Courage

By Joseph Hesch 

When some old combat soldiers
tell me over beers how they got to be
what people called heroes,
they seem embarrassed,
saying they only did what their buddies
would do-–even the dead ones.
Then they put on sad faces, 

like pinning on their medals.

One whispered his sorrow that
the real heroes died and he didn’t.
Moving closer, he rasped that courage
might really be what the guys had who,
when the shit went down, 
turned in the wrong or right direction
(it didn’t matter, he said)
and were lucky enough to make it out.

For whatever reason, I thought of

the old soldier the other day–his claim
that what people who weren’t there
think is courage might just be so much wind.
Right there in front of me, 

a swirling, breeze-blown potato chip bag
chased two squirrels
up a tree.

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15 thoughts on “Courage

  1. You know so often when we write about veterans they are honored with the words of hero, courage,, honor and all that is true. I appreciate in this piece that it is told from their perspective. My father is a veteran and this was like listening to him talk to me. I think you honored them well here.I also loved the end, the swirling breeze brining it to a close was just really good poetry. Nicely written my friend ~ Rose

  2. Old combat soldiers went through so much more than they were ever willing to talk about, and more than we might ever understand. Then they humbly came home and without much adieu did their best to be good people and live good lives. My father, father-in-law and all of my uncles served in WWII, all good men and all heroes in my eyes. A beautiful and thoughtful piece.

  3. Lovely, you honor them well here. I know a hero that never mentioned to his wife that he received a purple heart and when he passed away she found out while going through his things.

  4. Excellent, excellent poem, JA. The last verse is just so true. My own husband always says about Viet Nam that the real heroes never came home, though I think living with the memories of combat takes courage for anyone.

  5. I have to say, Joe, in spite of all this wonderful badinage in the #GrassRootsPoetry group on Twitter, this is the first time I've found to visit your poetry blog. I'm sorry I'm late, because I like it, truly like this poem 'Courage'. The language is perfect; it's real, understandable and drives its message home very simply. 'Courage' hits on a subject that is very close to my heart and on which I wrote a blog post and poem earlier this year; it was based on my father, who was a Spitfire pilot in WW2; a man so laid back, he'd fall over in a light wind, but a man with a story, which I tried to tell: http://tinyurl.com/6bvhz4z. The last few lines of your poem are just the essence; they are truly poignant – it is so common for those who experienced fear in WW2, who endured the cold sweat and painful recovery, never to be happy to talk about it; any distraction is prefered – am I close?

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