Tuesday, November 1, 2011

JUST A COMMON SOLDIER (A Soldier Died Today)

As November arrives so does the annual flood of reprint requests for my father’s poem, JUST A COMMON SOLDIER, also known as A SOLDIER DIED TODAY.   Like many men of his generation, when the Nazi war machine was raging my father enlisted in the Armed Forces and went off to serve his country.  Then he came home and wrote a poem about it.  It went on to become his defining work.
For several decades my father was a columnist for Quebec-based newspapers and a national magazine.  His writing was a mixture of nostalgic stories, original poems, and the occasional political viewpoint. Rushing to meet a deadline, he wrote this poem for his 1987 Remembrance Day column. It was published then relegated to his ever-expanding collection of scrapbooks. 
A few years later Ann Landers (who had contributed a blurb for the back cover of my father’s first book) published a portion of his poem in her syndicated column; that’s when the floodgates opened.  We started receiving requests to reprint from all over the world.  Our website received so many hits it crashed the server. These requests grew with each passing year and to date the poem has been published as far afield as the U.S, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Singapore.
For years it has been broadcast every Memorial Day on U.S. national radio, and in 2008 was carved into marble for a Nebraska Veteran’s Memorial.  The American Legion has posted it throughout their many branches, the Australian RSL included it in their video tribute, “Victory in the Pacific,” and it was a central part of the 2009 Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.
A composer and writer myself, I used it as a central part of “Born Lucky,” a stage musical I wrote and toured in 2008-09.
The poem has been reprinted thousands of times in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. It is ironic that Canada, the country of the author's birth, has consistently shown the least interest in his work.
Most movingly it has served as a eulogy at hundreds of funerals over the years, including the author’s own in 2009.  Although we miss him terribly, what greater gift could he have left his family than the knowledge that his words, those of a Canadian veteran, live on and continue to inspire people around the globe.


(A Soldier Died Today)
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land,
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives,
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

©1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

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