While we should remember that Veterans Day (this year falling on its intended date of November 11 as the second Monday in November in the U.S.) is for the living who have served in the Armed Forces, it is also good to remember the dead; and, though it has some Christian flavoring to it (though not much, to be honest!), one good poem for doing so comes from World War I, after which Veterans Day/Armistice Day originated, by Lt. Col. John McCrae.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
And as I have in the past, I would like to give you the text of a military diploma issued during Hadrian’s principate, which can be precisely dated to July 17, 122, from the region of Pannonia Superior, given to a sesquiplicario, literally, “one who receives one-and-a-half rations,” a rank of soldier somewhat equivalent to a modern non-commissioned officer, and translated in the text below as “senior infantryman.” The translation is by Anthony Birley, with supplements added by myself from the original text.
The Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, son of the deified Parthian Trajan, grandson of the deified Nerva, Pontifex Maximus of Tribunician Power six years, third consulate, commands the cavalry and infantry, who had served in the army in the thirteen alae and thirty seven cohorts, which are called…[names of all the units]…which are in Britain under Aulus Platorius Nepos, five and twenty stipends, having been discharged with an honorable discharge by Pompeius Falco, their names are noted, to themselves, their children and descendants, the citizenship and the right of legal marriage with the wife they had at the time that citizenship was granted to them, or, if any are unmarried, with the wife they subsequently marry, provided that each takes only one wife.
On the 16th day before the Kalends of August, Ti. Julius Capito, L. Vitrasius Flaminino, consuls; Ala I Pannoniorum Tampiana, commanded by Fabius Sabinus, [this plaque is] presented to the senior infantryman* Gemellus son of Breucus, Pannonian.
Transcribed and recognized out of the bronze tablet which is affixed in Rome on the rear wall of the temple of the divine Augustus to Minerva.
Ti. Claudi Menandri, A. Fulvi Iusti, Ti. Iuli Urbani, L. Pulli Daphni, L. Noni Victoris, Q. Lolli Festi, L. Pulli Anthi.
Many of my students at the college where I teach are current or former servicemembers; and at the other college where I occasionally teach, almost all of the students in a given class are currently serving. My father, step-father, and my mother’s current husband are (or were) all Naval veterans, as was my maternal grandfather; one of my uncles was a Marine; and the town where I grew up and where I now teach is entirely dependent on the Naval base near it for its economic viability. Indeed, even the college building where my office is was once the Naval hospital for that base, and the particular floor where my office was happened to be the hospital’s morgue–so, I can’t really get away from the military dead, and the military living are all around me still.
Because military culture was (and still is) all around me growing up, there was great pressure to join up, and I was even given an award by the Marines at my senior year of high school’s awards ceremony, I suspect to encourage me to seek a career there–and I can still remember the rather disappointed face of the Marine officer who presented it to me and shook my hand as he saw my long hair, sideburns, and (literally) lavender-tinted glasses. But, even independent of that, the health standards for the Armed Forces prevented me from joining up–which, on the one hand, was fine with me because I had other plans, but which was also a source of some guilt and shame that I wasn’t “fit” for service, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’ve felt less bad about this since late March of this year, when I had my first-ever sit-down chat with the Morrígan (through a medium, of course!), and she pretty much told me, “don’t feel bad about this any longer,” and that she knows I would have been good at it, but that what I have done and will continue to do is far more important than worrying over “what might have been.” It’s a good thing to keep in mind about all sorts of matters, but this one is particularly important to me, given my investment in military culture, in matters pertaining to warriors, and in my devotions to Disciplina, Hadrian, and Antinous.
As other matters of great interest related to some of the above, I’d suggest looking at this post by Galina Krasskova, especially for its photos of “trench art” from World War I that she has collected and uses in her shrine for the military dead.
For the veterans you know, and who don’t mind hearing it (because there are some who have been so traumatized by their experiences that they don’t like or feel extremely ambivalent about being thanked for their service–and rightly so, and they should be respected in that wish), please thank them heartily for their service, and if you can do more for them on this day (and every day), please do.
May all the gods bless and protect the Veterans of every nation!