Bob Harms of Durango is a part-time poet. Very part-time. Harms, now retired from a firefighting career and a grandfather of four, writes just one poem a year, during the holiday season. The poems are the heart of his Christmas cards to friends and relatives.
Except in 2008 when, despite the calendar, another holiday was on his mind. The result was a Memorial Day ode to the fictional Corporal Allen Stall, a single soldier who represents all of the fallen military heroes of our nation’s battles.
We printed the poem last year, as a letter to the editor, and Harms was gratified to hear that the poem was shared and read at several local Memorial Day gatherings.
“Why did I write it the way I did?” said Harms, himself an Army veteran. “I guess I just wanted to startle people a bit. It makes me angry that people don’t understand what it took, what Memorial Day means. We forget, though it is something we should remember every dadgum year.”
Harms is right. And in honor of Corporal Stall – and all his comrades – we are proud to publish the poem again on its 10-year anniversary.
Have you noticed how most holidays of late have lost their original intent?
We take the day off, have a grand old time, but neglect to observe what they meant.
Of course we all know Christmas is just one of those days of which I do speak,
But it’s Memorial Day that I wish to explore; it’s this day’s true value I seek.
I am Corporal Allen Stall; I am all those you will never know,
I am those who lived and died far away, because I went where others did not go.
Yes, you can call me corporal, but that really isn’t quite true,
I am all those who gave all that they could; I am the one who did pay what was due.
I am the guy who doesn’t live next door; I am the one who will never pass by,
I am the one the whole world has forgot; I am the one that no one saw die.
I am the reason you can sleep every night while holding that special one near,
I am the one who has given you that peace to enjoy “the now and the here.”
Can you imagine what went through my head when I knew it was the end of “my day?”
Not the pain as I fell, not the light that grew dim, but the “goodbyes” I never would say.
Together as one, the thousands of us who answered that proverbial call,
Gave you the blessings you now so enjoy: your family, your life, this spring and last fall.
What is it then that I expect of you? The answer is not all that deep,
Not sorrow, not sympathy, not anger or hate, just a few promises I ask you to keep.
Each day you must laugh as I would have laughed; each day a heart try to mend,
Your life you must live in wonder and joy, with awe from beginning to end.
You must go to the places where I would have gone; see the glory as the sun starts to wake,
Taste the foods; take a chance; feel the wind on your face, and all for this soldier’s sake.
Hug the kids I never had, sing the songs I never heard, touch a heart that I never knew,
Be my life if you would, my soul, ears and eyes; be my voice that is known to so few.
When that spring day rolls around, while “Old Glory” stands proud and all your memories start to awaken,
Pause more than a minute to remember why all those lives were so early taken.
What you have was not free; I just hope that you see; it’s a gift I wish I had too,
I’d do it all again for that peace you enjoy. Just remember, my “might have beens” all live in you.