The Promise He Could Not Keep

The Promise He Could Not Keep
by Louise Gallagher

It’s off to war with you my boy
his father said while his mother
wrung her hands and cried a silent tear.
It’s the right thing to do, to defend
your country and your fellow man.

And his father slapped him on his back
and his mother waved her white handkerchief
and they both sent him on his journey
to war torn lands far away,
with the promise to come home safe
ringing in his ears. 

And the boy, who was not yet a man
stood his ground against enemy guns
and held his own with pride as he fought
with boys just like him
as boys
just like him
fought back
intent on gaining the ground
he’d just taken
until he could stand no more
against the bullets flying
and tanks rolling
across the land so far away from home.

And he fell.
Slipping away from the guns
that would not stop
amidst the cries of the fallen 
lying on the blood-red ground.

And he fell.
Holding fast to the memory
of his father’s hand against his back
and his mother’s white handkerchief
bidding him farewell.

He held fast.

Until he could not hold on any more
to the memories of the one’s he left behind.

And as his last breath escaped his body
and the guns were silenced
in the finality of death
he let go of holding on
to the promise he could not keep
amidst the brutality of war.

And when the medal arrived,
posthumously, in the mail,
and his mother opened the velvet box,
she cried and fell to the ground.
And his father gently took her arm
and helped her stand and said,
It was the right thing to do,
as he dabbed her tears dry
with her white handkerchief.

His medal still sits in its velvet box
unopened beside the photo of her son
who never came home.
She cannot bear the weight of its memory
of the boy who went off to war
to become a man
and could not keep his promise.

11 thoughts on “The Promise He Could Not Keep

  1. Thank you. I cried reading this beautiful poem, and then I reflected on its message. So much hurt, so much pain. In most instances it is worth the ultimate sacrifice and then we have Afghanistan …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This does not ‘actually’ concern me, little me with the great undeservedly privilege of being born in a neutral country, never having been touched actively by the tearing and searing loss of war victims – and yet, and yet.
    When I was already a grown woman and my father long retired, I offered him ‘a day of my life’ for his birthday where he could ‘do with me, go with me, wherever/whatever he wished’ (in a good way of course, it’s just my way of not finding the right words) and he chose to travel with a day pass through Switzerland. We chose a very prominent and highly touristy train ride from Montreux through the Bernese Oberland to Interlaken and since we had to leave Zurich real early to catch ‘that’ line, we already had a glass of white wine in the dining car and a hilarious chat with a farmer who – also a nice turn I thought – invited his one and only farm-hand for one day of the year on this same trip we took as his personal recognition of his employee’s hard work all year round! I have to digress here because this farmer sort of ‘invited’ my dad and me to join them for a drink; my dad usually wouldn’t drink alcohol at before lunch time. The farmer told him, that THEY ‘had’ to share a glass of white because they had, before leaving, already milked the cows, cleaned the stables and what-not and when I said that hey ho, we had already quite a few kilometers done too, the farmer said to my father: What? You’re celebrating a day out and you don’t invite your daughter to have a drink or three??? To which my dad could only smile his crooked, lovely smile and nod, of course….
    We stopped in a small mountain village and found a tiny ‘one table’ bistro, where we asked if we could have a bit of a lunch. The owner said we could have a fondue which we were very happy to order. With all the fine things happening to us and around us, my dad got in an unusual sentimental mood, the wine we had with the fondue might have helped too – anyway – he started talking about his youth and it turned out, that he was only Swiss by a heavenly twist of fate. His mother (who died when he was 7 or 8) had been left by her Swiss husband many years before, she couldn’t however be divorced as her husband (the Swiss guy) had disappeared and was noted missing. She had to wait (I think) 10 years before she could re-marry and therefore my father wasn’t her later husband’s child but was reported to be a Swiss citizen (although conceived and growing up in Germany). Therefore dad was Swiss and during the war, the ppl being called wanted him to be a spy for their country. He was ‘persecuted’ not in the usual brutal war ways but had to be super careful, guarded to not fall in any traps or get drawn into WW2. Of course he did not work as a spy for G, but he had to hide, work where and when he could and moving around quite a bit…. To shorten this already far too long tale, he was on one of the first ‘deliveries’ into Switzerland at the end of the war, he got ‘back’ his Swiss rights (thanks to his Swiss dad who in fact wasn’t his dad) and the rest is history.
    My father cried during this ‘terribly’ emotional tale and it turned out that he had never ever been able to talk about all of this, not even to my mother. It was the single most emotional and earth shattering and -moving story in my life.
    The owner looked on from the door frame to his kitchen and he smiled benevolently. From time to time he gave an eye’s twitch and I realised that he thought I was my father’s lover being in the process of telling him ‘it’s over’…. hence the hand-holding and shedding of tears. When I told my dad this, he had the widest grin on his wrinkled face – he was so proud to be the assumed lover of a younger woman!!! 🙂 But still – this is how I learned that he and our family was indeed ‘neutral’ and Swiss by a twist of fate only.

    So, I am especially thankful for all the men and women who gave their life for their country, as I DO indeed owe my life to them in a global sense too. Also, I can only tell this now because
    Ouff…. sorry to be so long – but just to say: There could be so much more to tell on this (or any other) theme.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness Kiki — what a beautiful, touching and powerful story. Your father sounds like he was a remarkable man — and what a gift to be able to tell his story to his daughter. My father said very little about his war experiences. It wasn’t until after his death we learned that he was in Burma. And it marked him. I am so touched by your father’s story. Thank you for sharing — and it wasn’t long enough! I want to hear more. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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