The Veteran

In civilian life he was a teacher,

a lawyer, a husband,

an outdoors man, and a lover of poetry.

 

But in the War he was a combat soldier,

a paratrooper in an elite special force,

a man committed to duty, honor, and country,

though he went to Amherst, not West Point.

 

He never spoke of the war

and I didn’t ask,

but several years before his death

(he lived to 82),

he talked to me, a sort of reminiscence,

out of the blue.

 

He only told a single story.

Of how his unit held the higher ground

in Italy, above the enemy,

about fifty yards up.

 

A sharpshooter and deadly accurate at any range,

my uncle never missed.

Perched and ready he waited for the German to wander out.

 

A young man in wehrmacht gray stepped out.

My uncle squeezed off a .30 caliber,

expecting instant death.

 

The shot missed!

Before my uncle could fire again,

the soldier raised his hands,

dropped his rifle and gave up.

His whole unit followed,

young men all, not wanting to die in the Apennines.

 

Uncle Dick marched them back to camp,

where he checked his sights,

for he never misses.

 

He found that the day before

his unit had been firing at four hundred yards or more

and he forgot to change his sights.

 

In a tone only heard from a combat soldier,

he related how he was deeply relieved

when the soldier gave up,

and that the miss was the best shot he ever took.

 

By Paul Foster