Saturday, May 23, 2020


Death of a Soldier
for Travis 

I wrote "In Memoriam" - "Death of a Soldier" - after the Gulf War in remembrance of a friend who died. I've been posting it on my blog nearly every Memorial Day for well over a decade.

Upon reading it again, my passion for these sentiments hasn't diminished and the words of the dying soldier maintain a haunting residence in my soul.

What exactly was my purpose in writing this? Is it anti-war? I seldom analyze my own words, they simply spill out randomly (and most often haphazardly). 

I suppose this is merely an attempt to depict the brutal reality and futility  of death and war. An unwarranted death for any cause is a senseless tragedy - - no matter how noble the intention. So is the concept of war.

They speak of death in such casual terms, those who have never known it. They distort, dilute, romanticize, minimize it in ways that can only be conceived in the ignorance of the living.

Will they think of death differently when its cold, unexpected kiss touches their lips, when the bitter finality of its presence lingers longingly on their useless tongues? Will they realize then how unreasonable, unkind, unfair, unrewarding, unthinkable it really is?

What do I know? I am only a soldier - hardly a name, nearly a statistic.

I do not pretend to understand those things which are beyond all reason. The breath of my soul still lingers in the privilege of fleeting youth, the luxury of abandoned innocence, the sweet memory of the cherished country I long to see again but will see no more. I hear the distant echoes of voices so familiar, I see fading images of faces so loved. They taunt me like traces of half-remembered dreams.

The stark reality of this moment is strangely remote: like someone else's surrealistic musings, something entirely unknown. I yearn to wake up, yet I am awake, if only in the vague consciousness of momentary lucidity. I yearn for the blessed sleep that will eventually quench my gnawing weariness. This great, impending finality that haunts me is inevitable. I have resigned myself to the raw fact that there is no turning back.

It happened so quickly - -

like the strike of a serpent, the slash of a razor-edged blade, like the instant of a moment and the gasp of a breath.........

In the white sun's burning glare, in the suffocation of a scorched desert afternoon, in a land more foreign and distant than dreams could ever take me

I am struck down.

The shot stings like the crack of a whip. The silent scream that rises within me dances dumbly against the shimmering horizon, then stumbles in complete helplessness.

In the deceiving blink of a tumbling shadow, I see myself fall hard against the searing bosom of barren earth - alone, isolated, caught between the company of excruciating heartpounds and desperate gasps for breath.

My thoughts are slowly processed, laboriously conceived. Mute words desperately try to take shape. Everything drifts into the dumb pool of impending darkness that quickly floods my mind.

Will my flowing blood quench the fierce thirst of these drifting sands? 
Will the wailing nomadic winds ever cease long enough to hear my anguished cries?

At first, the numbness within me is too intense to register pain. Pain comes later, gradually, stealthily - so firmly in concert with the burning earth that I can hardly distinguish one infliction from the other.

They speak of death in such glowing terms, those who have never known it. They speak of honor and glory and selfless sacrifices and noble causes in ways that reek of profound ignorance.

Will they speak of death differently after its cold, unexpected kiss touches my lips, after its unspeakable permanence has silenced my tongue? Will they hear the weeping whispers of mothers and fathers and widows and children and brothers and sisters and lovers and friends? Will they ever truly see the enormous expanse of anonymous ghostgraves that stretch beyond the vast tide of time to the very brink of eternity?

Who cares about the fallen ones now? Not Jesus or Buddha or Allah. Not presidents nor leaders nor kings nor queens. Not pompous diplomats nor paltry politicians. Not self-absorbed, self-righteous priests and reverends who hide behind masks of compassion.

Our names are inevitably engraved on worthless monuments. Our deeds lurk behind the shadows of posthumous medals and folded flags. Our memories are pressed into deafening silence between forgotten pages in dusty archives.

In time, our very existence vanishes with weathered gravestones into the haze of distant millenniums and the crumble of forgotten bones.

I am only a soldier - no longer a name, merely a statistic.

I don't pretend to understand things which are beyond reason. What I was still lives in the hearts of those who love me. My hopes, ideals, dreams, promises, and unconditional devotion will sustain and nourish them through dark and empty times.

I will be with you in your prayers at night and in your first thoughts at the waking light of dawn.
I will be there through tears of rain, depths of emotional drought, through uncharted waters and uncertain mists, through the promise of rainbows and bountiful days.
I will embrace you in the gentle whisper of an unexpected breeze that rises on the edge of dusk.

In the crimson glow of a sand-dusted sunset, the red sun melts on the horizon, dripping with the passion of the blood that once pulsed through my veins. As the last conscious gleam of light fades from the sky, as the first fresh stars slowly awaken, the soothing cloak of night covers me. Cool, comforting darkness quenches the final throes of suffering and pain.

The shadows are deep, the stillness profound. The rising moon in all her glory cannot find me now. The milky spill of her light will never betray me. The sunless chill of night bores deeply into me, penetrating the gaping wounds, finding permanent residence within my slumbering soul.

I am only a soldier......only a soldier.......

Jon V.
copyright 2005


  1. sad, yet beautiful. I have a first cousin who fought in this war. He didn't get killed but the things he's having to endure now would make death a relief I think. Thank you for sharing this.Hope you are well.
    Your Tennessee neighbor

  2. Hauntingly beautiful and evocative. I've often thought that for every death, there is a community. It's not just the loss of one life, but instead the tragedy visited on all those who love that person. Memories are wonderful, but not the same. In any war(or even pandemic), people's deaths become a statistic when they were so much more than that.

  3. Thank you for posting this again, Jon. I hope you will continue to do so for years to come. Difficult read, yes ... but your pain is Travis' remembrance. I know you'd have it no other way.

  4. So sad and a difficult read. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

  5. A deeply moving post, Jon. Much appreciated.

  6. This was a first read for me, Jon. It is a heartfelt, sad and chilling tribute not only to your friend, but all those who have served and died in the process. Thank you for reminding us that freedom always comes with a cost, human lives.


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