We honor all who serve our country, whether Air Force, Navy, Marines or Army, for they are all soldiers. Technology neither causes war nor wins or loses wars. Wars are fought by men, fought for religion, for tin and copper, for trade routes, for survival, for revenge, for every motive conceived by man, and even, on occasion, for freedom. It is the soldier who protects us and defends us. It has been so since man first picked up a rock to defend his home and family. There is a clear connection, a timeless circle, between a Roman legionnaire, a Hittite bowman, a Redcoat heading west through the great forest and an American infantryman. They were, and are, soldiers.

Past green trees newly leaved, new green fields on either side, we marched. Distant white farmhouses, distant dogs barking nervously, cloaks against the misty Spring rain, we marched. North Africa the rumor, Zama the town. We didn’t care. We marched. And sang. Sang because we were young, sang because we were immortal, sang because we were Scipio’s boys. Publius Cornelius Scipio. We would die, and they would call him Scipio Africanus. We marched, to the sea and the waiting ships.

The long swells laid many of us low, but finally, blessedly, we reached the bay and the river. Alexandria at last. We formed up on the quay, a bit unsteadily, still weak from the seasickness. Fifers leading, we marched up King Street, past capering boys and waving and cheering men and women. Braddock was but waiting on us, it was said, before pushing off for the great western forests. Fort Pitt was the rumor, and that meant a long campaign for the Forty-fourth Regiment of Foot, but that was all right, we were young and immortal. The long sea voyage and the longer campaign was a hardship on the married men, but for the rest of us women were a luxury of camp. But that was all right too, for we all loved the same woman, and her name was Brown Bess.

In the forest clearing we made camp, fires flaring into light, the smell of bacon on the cool night air. We thought of home, and of the coming days. The Cilician Gates was the rumor, then south along the coast to Aleppo, where was waiting King Muwatalli and the rest of the Hittite army. The weather, thanks to Tarhunna the Weather God, has been fair. Crown Prince Hattusili has told us the Pharaoh Ramses has left Damascus and is marching north, that the fight, when it comes, will be a hard one, for the Mizziri are accomplished warriors. We lay on our blankets, and in the growing dark came a voice, singing softly, an army song, a song a man sings when far from home and family, a song that reminds him of why it is he fights, why it is he dies. Welling up from the darkened field, the voices of the Tuhkanti regiment joined the lone voice, singing of home. Across the fields it spread, to the other regiments, sitting in the dark by their dying fires, until the night was filled with the sadness of young men thinking of mothers and sisters, wives and sweethearts, seeing their fathers in the fields, hearing the crickets and the birds and the wind in the plaintive leaves. The last line trailed away, the last notes faded on the soft evening air, until in the distance, from the direction of the Golden Aspens, another ubati took up the song, and once again the sad voices filled the night.

Curiously, the beach looked peaceful. Boats coming ashore as if on a summer outing, no machine guns, no mortars, no arty. Equipment rolling off and onto the beach, long files of men trudging up the beach to the exits, not a shot fired. It was surreal. I found the beachmaster, and he stuck out his hand. “Welcome to Okinawa,” he grinned. Inland, clear in the distance, lay a range of hills.

Purple hills shimmered in the heat hazy distance, the day growing hot. The muted sounds of birdsong and insect hum swirled around us. Across the field, drawn up in battle array, waited the Carthaginians. We raised our shields, and at the order, advanced.

She’s a grand old flag
She’s a high flying flag
And forever and ever she’ll wave
And we take great pride
In the men who died
To keep this the home of the brave
We’ve been tried before
In the bad times and war
And we’ve always come through in the end
For the stars and stripes
Lead the drums and pipes
In the march down the street, round the bend
To the promised land
That the brave brothered band
Left to us by the red, white and blue
Yes they died for the flag
For that high flying flag
May we always have brave men and true

Leave a Reply