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I Was A Soldier

by Daniel K. Cedusky (Colonel USAR ret)

I was a soldier. That's the way it is; that's what we were ... what we are. We put it that way ... simply. Said without any swagger, without any brag, in those four plain words.

We speak them softly, just to ourselves. Others may have forgotten, but we cannot. They are a manifesto to mankind. If you speak those four words anywhere in the world ... anywhere at all ... many who hear them will recognize their meaning. They are a pledge. A pledge that stems from a document which begins "I solemnly Swear ... to protect and defend", and continues from there to a flag called "Old Glory".

Listen to those four words, and you can hear the voices echoing through them. Words that sprang white-hot from bloody lips, shouts of "Medic!", whispers of "Oh God!", forceful words of "Follow Me!". If you can't hear them, then you weren't ... if you can, you were.

"Don't give up the ship!" "Fight her till she dies!" "Damn the torpedoes!" "Go ahead! Do you want to live forever?!" "Don't cheer, boys, the poor devils are dying." Laughing words, and words cold as January ice. Words that when spoken, were meant ... "Wait till you see the whites of their eyes!". Echoes from these four simple words, I was a Soldier.

You can hear the slow cadences at Yorktown or New Orleans, at Gettysburg or Arlington, honoring not a man, but a soldier. He may not be survived by family. He may be ignored by posterity. He is, perhaps, forgotten by his nation. Oh, those broken promises! You can hear those echoes as you walk through a museum, watch a parade, drink a beer at the Post, go to The Wall, visit a VA hospital, hear the mournful call of taps, or gaze upon the white crosses, row upon row.

But they aren't just words. They're a way of life. They're a pattern of living, or a manner of dying.

They made the evening. Supper with the wife and kids at the end of another day's work, without Gestapo at the door, threatening to kick-in your teeth.

They made education. Children have the opportunity to explore their intellect and develop their creativity. They made sanctuary; so everyone could worship freely and observe their faith without prejudice. They made opportunity; so anyone could become anything he desired, accepting the risks with the rewards.

They made government; giving everyone an equal and secret vote in electing the direction of our common administration. With that vote, came the obligation to protect the process, and the responsibility to abide by its results.

They defended the right to hope and dream, to work and pray. They are the proof of service. These are only some of the meanings of those four simple words ... meanings we don't often tally; meanings too numerous to list.

Only in the stillness of a moonless night, or in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon, or in the thin dawn of a new day, when our world is close about us, do they rise-up in our memories, and stir in our sentient hearts. And we are remembering the Marne and Belleau Wood, Passchendaele and Somme, Los Banos and Normandy, Nijmegen and Bataan, Chosin and Inchon, Ia Drang and Dak To, Kham Duc and Chu Lai, Knox and Benning, Norfolk and Pearl Harbor, Great Lakes and Parris Island, Travis and Chanute, and many other places too long forgotten by civilians.

They're plain words ... those four simple words, I was a soldier.

You could incise them on stone. You could carve them on the mountain ranges. You could sing them, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle". But you needn't do any of those things ... for those words are graven in the hearts of veterans. They are familiar to 24,000,000 tongues, every sound and each syllable. If you must write them, then put them on my stone.

But if you speak those words, no matter where or when, speak them softly. Say them proudly, and I will hear you ... for I too saw and heard the echoes. I was a Soldier.