“One of You” for Veteran’s Day 2014



“One of You”: For Veteran’s Day 2014


Standing and taking an Oath of Service,

I saw three pictures in my mind:

two sailors

one medic

And I wondered, “Which one of you

put this pounding in my chest that sounds

like the cadence of a million marching feet?”


Was it you, Pete, staring out from a faded picture,

and the work you did with the seabees in the Pacific?

Or you, George, with the white hat that sits squarely

and the time you spent in a submarine underwater?

Or. . .Vernon. . .was it you.  .  .I see the medical symbols

upon your lapel and I hear the patients on the trains.


Surely, it has to be one of you, because I feel you there

as I sign a piece of paper that puts me on a bus, a plane, a boat.

I feel you there with the first morning wake-up of training.

And I feel you there the first time I miss someone back home.


I’ll bet one of you or all of you had felt this way at one time.


And while I never pressed forward into enemy territory

or found myself taking incoming fire from a hostile force,

I learned the most important lesson of military service:

that a sense of duty is a vocation. . .you answer the call.


And sometimes it seems that it wasn’t enough to note

on a day set aside to remember one of you. . .and all of them,

but I stood a post at the bedside of many retired servicemen

who were once like me. . .and one of you.


I lost all of you before I crossed the gate of Naval Hospital Oakland,

but you were never too far from my thoughts, I kept thinking,

“Any one of these. . .could be one of you.”

And so I learned to salute, to be reverent, and to care.


I’ve come to find that sandbags and IV bags have similar purpose.

That blood is blood whether it is taken. . .or given.

That vital signs are as important on the floor as in the field.

That it comes down to breathing. . .and a beating.


I don’t know much of sand or landing on a beach;

I’ve never dug a trench and stayed, quiet and low.

I’ve never heard the rallying cry of a charge.

I’ve never raised a flag over a place that’s been won.


But I have come to know the way a person stands

near the telemetry screen, quietly watching.

And to carefully take the report of a charge nurse

even when it means erasing the name of a life given.


And that names that appear on stones, on walls, on charts

are all an effort to remember. Each and every one of you.

No greater honor could there have been to have been

there–at a bedside–when the roll of one of you had been called.


This is the way. This is the watch. This the work.

When they raise a flag today; it is for every one of you.

Whether you stand tall on the line, or are read from the lines

of a love letter held in the hand of one who stays at home.


And so. . .I am one of you. . .today. I’ve come a long way

to revisit your pictures in my mind, to revisit your youth,

to revisit your service to your country, to come to terms

with the notion that today. . .I am one of you.


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