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Veteran
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 by Frank Shortt
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Veteran

His rhetoric turned to babble

As the afternoon lazed on by

When one word devoured another

The Med students wondered just why.

They knew not what he’d encountered

In the ‘war ending all others’,

When mothers betrayed their daughters,

And brothers murdered their brothers.

“Who knew, at the conflict’s outset

That it would last five bloody years,

Mangled bodies, fraught with gangrene,

Made those left behind, waste their tears.

Surgeons, separated men from

Marred limbs that would’ve carried ‘em home,

Some ended their own tortured lives,

As futility closed each tome.”

Yes, this doctor had seen it all,

From Sumter to Appomatox,

Where Lee appraised the damage done

By both side’s raging fanatics.

“Who’s responsible, for raising

Fervor of young men, some mere boys,

To points of near insanity,

To charge, even a random noise?”

The old man asked this question then

To his bevy of searching youth,

Who would later be called upon,

Sacrificing, for so-called truth.

Ah, his fancies rambled onward,

As rhetoric turned to babble,

The afternoon lazing on by,

As when bees devour and apple.

        Just prior to World War One, an old professor lectured his students on the importance of battlefield etiquette. At first, his words were clear and concise, making sure that each phrase would be clearly understood. Soon, he droned off into a nether land, causing his fervent students some alarm.
        No one really knew what this man had been through in the War Between the States. No one knew the sorrow he had faced.
         At that time, he had been a recent graduate of a well-known University back east. When he joined the Army of the Republic as a medical volunteer, he did not even fathom half of what he would see and do. His first assignment was in South Carolina, at the shelling of Fort Sumter. Instead of treating Union soldiers, he was put in charge of a unit who would treat the Rebel wounded. And wounded they were! Young men were brought in maimed for life by the awful shelling. Some could only be bound up as there was not much left to work on. He saw mere boys with half their faces missing. Men helped others, men who were in worse shape than the ones they helped. Such are the ravages of war!
        The old man began a narrative of remembrance as if no one else was in the room.
        “Who knew at the Conflict’s offset that it would last five bloody years? Who knew that it would be father against son, mother against daughter, brother against brother? It was much like the Bible becoming alive when it said, “Your enemies will be those of your own household!”
        He paused, wiping perspiration from his brow with a weathered bandana. Then he continued: “I saw mangled bodies, fraught with gangrene so bad that there was only one solution, saw off the affected limb! There were many tears wasted back home for these tortured and beaten men. Surgeons, and would be surgeons, separated men from limbs that would have carried them back to their farms and plantations. Some young men ended their own lives because of the shame and futility of the situation ending the last chapter of their book!”
        This old sawbones had seen it all from Sumter to Appomattox. When Gen. Lee saw the devastation of his beloved Southland, he did the only honorable thing he could do: Surrender! Lee understood the fanaticism that is aroused by the Sergeants of war, whose job it is to push men to their worst expectations. He understood that a lost cause cannot be rectified by suicide. So Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.
         “I ask you, the old man continued, who is responsible for raising the fervor of the cream of society to such a fever-pitch that they would attack a shadow or a noise from the other side? The young men that I encountered on the battlefield were, from beginning to end, nearly insane with enthusiasm to enter the heat of action. Northern soldiers were taught to hate anyone with a Southern drawl, Southern men were taught to hate anything with blue about it. If a Northern sympathizer from the South landed in a Union camp, he was watched carefully at all times to insure that he was not giving information to the South.”
         “So, is there etiquette on the Battlefield?
        The old veteran seemed to decry the fact that he had to teach these avid, future doctors how to do the job he had been attempting for over fifty years. Yet, in another sense, he knew that they would need all the wisdom that he possessed as they entered the same atmosphere that he had entered as a young intern.
        The young doctors-to-be took the same attitude toward the old veteran that all young men take toward the elderly when told of past adventures; “Yeah, and you also had to walk ten miles through the snow to go to school!”
        In reality, he had.