THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Arlington Cemetery February 17 1997
"This is for your Daddy. He died in the war" the young mother said to her little son,
As she arranged the flowers to decorate the grave.
There are those Others
Who have no grave, who were mangled beyond recognition or so torn to pieces
In that grinding, howling fiery Hell that separates Tyranny from Freedom
That nothing remained of them. These
Have a Tomb. In a place
Called Arlington, a lone guard halts at smart attention. The POP!
of heel meeting heel rings out
Like a rifle fired in salute.
POP! The guard does "Left-Face", and stares down the valley beside the tomb.
Let none approach and disturb the Rest of these Honored Dead!
POP! The guard again does "left face", and his Rifle gives a click-clack warning as it goes to left-shoulder arms.
With its sharp and silvery Bayonet, it will ever be between this Tomb and any who would dare approach.
A twenty-one second pause and then
As soft as shadows on the grass,
Twenty-one steps in an arrow-straight line, then,
POP! - pause - POP! Click-clack! until
Deep and solemn, a bell rings out. Suddenly
A Sergeant appears with a relief guard, fresh and alert.
The sergeant inspects the relief guard. Nothing but perfection every way will do
Words are but terse commands, and few.
Finally the guards face each other. The Post Orders are exchanged:
"POSTINGS AND ORDERS
REMAIN AS DIRECTED!"
Four more commands from the Sergeant, and then:
POP! - pause - POP! Click-Clack! and another guard walks twenty one steps. This
will continue until the very hours which prompt the bell ringing are no more. For here
More, much more
than a Palace or a Treasury of gold;
Here lie the hopes, the dreams, the very lives of all who never returned.
These, their delegation, lie here beneath the inscription:
HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD
You, who live in this Country,
you who pronounce the milk rancid and the honey bitter even as you gorge yourselves on both,
Consider now these Honored Dead, and consider that but for their sacrifice,
You might well live in a place where you would be dead should you offer anything but praise
to the powers that be. So now praise God for the Fruit of the Tree
Of Liberty. The blood of these soldiers were its necessary Fertilizer. Their bodies
Were broken by the raging tides of Tyranny
So that it may not even so much as wash over your feet.
And you, whose loved one never returned;
This is for your Daddy, who died in the War.
My own father survived. When I asked him to come tell people about his war, he said:
"IF THEY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT WAR,
THEN LET THEM COME TO ARLINGTON"
Where the Dead rest in Honored Glory
And the Postings and Orders