Memorial Day celebrates the lives and deaths of our military, but ours are not the only soldiers we should celebrate, for there have been many other soldiers, in many other times, forming the eternal circle.
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. FortPitt 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 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 coast road to Aleppo was clear, the Mizzri still far to the south. Rumor was if we hurried we would reach Kadesh before the Mizziri. The sea sounded very near at hand, and through a break in the trees we could see a beach.
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.