The Silent Footsteps of Unheralded Vets: A Poem

Monday, November 11, 2013 - 2:31 pm

The Silent Footsteps of Unheralded Vets: A Poem

Veterans Day passes many of us without a turn of the head. Some of us get the day off work; others don’t even know the national holiday is upon us. In many towns and cities across the U.S., women and men who served in foreign wars and peacekeeping efforts go unheralded in the public eye. Sure, we the media tell stories and personal narratives of the heroism and sacrifice they gave for the rest of us. But sometimes it feels gratuitous — or like no one truly cares.

For Rachel Button, who hails from metro Detroit but now lives in the state of Washington’s North Cascade Mountains, images of a Veterans Day parade on Woodward Avenue in Detroit remind her of the march that often goes unacknowledged. Specifically, Eric Seals photographs for the Detroit Free Press inspired her to write this poem:

You wanted the poor and tired huddled masses—
the slack-jawed and stubbled—
but we march alone on Woodward
uniforms stiff on our still-broad shoulders,

The Free Press took pictures.
Photos of men,
mostly men,
marching a street edged by empty sidewalks,
black men and white men
some of us in leather and flannel
others in uniforms which trim our bodies
into silhouettes framed by brass buttons.

Imagine the hands at our sides:
wrinkled, smooth, freckled, gloved—
scarred by cuts and burns, scrapes and time—
hands that held babies,
hands that held our heads when loneliness
felt too heavy to hold on our necks.

We bend into cold with something like pride
not for the battles we fought,
but because we’re still standing, walking, moving,
together, slapping our shoes on Woodward,
standing straight, even if not one soul watches.

For an engaging and informative read, I highly recommend John Carlisle’s column accompanying Mr. Seals photos.

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is the co-founder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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