Memorial Day reflections

The burden of command

Andrew Ladak

Michał Ladak at the grave of his uncle who died in Vietnam. Arlington Cemetery.


Usually, when I think of them
I’m by myself.
And sometimes when it’s late at night,
I slip the album from the shelf and then
I sit beneath the shaded light,
to turn the pages one by one
until I’m with them once again.

It still seems strange that, unlike me,
they haven’t changed…
the boyish faces tanned and thin,
the wiry frames and tousled hair.
Too young to die, they strike brave poses,
squinting at me in the sun
with goofy grins,
and fingers flashing me a V,
as if they didn’t have a care.

I touch their pictures one more time
with almost fatherly regret,
to let them know that I’m
still here, that even after all the years
I won’t forget.

If I look closely at their eyes
I see the hopeful trust
that used to fill me with such pride,
before it died and turned to dust.
I sense the fear they tried to hide.
It was a fear that I knew well
but couldn’t show.
And so I smile back at them,
just like I did so long ago
to calm the tremors in their souls
before I led them into hell.

I wonder, too, what might have been
had those young men,
the boys I’d give my life to save,
not died instead
because of my decisions
and the orders that I gave.

I think of them a lot.
I loved them and they trusted me.
But in the end…I lived
and they did not.

Lt. Andrew Ladak, Wietnam

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