Over 16.

August 12, 2017 § 4 Comments

Young, we set out like those brash southern boys so eager to join the fray they were afraid the war would end before they saw action, whupped Yankee butt.

Some, too young for the fight, chalked the number 16 on the sole of a boot so that when asked if they were over 16, they could swear they were without lying.

Surrounded by friends, they paraded out of hometowns.

Mothers and sweethearts waved and blotted their eyes with cloth handkerchiefs.

Some of those aspiring soldiers carried rifles, some knives, and some a canvas sack home-packed, as if the boys were picnicking, not going to war.

Young, we throw our chests out and march toward, we know not what, sure that whatever it is, we will prevail. Teach it a lesson.

And then we get into the fray and are chastened by how out-gunned we are, and our brags ring hollow, even to us.

We make allowances for the times we have to hide in a muddy ditch or the loft of a stranger’s barn, life being more valuable than bravado or dignity.

In the split second when we throw our body over a buddy to protect them, or don’t, we find out who we really are.

 

Becoming seasoned, we rise through the ranks, or provide faithful service, or we shirk.

But finally, most of us take a bullet, or are beaten by the cold seeping through wet shoes, thin rations, an unrelenting rain, or just the deep drift of time.

And so we soldiers soldier home, an arm around a buddy, bloodied but wiser, our bodies worn out. But we have seen battle, prevailed or lost, fought bravely or at least survived.

I see this now as the years pile up for all of us who set out together under the banner of youth. We stagger home now, those of us who are lucky, unharmed, bearing the weight of the wounded. We do it willingly. Proudly. We have always been in this together.

Home again, we watch the next eager young soldiers set out, hearts high, dreams grand. We wish them luck and offer advice they toss over a shoulder as they walk away.

They are moving too fast to glance back, desperate to get there before the fight is won or lost without them.

Note: The flaw in this metaphor is that it implies that those marching out are all men, but of course it includes all of us.

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