Thoughts While Reading World War I Rosters

Over the past few months, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading over World War I rosters, both unit and casualty reports. As I was going over them, I began to wonder how someone like me in the future would read my name on some roster. And then this just sort of happened.

Pages old and full of dust slowly under my fingers pass,
Think not, Oh noble soldiers gone now that you are forgot.
Names, so many names, pass me by like driftwood in a current,
Some, caught on a mental snag, stay with me and linger.
We were all once these names – or have been, are, and will be, forever,
Name, rank, number. Identities all pressed thin and spread via ink on a page.
The dead pass before me. Not in form such as life but in lists of blackened type.

Those who passed of natural means, long gone, in peaceful vistas buried, lives long-lived.
But those cruel letters – KIA – they tell me of last moments on the field of strife,
Of thoughts and words unspoken, eternally hoping for a listening ear.
Not for the last words, that time is gone, but only this – remember us:
Remember us in time and memory and place and soul.

For these names were once filled with breath and were spoke through lips of life,
In love and hate and sometimes boredom, they were young, eternal, never-ending,
And then they ended, before their time, a misplaced empty space in life.
Like me, they wore this uniform and like me, they thought they could never die,
That their story on forever went and when they left they would be recalled,
Fondly, and often, and yet time dims and their names recede.

And as I read, I see them now before me as stories emerge from simple numbers,
Striking me how some time in days ahead, one like me will read over lists of type,
And my name will catch their eye, and they might wonder who I was and what I thought,
And if I thought how I would die or how the future might recall my being.
Will I be to them as these are to me, questions to be answered, a brief flame of life,
Piercing through the gloom of time and then extinguished when the reader passes?

And so I read, and then remember, for to they who fell this basic courtesy belongs,
That we who serve and for whom they died give life to lives cut short.
In blood and grime and pain they died, in no glory enshrouded moment,
This path for them they did not foresee nor was it one they’d chosen.
All wished to live and love, unwilling they departed,
Souls aflame with hearts afire, for eternity and in this moment.

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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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