They gathered as they did when the need called for it, which it did more and more as the years passed for them as they do for us all.
In the late morning light they made their way over the gently slopping hills and fields. Each carrying a tool for the job they had come to do. Along with the tool, each man carried a memory so much a part of them and so heavy it made their footprints sink deeper than their actual weight did.
Even now after all these years they still moved as if in combat. Each separated from the other by a distance of five meters in case of an attack. Each one’s head turning slowly left then right scanning the tree line. Dropping to their knees in the waist-high grass, their tools like weapons against an enemy so long gone.
Once they reached the place they had chosen they got to it. It took them all working together hours. While two worked, the others kept watch and waited to take their turn to do their part. As they rested in the shade from their labors, each one looked out at the rolling fields of the lowlands and found himself reliving it all again.
Funny how time changes an experience. How it can make minutes seem like days when shells are falling around you or how days fly away like seconds when you’re waiting in some damp, cold hole or moving to some new position to wait as you dig another damp, cold hole. Each one saw something different as they remembered their part, for some it was the ones they had to leave behind. For others it was the buildings and history that they left ruined or destroyed.
As they moved from one hole to another always digging, digging always digging. A hole to live in, to survive in and sometimes to rest in. A hole so deep!
Tired and sore they made their way back to the Guesthouse where they had a drink before napping. Sleep found them and for some it left a gift of dreams for them to take back with them to that time when youth and promise were all they had. At eight they dressed for dinner.
The mayor of the tiny town, who was too young to remember their war, welcomed them and posed for pictures. After dinner the staff left them to themselves. Alone now, they could drink and tell each other lies, but these were the best kind of lies because they were born from the truth. Finally, the hour grew late and the youngest o
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, I ask that you join me in raising a glass to mark our coming together again.” They all stood and held up their glasses.
Page 2 of 2 - “Once more we have been enlisted to help one of our number. And it is with much pride and honor that we take up this duty. For each of us the best part of our lives, and the worst was spent together. We who know War and death also know peace and life. A war we didn’t make. A death we didn’t want. A peace we helped make. A life we may have saved.”
As he spoke, each was remembering someone and the sounds of cannon fire, a fear, a laughter, and the sound of shoves, always shovels as they dug into the hard, unforgiving earth.
Somewhere far off in the dark taps played.
“Gentlemen, to distance, friends and old memories.”
“To distance friends and old memories,” they all said as one and drank.
The speaker looked around at the men and thought of how this would be the last time they would have to do this because they wouldn’t have enough men left to make up a proper detail. So, that sad duty would fall to another generation of soldiers.
They all stood stiff and steady.
“Burial detail,” he said softly, “dismissed.”