Wednesday May 09, 2007

Fiddler's Green

Tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of my commissioning as a 2LT in the Army and roughly 18 years after I first took an oath to serve in some capacity. It is a pretty important day for me. My folks recently sent me a DVD of my commissioning ceremony and it brought back some memories. Mostly good ones, some great and a few not so great.

It is difficult to look back at something and not remember both the good times and the bad times. For instance, I recall the first time I buried a soldier. Thankfully I haven't had to do that much. The story wasn't heroic. Death never really is. The funeral was full of some of what the military does best. I arranged for taps and bagpipes. I asked the buglers to slowly walk away so that the music faded away. I read a slightly modified version of "Fiddler's Green" and, as it occasionally happens, it was with exactly the right cadence and timbre to celebrate the the life of my departed sergeant. Leadership that believes in service (service to the organization, service to the people in your command and believes in mission first and people always) is very important to me.

I also recall the day I was presented with the Honorable Order of St. Barbara. This award is granted to only the most proficient of Field Artillerymen. It is a wide red ribbon and a heavy medallion that I can wear at formal military event or formal event. For instance, when the President holds his next white tie event, I can wear my award. I actually received this award prior to becoming a battery commander, which is pretty unusual. I think it was because I was pretty good at what I did. So, I await your call Mr. President.

And so what is my point with this rambling blog? A friend of mine recently lost her father. He was, by all accounts, a good man. He was a decorated veteran and his daughter will miss him. We celebrate his life, his triumphs and his tragedies, as part of the human condition. All of us have much to learn and much to celebrate. Joan, for what it is worth, we stand next to you and remember your father.

I have some pull with the Field Artillery, and a decorated combat vet always has a seat at my table. I will elbow aside a few of the crufty artillery types and rinse out my canteen cup with a dirty infantry sock and grab a slug of artillery punch for your dad. Please have him join us at Fiddler's Green.

 

Imagine if you will, a starry night in southwestern Oklahoma just after the Civil War. Nestled in the shadows of the Wichita Mountains is a battery of smoothbore cannon camped for the night. As the campfires dim and the flasks of rum and lemon are empty, the conversation turns to the life hereafer. A rugged, old chief of section is surprised to learn that all present have not heard of the special destiny of Redlegs and combat vets. As the young artillerists listen intently, he shares with them the Legend of Fiddler's Green.

The chief of section explains that the souls of the departed eventually end up in heaven or hell. Heaven lies about six miles down the dusty road to eternity, and Redlegs get there by turning left at the first crossroad. From this same junction, hell is about eight or nine miles straight ahead. The road's easy to identify, it's the one paved with good intentions. A little way down the road to hell there's a sign pointing to a trail that runs off to the right of the main road. It reads "Fiddler's Green -- Artillerymen and Combat Vets Only Then the chief of section teaches them the following poem:

Halfway down the trail to hell,
In a shady meadow green,
Are the souls of many departed Redlegs.
Camped near a good old-time canteen,
And this eternal place
Is known as Fiddler's Green.

Though others must go down the trail,
To seek a warmer scene,
No Redleg ever goes to hell,
Ere he's empties his canteen,
And so returns to drink again
With friends at Fiddler's Green.

The campfires die out, and the Redlegs doze off to sleep, knowing Fiddler's Green awaits them and all thier cannon-cocking brethern in the life hereafter.

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