One Morning in April
That April morning in ’42 I still remember so well,
A time when the world convulsed in pain, caught in the grip of Hell.
From every village and town, from every city and farm
A generation of innocent youth was called to serve and to arm.
From the sheltered halls of the convent school the war seemed far away,
But then word came a convoy of soldiers would roll through town that day,
And the streets were soon lined with folks, come to cheer them along the way.
The bayou skirted the convent, with the road into town between
So we were the first to see them approach in their trucks of olive green.
We crowded five deep at the wrought iron fence that ringed the schoolyard in,
And when they drew abreast of the yard we raised a thunderous din.
We cheered, we waved, we called out greetings until our throats were sore
As dozens of troops came rolling through, soon followed by dozens more.
How young and proud and eager they were, mere boys and yet, somehow, men,
Their mettle soon to be tested, though they knew neither where nor when.
Their faces were fresh and unlined, their bodies athletic and strong,
Their mission, to do whatever it took to right a terrible wrong.
With rowdy masculine gusto, they answered us cheer for cheer,
Blew kisses and flirted with all the girls, but under that brash veneer,
Beneath their laughing bravado, each man knew the ghastly game—
The roulette of war—he soon must play and the losses the wheel would claim.
But we children saw only the glory that sunny April day
And the fire of patriotism burned, ‘til the last truck pulled away.
* * *
Sixty Aprils and more have passed since that cavalcade came through.
Sometimes in the spring when the sun rides high in a cloudless sky of blue,
I see once more those young faces, and there comes a haunting thought
Of the price that Fate exacted for the freedoms that they bought.
What feelings stirred in each man’s breast on the unforgettable day
That he watched the shores of home recede as his troop ship sailed away?
What secret doubts lay hidden in the recesses of his heart?
When the moment came to stand and fight, would he stand and do his part?
But when at last the testing came, all doubt was swept aside
And he rose to the task that must be done, his comrade at his side.
In rain, in snow, through jungle trails, down rutted roads clogged with mud
In the searing heat of the desert sands, through the pain, the sweat and the blood
There were countless moments when each man held his comrade’s life in hand,
And out of those moments was forged a bond only soldiers understand.
And if some sniper’s bullet struck home and his comrade was suddenly gone
He swallowed the bile and squared his shoulders and grimly soldiered on.
Arnhem, Bougainville, Omaha Beach, Corregidor and St. Lo,Iwo Jima, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and Anzio.
On battlefields that girdled the globe, they landed, they fought and they bled
And many’s the man who answered there to the roll call of the dead.
And when to a wife or mother the dreaded telegram came
She traced with a loving finger the face in a silver frame
And a gold star in the window marked the end of the ghastly game.
But what of those who came back home scarred in body and mind,
An army of youth, they came back men, their innocence left behind.
With no thought of self they gave their best that we might never feel
The cruel caprice of a tyrant’s wrath, the crush of a despot’s heel.
There are heroes who walk among us that we do not recognize
Who bought for us this way of life that we so highly prize.
With halting steps and palsied hands and heads grown grizzled and gray
They do not speak of the deeds they did, but go their anonymous way,
Heroes who, when duty called, did what they had to do
Heroes whose faces I looked upon one morning in ’42.
Heloise Grant is a retired librarian. She is an avid reader and member of two book clubs. Several of her poems have been published in The Lyric poetry journal. When she is not reading or writing, her other interests include sketching and painting.