Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Eve of Memorial Day - November 11th, 2009

Last year, I think it was, Ingrid and I were driving east on the 401 on a Friday afternoon, on our way to Ottawa, along the section known as the Highway of Heroes at a time when one of the soldiers from the Canadian Armed Forces was being "brought home." The scene was exactly as described in this YouTube video. As we passed under one of the bridges we could see the motorcade approaching from the east and I looked at the blocked-off on-ramp on the other side of the road and saw a dozen or so very, very elderly veterans standing to attention and saluting this young soldier, I think he was just 21, who had given his life in Afghanistan. I choked up. They knew. They understood. Even after fifty years they will never forget. Nor must we.

I decided that, beautiful as it is, I would not use John McCrae's In Flanders Fields this year but rather Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est. It has rather a shocking ending that reminds you what war really is. A five-nine referred to a German 5.9 inch artillery shell in World War 1.

Dulce et Decorum Est
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Wilfrid Owen (1917)
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Bent double, like of old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind:
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in sonic smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not talk with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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