i heard you were dead

I’d like you to meet someone. He’s part of a group who’s average age
is 19 years. He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under
normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy.
Not yet dry behind the ears, but old enough to die for his country.
He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own
car than wash his father’s; but he has never collected unemployment
either.

He’s a recent High School graduate; he was probably an average
student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a ten year old
jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him
when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a
world away. He listens to rock and roll or jazz or swing and 155mm
Howitzers. He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home
because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after
dusk.

He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but
he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less.
He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade
launcher and use either one effectively if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a
professional. He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he
is told to march. He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation,
but he is not without spirit or individual dignity.

He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and
wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry. He
sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle.
He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own
hurts.

If you’re thirsty, he’ll share his water with you; if you are hungry,
his food. He’ll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of
battle when you run low. He has learned to use his hands like weapons
and his weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life — or
take it, because that is his job.

He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and
still find ironic humor in it all. He has seen more suffering and
death then he should have in his short lifetime. He has stood atop
mountains of dead bodies, and helped to create them. He has wept in
public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is
unashamed. Just as did his Father, Grandfather, and
Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless
or not, he is not a boy.

He is the Infantryman. He has asked nothing in return, except our
friendship and understanding. Remember him, always, for he has earned
our respect and admiration with his blood.

— end of line —

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