WWII Memoirs – 1945 – Short Days Ago We Lived

Marine Cemetery 1945

Okinawa, First Marine Division Cemetery, October 1945

After the surrender was announced all of us had time on our hands, and we spent it exploring the Island, taking photos, or playing cards. One day, camera in hand, I wandered over to the First Marine Division cemetery, which a few weeks ago was an open field. I recalled that unsightly and undignified scene of those pathetic shapes that once had been robust, bright-eyed young men, about my age.

That scene had been replaced by hundreds of crosses and stars of David. The remains had disappeared. The bulldozer and surveying instruments had done their job. A white cross or star marked the place where each young soldier had begun his eternal sleep.

While I was staring at the rows of crosses, a Marine got up from a grave site he had been studying, and asked if I would take a picture of him at that site. He explained that the soldier buried there had been his good buddy. He had come to bid his friend farewell.

After the Marine left, I lingered, sobered at how many and how quickly these crosses and stars had appeared. But my thoughts returned to the buddy whose grave I had just photographed, to the buddy who was “left behind.”

Okinawa, First Marine Division Cemetery

Marine saying farewell to his buddy (he was going home), Okinawa, First Marine Division Cemetery, October 1945

His grave will always be cared for, But on Memorial Day no one will come to visit him. Loved ones will always be 4,000 miles away across a wide ocean.

When the loss first occurred, his sweetheart would feel deep sorrow and despair, but when there were no more tears to cry, life would go on. She probably would marry and have a family. She would grow older, but he would always remain young — in her memories — the young Marine who went to war and never returned.

“In Flanders Fields”
by John McCrae

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Flanders Field is a cemetery in France where soldiers who died in World War l are buried. The poem above was written by a soldier who had lost his buddy. When I first heard it I was in high school and I thought of my Dad, who had been seriously gassed and wounded in that war. I was so moved by the words that I committed them to memory.

As I began writing about the incident at the marines cemetery near my bivouac, I found myself reciting parts of the above poem, and out of that came the title for this piece. That poem.

 
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