The Price of Freedom

I paused for a while beneath the towering, twelve foot high ‘Mourning Soldier’ created by Sculptors J. Tom Carrillo and Thomas Jay Warren, who designed the New Jersey Korean War Memorial in Atlantic City. The Memorial  features bronze figures of heroic proportions, that represent the US servicemen and women who fought in the Korean Conflict, 1950-1953, the nation’s only undeclared war, which claimed more than 36,000 American lives. Approximately 7,600 service personnel remain unaccounted for in this war [1]

In that time I knew, I wished to bear witness to what the anonymous soldier may have felt, fashioned thus. Isn’t that what poetry is meant to do? Bear witness?

“There can be no real love without a willingness to sacrifice. Do you love your country? Do you love the men with whom you will be privileged to serve? If you do, then you will be prepared to sacrifice for them,”  said Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 8th US Army in Korea while addressing his troops [1]

I read further about the Memorial site after my visit. In that moment though, as I stood in the shadow of the bronze giant, a scene came to mind,  from that great old Western, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; the one in which Eli Wallach’s character Tuco, runs through a Civil War era cemetery, to Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable, Ecstasy of Gold [2] As I lingered a while longer, I tried to imagine what it is the soldier may have thought,  what is it I may have thought if I were him …

Freedom is not free ..

A scene of war at its least grotesque is accommodated into my psyche as hundreds of neatly laid graves, buried gold and grave expressions. Here he was, this handsome soldier holding dog tags, mourning his loss perhaps, drily gazing at metal that is supposed to be made of T304 stainless steel and which contains 18% of chromium, 8% nickel, to help resist corrosion [3] later when I read about the significance of military dog tags, I learnt they usually have various details embossed into the metal, like first and last names of the soldiers, their military ID, serial/social security number, their blood type and religious preference as a token for identification. Historically, of the two dog tags allotted to each soldier, one is worn on a chain around the neck and the other is placed within the boot in case the body is dismembered. Today, it is a symbolic part of US military culture as the military uses medical/dental records and DNA sampling to positively identify deceased military service members [4,5]

A large advertisement on the window of a casino hotel along the boardwalk; Atlantic city has a vibrant casino scene.

I think the poem came about in a stream of consciousness, of scenes juxtaposed against a crowded boardwalk. Everyone seemed to be simply passing through an evening while the fading light marked a watery horizon that spanned far beyond thin wooden defenses erected on the sand. The casino hotels while towering in their lights, funnelled the banter of a weekend crowd to the skies, wafting as it were on pungent smoke. And there he was, the only mute figure in metal, stamped in endless mourning.

Poetry exists, I think sometimes, to give a voice to the silent. It is an ekphrastic poem I created with each stanza arranged as per the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, linked form, which I have come to refer to as viscid haiku, for lack of a better term. I wrote about it here.

Words for the Mourning Soldier…

Those final mercies
of alloy, engraven with
beaming stainless names..

Trophies I gathered,
lay cold in boots that had worn
the tread of reason,

trudged the practical
pursuit of happiness, raised
in a picket fence ..

frail notions against
ingress of sea, that others
like me, shan't trespass

these deep trenches of
solitude fashioned for my
loyal labours

Of hearts that
beat for land, sky and water,
yours carved in life, pulse

still to endure, on
stiff badge of universal
brotherhood. Lustrous ..

my chromium guilt.
I have survived the deluge
of shrapnel that rusts

not nickel or dime.
Devoted sacrifice, yours,
finds soul harbour safe

within me - rewards
I've reaped thousand fold, as I
walk home to freedom.

On the Beach ~ Atlantic City, NJ