Thinking of Veterans

Posted November 16th, 2011 by Albert DeCiccio Ph.D., Provost, Southern Vermont College

I wanted to remember Veterans Day.  So, in recognition of all that our veterans have endured, here are two poems (they are very candid) and one song (also very candid) about what our veterans encountered.  I think that they offer wisdom prospectively (as in the final four words the soldier shouts to the sky pilot in the Eric Burdon song, “Thou shall not kill!”)




THE MAN HE KILED – Thomas Hardy


“HAD he and I but met


    By some old ancient inn,


We should have sat us down to wet


    Right many a nipperkin!


    ”But ranged as infantry,


    And staring face to face,


I shot at him as he at me,


    And killed him in his place.


    ”I shot him dead because—


    Because he was my foe,


Just so: my foe of course he was;


    That’s clear enough; although


    ”He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,


    Off-hand like—just as I—


Was out of work—had sold his traps—


    No other reason why.


    ”Yes; quaint and curious war is!


    You shoot a fellow down


You’d treat, if met where any bar is,


    Or help to half-a-crown.”




Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.1

1 It is sweet and right to die for your country.

 Eric Burdon and the New Animals, “Sky Pilot”:

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