Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today my literature class continues our unit discussion of poetry. The instructor asked us to bring in our favorite poems and read them aloud. I try to sequester the words 'vet,' 'Iraq,' and 'war' from my my vocabulary when I'm rubbing elbows with teenagers and twentysomethings, but I might need to break the habit so they can understand my eyes misting up when reading this:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

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.

Stop by the New York Times to read about the price of coming home a marked man. I find a bit of solace knowing that warriors have felt the same way going back a few thousand years.

I've been hosting an Army buddy of mine the past few days, and for the first time in a long time, I've been my true self, not the quiet student I've pretended to be. My true self only peeks out from behind the mask when another veteran is there to speak the language and listen to the stories with a knowing smile and a simple nod. They don't change the subject or shy away or languish under the pressure of uttering the I-word or the A-word. They don't secretly wonder when your next outburst or flashback is going to come out. They get it, but the problem is, there are too few around that get it. So each Veteran's Day, the mask stays on until I come across another wearing the same disguise.

In between tweets and twats, Facebook status updates and snores, I'm going to read In Flanders Fields, not for me or the instructor or the other students, but for my father, grandfathers and uncle that served honorably so many years ago. I'll read it for my brothers still in the fight, and those who continue the battle long after the guns have fallen silent.


Kanani said...

That is one of the great war poems. In fact, poetry will take you far in writing. I think of all the classes I ever took, poetry is the one that helped me the most with my prose.

I've posted a poem on The Kitchen Dispatch by Simonides, a Greek Lyric poet just for the day.

Anonymous said...

"Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred."

Unknown said...




Marc said...

Pattie Matheson said...

Do you remember your visit to the fields of crosses by the sea when you read this poem? I flashed on a particular shot you took there.

Anon: Rudyard Kipling especially captures the Afghanistan experience I think.

I'm so happy you've been able to spend some time with a fellow soldier. To take off the mask, if only for a little while.


MJ Athens said...

Haven't commented lately but you are right on time as usual!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your service. Truly. Your candid, gentle, courageous voice and the presence you offer the milblog community. I'm glad your days of late have been contented. Hope

The Usual Suspect said...

Fuckin' A. Your friends and family know Alex, but your battle buddies know Horton.

Alex Horton said...

Fuckin' A Suspect, though we used our first names as much as humanly possible. I called my team leaders Matt and Bill, not that last name or sergeant shit. That was the first sign of a short timer.

Blueman said...

Awesome man! Thank you for your service Alex. Your blog is an important piece in helping Veterans...

Thank you!

Hal Kimball
US Army Infantryman
Former 23rd Infantry Tomahawk!

bigD said...

Hi Alex,
I posted "In Flanders Field" this past May for Memorial Day. I think it is a beautiful poem. I would love to hear the real Alex or "Horton" stories. I don't think I am afraid of the "I" word or the "A" word. If our paths ever cross, I would be honored to meet the "real" Alex, not just the quiet student guy. Thank you Alex. :)

Anonymous said...

we have to watch out for how much we try to can go off like a rpg or ied.i used to just talk to the stars, when back from nam. saying what happened helps keep it real and an active part of you, not a buried one. closing lines of a combat poem i know go: "if you have a farm in viet nam and a house in hell, sell your farm and go home."it identifies reality for the farmer and all who walk there.i salute you.

Alex Horton said...

Thanks Diane! Sadly the purest form of me is when I'm around my best buds, but I can get close when I'm with someone who "knows." At school and work I'm the new Coke version of myself.

Kelley's girl said...

There is another poem, a response to In Flanders Field, that I really like.
We Shall Keep the Faith

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

From this Marine family, thank you for your service.

CI-Roller Dude said...

...and someday when I retire, maybe I'll smoke the poppies....and try to forget the last 30 years or so.
We can surprise some good citizens about us being vets....we really can act "normal" and blend in....which is better for gathering good the way...
I love listening to the good cizizens talk about Iraq and all and act like they have all the answers...but what did they do?
Never left the state...and they have all the answers.

They really don't know shit.
Get all A's in kollege and show them what we can's easy.

Emperor said...


Im like that too...I hate to even mention the Army at school.

Jason_M said...

Great respect to you and yours. I've not commented before but know that you're appreciated and so glad you have this place to be yourself.

Leigh said...

Bless you, man.

Hardtack said...

That has always been a wonderful and sobering poem. There is so much truth in it today.

It is hard for those who have experienced nothing but peace and have never roamed with the sheep dogs who protect us from the wolves.

There are those who do hold you in high regard and esteem. They may never know what combat is/was like, but they will always watch your back.

Victor said...

Well said. Still miss having all the guys from the platoon around.