Day 1392, Veterans’ Day, 2020
Today, to honor those who have fought for their country, I am including three poems I wrote about three different sets of veterans. All have been made into songs.
The first is about my great granduncle, Simeon Ikins, who died from wounds he received at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
The second is about the Battle of the Greasy Grass, as the Lakota people call it. It is better known as Custer’s Last Stand, June 26-27, 1876.
The third is about my wife, Carol’s grand uncle, Max Wachsmann, a Jew who died fighting for Germany in World War I.
SIMEON, WE WON
Simeon Ikins was the brother of Mary Ann Ikins, who married George Esse, my great, great grandfather on my mother’s side. Simeon served in a New York regiment in the Union Army in the Civil War. He was mortally wounded by shrapnel from the Confederate cannonade before Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg on the third day of the battle, July 3, 1863. This poem tells the story of my visit to his grave in the Gettysburg graveyard where Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. I’ve written music for it but not yet recorded the song.
Simeon, I’ve found you. I’ve walked a long, long way
To find the place they laid you on your last gruesome day.
Pickett’s men came charging, with chilling Rebel Yell,
But you held your position, though, like you, thousands fell.
You stood up to cannons in Gettysburg’s hot sun.
Though in the hail of grapeshot, Lee thought you’d turn and run.
Then the shrapnel hit you and left your arm a shred
And then came the infection and soon you would be dead.
Lie peacefully in honor; you stood fast, though afraid,
Fighting for the Union, your life the price you paid.
Lie peacefully in honor; you stood for liberty.
The Union held together and men, once slaves, are free.
They laid you in this graveyard with thousands more interred.
Then Lincoln paid you homage with each immortal word.
And today I’ve found you to honor what you’ve done
And though I stand in silence, I came to say, “We won.”
I pray you hear me tell you, “Simeon, we won.”
THE BATTLE OF THE GREASY GRASS (1)
Long Hair, (2) we needed rifles and your men brought us a lot.
Long Hair, we needed horses and your men brought us a lot.
(Lakota [Sioux] victory song)
Out west on the Greasy Grass the People’s village grew,
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and Gall’s Hunkpapa Sioux.
Seven thousand people strong, one summer long ago,
Living in ancestral ways where cold, fast waters flow.
Then Long Hair’s men came riding west with rifles and long knives
To drive them from their prairie homes and their accustomed lives,
To live on reservations so the whites could take the land,
To die on reservations, unless they made a stand.
The People cried and three great men gave answer to their call,
The man of visions, Sitting Bull, chiefs Crazy Horse, and Gall.
A vision came to Sitting Bull, the white man’s troops would die.
Sitting Bull said he saw white troops falling from the sky.
Long Hair’s men were close at hand. Were they what his dream meant?
When they came would his dream prove from Hell or Heaven sent?
Then Long Hair found the People’s tents and he refused to wait
For promised reinforcements, so he charged and met his fate.
Brave warriors of the People all hit him from every side.
The sun moved just one lodgepole and Long Hair’s men all died. (~45 minutes)
Soon on the Northeast river bank a monument arose
To mark the place George Custer fell, a hero we suppose.
Five companies died with him but to most they’re nameless now,
Men who would scar the country for gold or with the plow.
We don’t hear much of heroes, those who won the fight that day,
Warriors of the People, passing time has borne away.
But when we pushed the People off of their ancestral land,
Outgunned, outmanned they fought us and on that day made a stand.
With Sitting Bull their leader, and with Crazy Horse and Gall
They fought for their own homeland and on that day they stood tall.
Tatanke Iotake, Tashunke Witco, Phizi.
(Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall, in the Lakota language)
(1) The Greasy Grass is the Lakota (Sioux) name for what we call the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
(2) Long Hair was the Lakota name for Custer. Oddly, on that day he had his hair cut short. The Indians were not initially sure whom they had fought and defeated.
The Old, Yellow Picture
Max Wachsmann was the brother of my wife, Carol’s grandmother, Frieda Karliner. They were a German Jewish family living in Oppeln, Upper Silesia. Max fought for Germany in World War I and was killed at San Quentin just a few days before the Armistice. He had been home healing up an infected foot and insisted on going back to his outfit just a month before he was killed. He was a very talented musician, perhaps even better than his younger brother, Franz, who came to America in the 1930s and wrote 150 movie music scores. Franz received two Academy Awards for his film scores. Who knows what Max would have done. Glossary: Mutti is German for “mommy.” Carol called her grandmother, Mutti because the rest of the family did. Most Germans call their grandmother’s Oma or Omi. The family called Carol’s mother, Eva, so Carol did too.
There’s an Old, Yellow Picture on the wall near the stairs,
You can date from the uniform the soldier in it wears.
And the eyes looking out are the eyes of my son
But the boy in the picture died in World War One.
Mutti loved how you played before they sent you to France.
Tunes your soul seemed to listen for would make your fingers dance.
But the tunes you could hear all fell silent one day
When the smoke of a rifle carried them away.
Old yellow pictures, looking back at me
Tell my family its history.
Old yellow pictures tell their stories silently,
Showing us where we came from and who we’ll grow to be.
Never once did you bounce your baby boy on your knees,
Never once lullaby him, singing your own melodies.
But the songs you’d have sung have returned from the blue;
Mutti says when my boys play, that they must hear them too.
Old yellow pictures, looking back at me
Show the family our history.
Old yellow pictures whisper stories quietly,
So we’ll know where we came from and who we’ll grow to be.
There’s an Old Yellow Picture on the wall near the stairs
Where a boy who died young sits silently and stares.
Do you think he could hear, do you think he could know
That we still hear his music from long, long ago?