Honoring the Fallen: The Unknown Soldier by Billy Rose

When I was in seventh grade, I was assigned to make a poem and picture book. I had to find poems on a subject chosen by me, which ended up being “Cats” because I had a calendar from the previous year providing easy illustration.

It was during my research for that assignment that my love for poetry blossomed, and, indeed, I memorized the first poem that ever touched me. I think of it every so often, but always on Memorial Day:

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

There’s a graveyard near the White House
Where the Unknown Soldier lies,

And the flowers there are sprinkled
With the tears from mother’s eyes.

I stood there not so long ago
With roses for the brave,
And suddenly I heard a voice
Speak from out the grave:

‘I am the Unknown Soldier,’
The spirit voice began,
‘And I think I have the right
To ask some questions man to man.

‘Are my buddies taken care of?
Was their victory so sweet?
Is that big reward you offered
Selling pencils on the street?

‘Did they really win the freedom
They battled to achieve?
Do you still respect that Croix de Guerre
Above that empty sleeve?

‘Does a gold star in the window
Now mean anything at all?
I wonder how my old girl feels
When she hears a bugle call.

‘And that baby who sang
“Hello, Central, give me no man’s land”-
Can they replace her daddy
With a military band?

‘I wonder if the profiteers
Have satisfied their greed?
I wonder if a soldier’s mother
Ever is in need?

‘I wonder if the kings, who planned it all
Are really satisfied?
They played their game of checkers
And eleven million died.

‘I am the Unknown Soldier
And maybe I died in vain,
But if I were alive and my country called,
I’d do it all over again.’

BILLY ROSE

At twelve years old, I didn’t have a clue as to what most of it meant, but it spoke to me and to my heart, and I’m sure it’s what started me down the path to a degree in history as I investigated what the references to Croix de Guerre, bugle calls, military bands, and profiteers were all about.

Today I’m remembering all who have given their lives in our country’s numerous wars–and although I may not agree with the current war, the troops and their families remain in my prayers. Thank you, and may we remember your service every day and not only a few times a year.

12 Beans of Wisdom to “Honoring the Fallen: The Unknown Soldier by Billy Rose”
  1. Curatrix
    05.28.2007

    You made me choke up. Thanks for reminding me why we have this holiday and why we should be grateful.

  2. Jenn in Holland
    05.28.2007

    A lovely post.
    That was one of the first poems I ever knew by heart as well!
    A very sweet tribute to those who deserve our memory and our respect.
    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

  3. Karen Beth
    05.28.2007

    Happy Memorial Day to you. Beautiful post.

  4. The Freelance Cynic
    05.28.2007

    I love memorizing poetry.

    And this is a beatiful one to carry round in your head…

  5. Paolo
    05.28.2007

    It’s shocking just how relevant that poem is today – the bitterness and pathos seem perfectly a propos to the current situation.

    Brava for remembering the holiday – until I found out I was not expected at work today, I had completely forgotten. I mean, the fleet of Harleys in my town would have clued me in, eventually…

    Good news about the pentacle, by the way, thanks for pointing that out! I’m more a Graeco-Roman Pagan myself, but… you know… yay us.

  6. sognatrice
    05.28.2007

    Curatrix, I get choked up every time I read that poem, honestly.

    Jenn, how funny that you memorized it too! I found it completely randomly as a kid, and I don’t think I’ve ever even discussed it with anyone to know whether it’s well-known or not. Thanks for commenting!

    Karen Beth, thanks, and thanks 🙂

    Freelance Cynic, I should really memorize poetry more–actually I should’ve done it when I could still memorize things relatively easily. Glad you enjoyed.

    Paolo, isn’t it amazing how relevant the poem is? Just one of the many facets of history that I enjoy so….I had no idea of your Pagan leanings, but you know, yay ya’ll is right! I’m just a fan of religious freedom in general, and I like to see when choice wins (especially without going to the Supreme Court first) 🙂

  7. eLí
    05.29.2007

    I loved this. That poem is just great isn’t it? I get filled with such emotion!
    Happy Memorial Day to you too, Sognatrice.

  8. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen
    05.29.2007

    Very well said!
    And I am happy to hear about the religious freedom. In this day and age it is something that is sorely needing to be remembered!

  9. Wanderlust Scarlett
    05.29.2007

    Very beautiful. This is a touching and solemn tribute to those who have fallen, and to those who still stand and fight.
    My heart swells, and there are tears of pride and sadness in my eyes as I write this.

    Thank you so much for remembering, for honoring, and for sharing.

    Scarlett

  10. sognatrice
    05.29.2007

    eLi, the poem is always emotional for me too; glad you liked it.

    Jenn, sometimes I just can’t wrap my brain around our free country’s intolerances–especially when they come from official sources.

    Scarlett, there were tears in my eyes as I wrote the post as well, and as you said, they were of pride and sadness.

  11. Kristen
    05.31.2007

    That poem gets me every single time.

  12. sognatrice
    06.03.2007

    Me too Kristen. Me too.

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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