labyrinthine soul.
I've guarded isolated posts
Through interminably bitter nights,
And stained the sunburned trail
With unsaturated salty sweat.
I've stood exhausted and parched and famished
In heat mirages and frozen cocoons,
In soupy mud and shifting sand,
In virulent swamps and desolate crags,
In dense thickets and verdant plains,
In hasty foxholes and dusty tents,
In primitive huts and suffocating vehicles,
Ready, willing, and able to do my duty.
I've sacrificed family, and lost friends;
I'm willing to be forever lonely in a crowd.
I've been forsaken at Mail Call,
And re-buffed what was already shiny bright.
I've recited military litanies for entertainment,
And studied technical manuals for companionship.
I've donned a public mask for holidays
To hide the face made by battle ...
That once starry-eyed visage
Now become a pocked thousand-yard stare.
I've sucked-up the pain, growled through the training,
And triggered the standard QM-issue Sense of Humor.
I've stanched my instinctive fear,
like tying-off inevitable bleeders,
Because broken promises need
A strong arm to wield a mighty sword.
I have gone where others were fleeing from,
Knowing their trial has been passed along to us,
Knowing their redemption is another's salvation,
Knowing peace is at the end of Harm's Way.
Innocents are always punished for the sins of others.
I have chosen to serve where I've been sent,
And perform my assigned task as well as possible,
So no one else will have to do it again.
I have chosen to discipline myself,
So no one else will have to discipline me.
I have chosen to live by an honor code,
So I can respect myself,
And others will be honored by my pride.
I am an American fighting man.
I am a veteran of too many winter campaigns.
I remain poised on the brink of my nation's will.
by Frank N. Ernest
... who is a combat veteran and retired policeman; his work has
appeared previously in this magazine.