Commentary: Armistice Day v Veterans Day, W. D. Ehrhart
Again we pass that field
green artillery piece squatting
by the Legion Post on Chelten Avenue,
its ugly little pointed snout
ranged against my daughter’s school.
“Did you ever us a gun
like that?” my daughter asks,
and I say, “No, but others did.
I used a smaller gun. A rifle.”
She knows I’ve been to war.
“That’s dumb,” she says,
and I say, “Yes,” and nod
because it was, and nod again
because she doesn’t know.
How do you tell a four-year-old
what steel can do to flesh?
How vivid do you dare get?
How explain a world where men
kill other men deliberately
and call it love of country?
Just eighteen, I killed
a ten-year-old. I didn’t know.
He spins across the marketplace
all shattered chest, all eyes and arms.
Do I tell her that? Not yet,
though one day I will have
no choice except to tell her
or to send her into the world
wide-eyed and ignorant.
The boy spins across the years
till he lands in a heap
in another war in another place
where yet another generation
is rudely about to discover
what their fathers never told them.
Copyright 1993 W.D. Ehrhart, The Distance We Travel (New Voices Publishing, 1993.
Currently, appears in Thank You For Your Service: Collected Poems (McFarland & Co, 2019)
W. D. Ehrhart is a Marine veteran of both the American War in Vietnam and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. His newest book is Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2019). He’s a friend of Bill W.
Armistice Day v Veterans Day Thoughts
I’ve never paid much attention to Veterans’ Day. None at all, really. The day I’ve always noted, at least in passing, is November 10th, which is the birthday of the US Marine Corps. I have a very curious relationship with the Corps, which is not worth trying to explain here; suffice it to say that, for better or worse, the three years I spent in the Marines were instrumental in shaping who I am today.
But being a veteran means nothing to me. I certainly didn’t serve my country, let alone the greater good for humanity. Quite the contrary. When people say to me, “Thank you for your service,” it is all I can do to reply politely. I long ago lost patience with such empty and emptyheaded vacuity. Nothing I did while in uniform deserves either honor or commemoration.
Armistice Day, on the other hand, was something very different. That people should honor and reverence the end of the greatest carnage powerful elites had ever visited upon ordinary human beings—at least up until that time—was a great idea. It still is. I would very much like to see Armistice Day restored to its original meaning and intent: a celebration of peace.
Even in a world where war seems to be the perpetual state of affairs, a day to remember and celebrate peace seems to me both worthwhile and instructive. I really don’t need a free dinner at Appleby’s or NFL coaches wearing military-style camouflaged jackets or the false thanks of posturing politicians.
But a little peace? That would be nice.
W. D. Ehrhart
formerly Sergeant USMC
Purple Heart Medal
Navy Combat Action Ribbon
Division Commander’s Commendation
Presidential Unit Citation (2)