The Soldier on Crutches

On November 11, 2014, in America, Courage, Freedom, Heroes, Liberty, Patriotism, Soldiers, Veterans, War, by Derrick G. Jeter

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of eleventh month in 1918, “the war to end all wars,” as it was touted, ended. The Great War—World War I—was the first modern war and ushered in a century of warfare that left in its wake unimaginable death, destruction, and disabilities. World War I itself took the lives of 9 million soldiers and untold numbers of civilians. More than 21 million soldiers were maimed with disfiguring scars and missing limbs. Such is the ghastly price of war—of all war. So on this Veterans Day I remember those who came home, but who didn’t come home whole.

He came down the stairs on the laughter-filled grill
Where patriots were eating and drinking their fill,
The tap of his crutch on the marble of white
Caught my ear as I sat all alone there that night.
I turned—and a soldier my eyes fell upon,
He had fought for his country, and one leg was gone!

As he entered a silence fell over the place;
Every eye in the room was turned up to his face.
His head was up high and his eyes seemed aflame
With a wonderful light, and he laughed as he came.
He was young—not yet thirty—yet never he made
One sign of regret for the price he had paid.

One moment before this young soldier came in
I had caught bits of speech in the clatter and din
From the fine men about me in life’s dress parade
Who were boasting the cash sacrifices they’d made;
And I’d thought of my own paltry service with pride,
When I turned and that hero of battle I spied.

I shall never forget the hot flushes of shame
That rushed to my cheeks as that young fellow came.
He was cheerful and smiling and clear-eyed and fine
And out of his face golden light seemed to shine.
And I thought as he passed me on crutches: “How small
Are the gifts that I make if I don’t give my all.”

Some day in the future in many a place
More soldiers just like him we’ll all have to face.
We must sit with them, talk with them, laugh with them, too,
With the signs of their service forever in view
And this was my thought as I looked at him then—
Oh, God! make me worthy to stand with such men.

Edgar A Guest, “The Solder on Crutches,” in Poems of Patriotism (Chicago: The Reilly & Lee Co., 1922), 143–4.

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