Lest We Forget - The First Weeks


Perhaps the most defining points in recent history have occurred in the first week of a number of the months. Internationally: The Germans sued for peace and an end to World War I during the first week of November 1918, thus bringing to a close the “war to end all wars,” with the Armistice signed on 11 November. During the first week of May in 1945, Germany surrendered again, thus ending World War II in Europe. During the first week in August 1945, the initial atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, ending for all practical purposes World War II everywhere. Japan formally surrendered during the first week in September 1945. These were defining moments since they brought to a close the Japanese butchering of East Asia and the German/Axis butchering of Europe during the 1930s-40s. The United States played the pivotal role in the victories, and no stretch of the imagination could encompass the world scene today, absent that role.

Also internationally and most recently, after the bombing by Islamic fanatics of the WTC and the Pentagon and the forced crash of another airliner in Pennsylvania on 9/11, killing some 3,000 unsuspecting civilians, forces of the U.S., principally, and other nations began action in Afghanistan against the terrorist group Al Quaeda headed by ObL during the first week of October 2001. During the first week of May 2003, the president announced the end of major combat in Iraq, paving the way for three general elections in 2005 and installation of a democratic government (at least for now) in that benighted nation.

Nationally: Notwithstanding that the international events mentioned above were also defining moments in this nation’s history, its most defining moment obviously occurred with the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the first week of July in 1776, after the First Continental Congress had been convened in Philadelphia during the first week of September in 1774. The second-most defining moment in this nation’s history was realized in the first week of July in 1863 when the entire Mississippi River fell under Union control and this one other event of immense, turning-point importance took place:

G E T T Y S B U R G

The pain, like nothing he had known
Since lacerating foot on stone …
Yes, worse than tissue ripped to bone
When just a boy, one day alone;
Once more alone, with searing pain
From head to toe a pain-link chain
His first awareness in the rain
As consciousness he fought to gain.

His mind, befogged, began to clear,
No musketry he now could hear,
No longer … now … that rebel cheer,
Which once was music to his ear.
Flat on his back, he closed his eyes
Against the rain from graying skies
And flinched at hearing anguished cries
Of comrades facing pain, demise.

On yesterday the fight was waged,
As back and forth the lines had raged;
A sniper’s bullet rightly gauged
Had felled him in this crevice, caged.
He opened wide his cracked, parched lips,
To slake the thirst of countless trips
Through hostile fields ... some canteen sips,
And chewed-up weeds, tobacco strips.

Now fighting just to stay aware,
He turned his head only to stare
At blood that oozed through matting hair
And dripped on rock … quite tombstone bare.
To turn his head was all that he
Could bear, since pain incessantly
Made movement an atrocity
More feared now than the enemy.

Still gone were sounds of musketry
As twilight settled eerily,
No pounding hooves of cavalry …
The only sound … cried-misery.
He thought of Alabama corn
Just breaking ground that April morn
When tears were shed and love was sworn
And he to shot and powder born,

And then the days of victory
And seeming death-immunity …
All now recalled despairingly,
While facing his mortality.
In haze, he pondered “civil war -
Uncivil war, this blood and gore,
Was it for this, or was there more
That made men kill their brothers for?”

As darkness crept across the slain
And earth was marked by bloody stain,
Red rivulets, formed with the rain,
Made ghastly the pock-marked terrain.
His feeble cries on deaf ears fell,
Or ears of those who shared his hell
And, thus, with him could only dwell,
But not his wretchedness repel.

The thoughts of cotton fields in bloom,
A teenage boy, a small schoolroom,
Danced in and out amid the gloom
With thoughts of an impending doom.
As night wore on, the groans grew less
Throughout the mud of helplessness -
In sound and number less and less,
As comrades entered hopelessness.

Sometimes a scream, sometimes a prayer
Would split the heavy, midnight air …
The screams and prayers of stark despair,
No loved ones … there … to know or care.
He fought to keep his consciousness
And thwart his awful pains’ duress
To make it till the dawn’s brightness,
When rescue would be his redress.

Toward daylight, thoughts consumed his mind
Of her for whom he so repined,
And parents to his will resigned,
And their entreaties he declined.
Then, slipping from his stubborn will,
No longer feeling rainy chill -
“Our Father” wafted toward the hill -
Then morning came...and all was...still.