Archive for November, 2006

Armistice Day

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

Remembering Armistice Day as a kid, I’m not sure I understood what was going on. We liked the bands, and flags and speeches by long winded town dignitaries. The veterans marching units with ill fitting uniforms and paunch bellies were fun to watch. My hometown was probably much like yours and we enjoyed it. But it took a ner-do-well and a math teacher to let me know the real meaning of Veterans Day.

There lived in my hometown a real, pure to the bone, rascal, Mule Johnson. Mule didn’t have a job and really didn’t want one. Oh, he would help a neighbor build a fence or butcher a hog in the winter. But no real job.
He was best at ploughing widow’s gardens with his old mule and a middle buster. He was well liked and welcomed any where in spite of his brogans boots and blue bib overalls. He had never been far from home except to serve in the army during World War I. All he brought home was a limp and the fear of regular work.

John Chamberlin was our math teacher. Mr. Chamberlin was the kind of teacher that kids just liked and we tried to do our best. He was calm, humorous, but had a firm hand in dealing with rousty kids. He spoke quietly but with a sparkle in his eye. He could always find something to brag about each of us kids.

Then in the early ‘40s came a letter from the selective service office “Greetings, your friends and neighbors………
Too soon Mr. Chamberlin was off to war and our prayers with him. The war raged and the news told of something called the Bulge that swept across the lowlands of Europe. Mr. Chamberlin’s position was overrun and the terrible truth was not long in coming, “killed in action.”

His body was sent home and the shocked town tried valiantly to give him an honorable burial. We met at the cemetery with the high school band and the entire town. The flags flapped in the gentle breeze. The sun shone brightly but could not penetrate the cloud that hung over our hearts. The Mayor spoke, the pastors of all the churches gave eulogies and we sang little hopeful songs of good-bye.

As a bugle somewhere played silver taps, Mule Johnson came forward, dressed in his best overalls and rundown boots. It was obvious he was not on the program but that did not deter his measured tread toward the lectern. He stopped, fished in his bib pocket of those overalls and retrieved a yellowed, often folded scrap of paper and laid it on the lectern. Then he began to read in a voice we had never heard him use before, a poem, copied long ago in an earlier war, a poem from the battlefield.

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.

Then Mule Johnson carefully refolded the paper, returned it to its pocket and strode purposefully out as the last notes of taps faded.
The torch has been passed. It is our duty to seize the opportunity and carry the flaming light a little further down the road toward freedom.