Tuesday, November 10, 2009

One can't say Happy Veterans Day, how about Thank you, Vets?

Veterans Day always reminds me that yes, I'm an American. Despite my weariness over blind eyed and hearted fellow citizens, covering everything from disgust over how color of skin or choice of lover/partner/spouse continues to be a bugaboo to a reliance on fast foods and faster energy, there is still something about the country that birthed me that makes me weepy to see old men and women in uniform waving the Stars and Stripes.

Maybe it isn't even love of America. Maybe it is sorrow for a world gone by, when war really meant fighting for our own country and way of life (at least to those actually fighting it - I'm still a cynic about the prompters of war). Then a simpler life by far, when it was endangered it was worth signing up and fighting for. Most of the people signing up now, from what I read, sign up because of huge immediate bonus pay and an alternative to joblessness or jail time. I know I know, that is a generalization, but check out the stats. Hey, I might join up myself if they didn't deem me too old. Probably not, but I've thought about it.

The vagueness of purpose is so obviously a twisted road traveled. From the Civil War, then WW's l and ll, the Korean war, then the *conflict* of Viet Nam and the skirmishes inbetween all of those...to what we are in today. I'm not going to get into the politics here; we all have our own beliefs and that is not what Veterans' Day is about. The reality is that there are vets who are in our current wars, who go back and go back and go back. I sort of comprehend why, but I can't say I *know* - that would be disrespectful at best and an idiotic swept up bundle of misguided empathy at worst. I sometimes am rendered slack jawed by stories of soldiers...

I think of the men who opened the doors to the concentration camps after the Holocaust; coming face to emaciated face with what they were actually fighting to prevent taking over the world. I read an article the other day saying how our President at that time made it the most photographically documented event in war history, because he said that one day there would be people around saying it wasn't true. How far reaching was that?? It's happening now, in Iran, in America, in Europe. A hard slap in the face to every soldier who fought to take down the chains of Hitler's imagination, working to stop one more person not fitting the idea of a 'pure' race from being killed.

So, beyond the honor and respect all veterans deserve (and while this is an American holiday, our allies need to be honored as well, their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are serving and have served and lived and died alongside our own), we all need to stand up, every day, every time you hear a racial slur, every time you hear an ethnic joke, every time you hear freedom slammed to the mat because of someone's ignorance, we need to stand up, speak out and in doing so, respect those serving and those who died serving the ideals of what that red, white and blue is supposed to be all about. Past the Fox vs. Huffpost, GlennBeck vs. Jon Stewart, past health care is good vs. they want to kill our old folk, past all of the foolishness to what America is supposed to be about. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Democracy.

I know that sounds naive...and trust me, I am not. But I still remember what it is like to stand on a sidewalk and watch old men and women marching in uniform to a cadence that rang out long before I was ever born playing in their heads...to all of you, old and young, thank you. To the unsung and the known 'heros', thank you. To the ones who didn't come back, thank you.

In Culebra, there is a family that had all six of their sons serve, the Avila family. A rare event for the numbers, but in that time of believing in service, not terribly unusual compared to today. Hopefully they will be honored with their desire to see the stretch of road out to Flamenco named after these six brothers. They served well, and in my eyes and heart, their parents served as well. I can't quite imagine having six sons, and seeing all of them go to war. Bravery of a sort rarely called for these days; these parents had it and lived it. Maybe that is why we can be petty in our issues now a days, without such worthy causes...perhaps.

[edited by author 11/27/09] As can be seen by the comments below, I erred in saying Mr. Hawkhead was serving in Afghanistan. He kindly set me straight. I will include his own introduction in this correction. Thank you, Mr. Hawkhead.


Author's introduction
This poem concerns the current operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. My intention was to draw parallels between military operations using the poppy which is grown extensively for opium and ironically is also the symbol we use for Remembrance Day


Night on the cold plain,
invisible sands lift,
peripheral shadows stir,

space between light and dark
shrouding secrets;
old trades draped grey.

Here too poppies fall,
petals blown on broken ground,
seeds scattered on stone

and this bright bloom,
newly cropped,
leaves pale remains,

fresh lines cut;
the old sickle wind
sharp as yesterday.

John Hawkhead
To all of the veterans, and all of the fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who serve every day a loved one is gone, thank you.


  1. Thank you for posting this, and much more importantly, a Thank You filled with love and gratitude to all veterans for all they do to serve our country...

  2. John Hawkhead11/20/09, 2:48 PM

    Dear blogger. I am not a soldier and I am not serving in Afghanistan.
    Regards, John Hawkhead (Helmand poem)

  3. It appears there is another John Hawkhead who is....sorry for the confusion here...please feel free to email me about this.


  4. Hi
    I did write this poem (see warpoetry website) and was once served in the military but I am not in Afghanistan. As far as I know, there is no other John Hawkhead serving there at present.
    John Hawkhead

  5. Ok, now I see the error, which of course, is mine. I read the introduction (on that page) and right above it is a line about a soldier serving in Afghanistan, so I made the wrong conclusion that you also were serving there. Thank you for your patience. Mainly I wanted to be absolutely positive it was your poem. The internet can be strange that way. I will correct the above.