I found the piece of paper with the poem on it. It was, embarrassingly, tucked under my laptop, which generally sits on my desk upstairs in my kitchen. First, some background;
I grew up in the late 60's-early 70's. I was a junior in high school when the helicopters flew dangerously out of Saigon. I still call it Saigon! Anyway, I remember my parents railing against the draft dodgers. I remember my Canadian cousins railing against those who fled to Canada. I understood their aggravation, and was also angry about the defection of the draft dodgers.
Then I had boys; three of them. During the Persian Gulf War, there was renewed discussion at family gatherings along the lines of, "Remember Vietnam? Remember those draft dodgers?" Well, by then, my perspective had changed. I said to my parents, not all at once, but in different conversations, "You know, I get it now. I understand why parents would not want their kids to serve. You had GIRLS, for crying out loud, and we were too young to serve even if we could. You never had to face the terror of sending your child to war." About that time, I found this poem, and copied it onto that sheet of beige paper:
Little sturdy boyish hands,
Digging trenches in the sands;
Childish laughter, sweet and gay,
Lilting through a summer's day.
Little hands of yesteryear,
Big and strong now, and so dear;
Never let them dig, oh God,
Trenches in a war-torn sod.
Audree D. Peters
It's tough, being a mom of a soldier, in so many ways. While I don't feel paralyzed by fear, (my God is big enough to handle that for me) I have many concerns. Are they safe? Are they afraid? Are they doing things that will haunt them in the future? Are they happy with the choice they've made?
So many people ask me, "How could you let your son join?" How could I LET him? Don't you understand that, at 18, my time of influence has about come to an end? When a young man turns 18 and sees something he wants to do, and he actually has the power to do it, how much do you think his mother's thoughts are going to do to convince him one way or the other?
I've answered, "He wanted to serve his country." That was once answered with, "Well, there's lots of ways to serve. You don't have to carry a gun." The implication that, somehow, my kid was "nasty" because he chose to serve his country in the military made me slug down that glass of wine I was holding. I SO wanted to respond freely. But, it WAS a Christmas party, and we WERE guests, just like the lady who said that to me. I didn't want to cause a scene. (Well, I WANTED to, but didn't.)
I know, to a certain extent, what motivated each of my kids to enlist. It wasn't to please their parents. It wasn't to "kill people," although a classmate of my oldest's at AIT admitted to that. It really wasn't. Their sense of pride, honor and commitment motivated them. so did other things. My oldest told me once, "I don't want my daughters wearing (a burka.") My middle son had tried college, and full-time work, before he joined. My youngest knows, maybe more than the other two did when they joined, what he's up against, and wanted to do it, anyway.
I just get to sit waaaay in the background, pray and watch. I worry about those big, strong, dear hands. To answer the questions up above; yes, they're safe...often. Yes, they're afraid...more than they'll admit. Yes, the things they're doing will haunt them. Yes, they're happy with their choices...most of the time.
Who among us can't say that our lives aren't EXACTLY THE SAME?
Added later: I just want to make sure that everyone knows how incredibly proud I am--we are--of our sons. We stand in awe of their courage, their commitment and their love.