Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

"It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it." -Robert E Lee

I like this quote, I really do.

Most veterans who joined up (as opposed to being drafted) say they felt a duty or calling to do so. Most do not emerge from the experience unchanged, even the REMFs. They may come out with the same sense of duty, but be otherwise subtly changed.

My brother was in Bosnia when Clinton was telling the citizens of the United States of America that there were no ground troops in Bosnia. He was still there when the UN went in and Clinton 'sent' troops.

I'd like to relate a story of his that illustrates much of the weirdness inherent to experiences in a combat zone:

A French major is at a base that is manned by primarily Danish soldiers and commanded by a Dane as well. Troops from the US are also on site. There is a base manned by the french some distance away.

The Serbians would often close the roads leading to the base with sniper fire, roadblocks and mortar fire. This was one such day.

Many of the base personnel are observing the fire in the hills around the base, including the commander. The Danish commander has ordered the base closed to traffic.

My brother, a sergeant at the time, is standing next to a danish Soldat a few yards from the commander (I beleive he was a colonel, but I may be wrong).

The French soldier marches up to the Danish commander and says, in heavily accented english, "I must get back to my men."

The Danish commander points at the hills and responds in very American English, "The Serbs have closed the pass."

"That is of no matter, I must get back to my men!" says the Frenchman.

"I cannot command you to stay, so do as you must. I am not ordering my men to go up there with you, though."

"Very well. I shall go."

As the frenchman stomps off to his vehicle, my brother turns to the danish soldier standing next to him and asks with an american soldier's idea of a french accent, "Does your dog bite?"

The Dane looks at him from under his helmet, smiles, and replies with a much better french accent, "No."

My brother snaps his hand away from an imaginary bite, puts a shocked look on and says, "I thought you said your dog does not bite?"

"That is not my dog!" says the Dane.

The two howled with laughter as the frenchman drove into the hills.

The fascinating thing for me isn't that the two men had watched the the Pink Panther (A very great movie; sellers was a genius), it was that they both had the same grasp of a bad situation and responded to it in the same way.

Two young men, growing up thousands of miles apart and in different cultures, shared a moment that will live with them forever. Most memories of soldiers in a combat zone are rarely so pleasant.

I think that was what Lee was on about, in that we must love the moments of brotherhood and good-feeling that can arise only from facing toward the sound of the guns with comrades who are willing to do the same in support of us, and still hate the conflicts that make it needful that we ever send our men and women into such situations.

My thanks to you, veterans of all wars. May you find what ease as you can through the nights that come, when there is little thanks, and only the memories.


  1. Great story!

    I've also always loved that quote. I think your interpretation of its meaning is a valid one, but I've always felt it encompassed more than just the feeling of "brothers in arms." I may be reading more than he intended into his statement, but I always felt it also covered the challenge of developing strategies and tactics to beat an opponent on the field of battle, and simply the sheer spectacle of 19th century combat.

  2. I'm sure you are correct.

    He also seemed to always be aware of what he said and how he said it, wanting his reputation as a soldier to withstand the scrutiny of history.

    Born in a more peaceful era, I think he would have been exceedingly unhappy.