To a Dearest Friend Killed in Action – VietNam; he died not heroically, but died nevertheless, a hero.
I have never served in the military; never been a soldier; never been in a war. I write this with two spirits in mind. The one particular was my best boyhood friend. He was a year older than me; held back a year; and now in my class. He was thought not bright but those who thought so were wrong. I had both a real personal sense of his intelligence and empirical evidence of it. Having that year’s advantage on me, he served as mentor of sorts; clued me in about girls; taught me to smoke properly. When I’d nestled a lit cigarette between two splayed fingers he laughed wildly and admonished, “What’re you, Bette Davis?” He well set me on the road to being a guy.
The other spirit to which I’d alluded is the general spirit – that of the human male, man. How many millennia have passed, year by year, each one containing some record, hint, or history, of men marching off to be intimate with, to play with, death? It is no small venture. And the dead, though they had not been heroic, nevertheless had been heroes. A man is measured a man not by what he overcomes but what he will face – come what may.
The Knight plays a game of chess with Death, for his life.
“The Seventh Seal”
It’s a rather simple equation and you need know nothing of Sun Tzu or Clausewitz to understand it. Simply, if a man runs away, runs to Canada, say, to avoid serving and deployment, he is considered a coward. By logical extension then, if he answers the roll call to both then he must be a hero. There is no call to condemn the one if you will not praise the other.
Heroes And Heroism
Hero and heroism are two distinct features of the same concept. They are not the same thing but are far from strangers. The hero answers the call. Heroism acts in ways beyond the expectations we assign to male human nature.
Male human nature is survival. It DEMANDS risk taking ONLY in the pursuit of survival. When the man abjures the very essence of this nature, his human nature to survive, he is the hero. There will be neither ribbons, nor medals, nor ceremony; nevertheless there is the hero.
In a journal, the last entries of a low nobleman are recorded at a military encampment on the night before a battle in medieval England. It was not as great a battle as most of that time, but men, a good many were about to die, more to be maimed or mutilated. I wish I remembered his name, but it’s as well, perhaps, I don’t. For he now stands in for all such men, who’d been assigned to wars only to fall as unknown heroes.
The nobleman did not sleep that night. The army of his side was the smaller, the less prepared. Barring miracles this, his side would lose the day. He had neither premonitions of surviving intact or dying but he knew the likelihoods. He attended to the last hours he could reliably depend on to put his life to order. He wrote entries; perhaps letters also. He took care to make keen his sword, polished his armor, washed himself and shaved. Then he took special care of his steed; its life would also be precariously exposed to harm’s ways.
There is no record of the nobleman’s heroism. He’d been killed in the battle – that’s the full extent of it, but it was enough to call him hero. He was not recognized as such – no one would call him such – but if he was not heroic, neither did he did shirk, nor run. He answered the muster, and, just as each of the men who’d done as much and died that day, he, as they all, were heroes.
Natural Born Heroes
Men, ordinary, men train 3 months in military procedures, weapons, military etiquette, then are shipped off to somewhere nearer mortal danger. There, more training in combat, assault, defense, discipline etc. Finally, there comes the theater and staging of war.
Thinks anyone this training had made the ordinary man a warrior? No, warriors are rare and more rarely created – except by GOD.
Thinks anyone that training will quicken a man’s heart to assault the ancient phalanx?
Thinks anyone this training had made the ordinary man willing to go ‘over the top’, charging by barbed wire, into withering machine gun fire with bayoneted rifle?
Thinks anyone that it was the training that had made the ordinary man willing to leave the relative safety of a landing craft to jump into the ocean chest high, holding his rifle over his head to wade to a beach under withering enemy fire?
Imagine just some more of the myriad dangerous situations the ordinary soldier faces. Imagine him accepting his death as imminent at any of his next moments… and yet continuing to persevere, engage, fight.
My friend, I salute you this day by name; honor you with my thoughts, my remembrances, my prayers, and my welled eyes. To every other soldier whoever fought and died in whatever battle, I salute you all, collectively, in same manner.
God will not look askance at the hero. Greater is his mercy to the man who died in battle. Death is a sacrifice HE well knows, understands, and has experienced. God bless them ALL, to their souls and through eternity.