The soldier staggered along the side of the hill, trying to keep his footing in the ever-slippery muck—dazed, bewildered and in a state of utter exhaustion, his mind trying to grasp, trying to put the situation in proper perspective—holding his rifle in one hand, the other outstretched as though trying to balance his sliding feet. Muffled cries of the wounded and dying filled his ears, though the subconscious tried to block them out.

Suddenly, before him lay a wounded khaki-clad soldier, shoulder deep in mud, his ankles hidden underneath the tracks of a disabled tank. The soldier dropped his rifle, looked at the mammoth tank with utter helplessness; the lying man looked up with pleading eyes for help. Cursing, shouting, crying, calling upon God, in sheer disgust for the world and everything in it—in utter desperation, the soldier bent with outstretched arms and leaned against the front of the now immobile tank—as one would attempt to move an automobile stuck in the snow. His eyes bulging, every sinew tearing, every back muscle stretched to pain, he pushed as his tired feet slid in the water-soaked ground—God! Oh God help me!

Slowly, as if by sheer strength of will, the tank slid back on the slippery terrain a few inches and came to a halt, but it was enough to expose the crushed ankle of the fallen soldier. Be it a miracle or the circumstances of the mud and angle of the hill—that a mere mortal was able to move 34 tons of steel—I shall never know how I did it . . .


Commander’s State of the Union
May 24, 1988
Disabled American Veterans
Broward County, Florida

In time of war the soldier is the knight in shining armor. “Go, help us please, do battle and if necessary, lay down your life,” we are told. But in peacetime, he is an unpleasant reminder. His wounds need binding and his dependents need support. Many in our nation would prefer to turn their heads the other way and not remember. Perhaps they feel that if they ignore us long enough, we will just disappear.

In 1943 in North Africa, a little east of Algiers in the windswept sands, we came across an abandoned French Foreign Legion outpost. On one of the mud-caked walls, a Legionnaire had scrawled in French, “When one of us is wounded, we all bleed, so make sure to bind up his wounds tightly, so that we all may live.” How true his words, how broad his meaning! I have tried to picture his face a thousand times. God has sent him whoever he is . . .

We who have banded together and call ourselves the Disabled American Veterans shall continue to cry out for justice. Since the days of our Revolutionary War and the conflicts that followed, those disabled in battle received the empathy, support and gratitude of our great nation. We deserve no less. . . . If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then I say eternal persistence in our determination to see that all or brothers and sisters are provided for is the price of justice.



The History Professor Turns 80

by Stephen Wing

a birthday poem
for my father-in-law,
Commander Harry Zeitlin

October 13, 2001


Among the unexpected pleasures
of eleven years of marriage
is the privilege of seeing
all of her faces, even the one
that looks just like her father's . . .

The history professor poses
with his wife and family
for his eightieth birthday: imaginary
leather elbows in his scholarly sweater,
invisible pipe jutting from his jaw,
his face lined with centuries
of hardship and suffering and sorrow—

But the lines go deeper than they look.
This historian earned his degree
the hard way: lugging a rifle and field pack
over page after page
of sand and mud and snow, glancing back
along the rumbling column of tanks and trucks
through a haze of dust and fatigue
past troops of cavalry,
battleships under sail, endless ranks
of marching men, all the way back
to the spears and clubs of Stone Age rivalries . . .

This professor learned his history
by making it. His dissertation?
written in bright red blood across the Sahara,
in fiery blossoms of smoke and shrapnel
over Normandy and Flanders
to the Rhine. His diploma?
a case of medals, five bronze stars
and an honorable discharge.
He reached tenure by enduring,
curled up alone with his conscience
in his foxhole at night, till an alert medic
spotted his shivering stare
and took away his pistol, bandolier and grenades.

"The real Harry died on my birthday
that day they put a tag on me and laid me down
in an Army ambulance. I could not see,
I could not hear nor say anything.
I was in a world of my own- just
keep killing, no matter who or what . . ."

And when they sent him home
to his bride of one weekend
after three long years apart,
he wore a face she'd never seen
with an unfathomable silence
sewn behind its seams. His children
memorized his nightmares,
the daily lecture that never varied,
stark truths chalked across
the dark night of his soul:

War is folly. The world is corrupt.
Humankind alone kills for pleasure.
And God, if there is a God,
must have long ago turned His back
on human history.

"How long can you hold on to your sanity,
your sense of right and wrong,
when day and night, rain, mud, cold
or warmth of day, the killings go on,
and you survive a thousand near misses . . ."

The language of death advances
in an orderly way, from "combat fatigue"
to "collateral damage."
The language of life can hardly keep pace
but one by one, the professor's daughters
have come to him to say simply
"Thank you." This year another medal
issued by the people of Normandy
joins the others in his case of honors.

But behind him as he poses in the restaurant
with his children around him,
as the waiter aims another camera,
the flag he fought for goes once more
rippling off to war.
Bombs are falling on the innocent
to avenge the murder of innocents.
A new column of soldiers falls
into formation, eager and proud,
and the murmuring river of history
quickens, approaching another precipice . . .

"With all the men that stood at my side
being shot, torn apart with shrapnel,
mortar fire, grenades, somehow, I can't answer why,
I escaped death a thousand times. But inside,
little by little, I was being destroyed."

The history professor grows weary
under the weight of all he knows.
Like any other day, his birthday
rushes past and is gone, washed away
on history's current.
But through the bone-cold night
burns a warm steady flame: his children
gathered round him in the camera's flash,
the love he gave them pumping on
through their hearts,
the rest forgiven, or at least outgrown
after half a century of living.

Peace is within. The world is a miracle.
Humankind is a vessel for love.
And God, if there is a God,
must have brought him safely
home from the war for a reason. If only
to keep the history professors honest.

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