Friday, May 26, 2006

"BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD"


In early December of 1969, I returned home to America after spending nearly three years overseas, much of that on various assignments in Southeast Asia where war then raged.
I had been scheduled to leave in January, 1970 -- But I was called into the Orderly Room of my unit and told by the First Sergeant that I could leave Vietnam a month early....However, (always the "However!") if I would agree to be the escort for hundreds of bodies of fallen soldiers & marines being transported from Da Nang, AFB to Travis AFB near San Francisco in a C-141.
The policy of the military are that the caskets of the honored dead are always guarded until burial takes place.
I agreed and within 24 hours was all alone in the cargo compartment with the flag draped metal outer coffins that had the names and service numbers of the fallen patriots. The long flight across the Pacific was without event. We stopped only once for refueling (in Japan) and except for being relieved every hour on the hour for 10 minutes by an Air Force crewman, I was required to stand at attention under arms and guard the dead.
When the aircraft landed at Travis, AFB in the early morning of a picture perfect California day, I turned over my task to the Air Force Burial Guard who would see to it that the bodies would be escorted to their various destinations.... I was relieved and went my way to San Francisco International and home for Christmas for the first time in three years.
My next assignment was at Arlington Hall Station near the National Cemetery. I volunteered as an additional duty to be assigned to the Honor Guard in order to take part in the funerals of many soldiers buried there. I felt it was the least I could do for them.


The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier's last tattoo; No more on life's parade shall meet That brave and fallen few. On Fame's eternal camping-ground Their silent tents are spread, And Glory guards, with solemn round, The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe's advance Now swells upon the wind; Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts Of loved ones left behind; No vision of the morrow's strife The warrior's dream alarms; No braying horn nor screaming fife At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust, Their plumed heads are bowed, Their haughty banner, trailed in dust, Is now their martial shroud. And plenteous funeral tears have washed The red stains from each brow, And the proud forms, by battle gashed Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade, The bugle's stirring blast, The charge, the dreadful cannonade, The din and shout, are past; Nor war's wild note nor glory's peal Shall thrill with fierce delight Those breasts that nevermore may feel The rapture of the fight.


Like the fierce northern hurricane That sweeps the great plateau, Flushed with the triumph yet to gain, Came down the serried foe, Who heard the thunder of the fray Break o'er the field beneath, Knew well the watchword of that day Was "Victory or death!"

Long had the doubtful conflict raged O'er all that stricken plain, For never fiercer fight had waged The vengeful blood of Spain; And still the storm of battle blew, Still swelled the gory tide; Not long, our stout old chieftain knew, Such odds his strength could bide.

Twas in that hour his stern command Called to a martyr's grave The flower of his beloved land, The nation's flag to save. By rivers of their father's gore His first-born laurels grew, And well he deemed the sons would pour Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother's breath has swept O'er Angostura's plain -- And long the pitying sky has wept Above its moldered slain. The raven's scream, or eagle's flight, Or shepherd's pensive lay, Alone awakes each sullen height That frowned o'er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground Ye must not slumber there, Where stranger steps and tongues resound Along the heedless air. Your own proud land's heroic soil Shall be your fitter grave; She claims from war his richest spoil -- The ashes of her brave.

Thus 'neath their parent turf they rest, Far from the gory field, Borne to a Spartan mother's breast On many a bloody shield; The sunshine of their native sky Smiles sadly on them here, And kindred eyes and hearts watch by The heroes sepulcher.
Rest on embalmed and sainted dead! Dear as the blood ye gave; No impious footstep shall here tread The herbage of your grave; Nor shall your glory be forgot While fame her records keeps, Or Honor points the hallowed spot Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone In deathless song shall tell, When many a vanquished ago has flown, The story how ye fell; Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight, Nor Time's remorseless doom, Shall dim one ray of glory's light That gilds your deathless tomb.
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