Norm often tweets his writing and fills up your Twitter page when he's on a streak. Today, I was really moved by his story in honor of Veterans' Day/Remembrance Day. I wanted to post it in its entirety for those not on Twitter or not following him. Out of respect to those who serve, please do not Colin Powell me. God bless the soldiers.
"Four and Ninety years ago The Great War ended. Eight Million soldiers died. The last was Henry Gunther, an American with a German name, who took a bullet to the head and died alone in the mud. Sixty seconds later, the Armastice was signed.
It had been the four worst years. The four worst. And two Canadian boys had been there from the beginning. Johnny, and his best friend Alex, farm boys seeing the world. Adventures awaited. The boys were at Belgium, where men who lived ordinary lives in Canada died heroes in Ypres. There were no horses and no bayonets either. There was Chlorine Gas, and 186 tons of it and it was coming for the boys.
It was green-grey and thin and from a distance smelled like pineapple and pepper. And it moved slow. Johnny and Alex back away. They see the boys ahead fall to their knees, coughing and crawling and pressing handheels to eyes. They're too far back to see what's really happening. The Canadians, 18 years of age, 19, some as old as 20, all barely sown seeds being poisoned in the most fiendish of manner.
Ricky MacGregor, the best hockey player in all of Alberta, tries and tries and tries to breathe. But his lungs are flooding. Ricky is on the driest of land and he is drowning. He has a splitting headache and a terrific thirst but there is no water. And if there was, it would bring instant death. With all his exertion, Ricky manages a breath and it is a knife edge to his lungs. In a sudden, a greenish froth erupts from Ricky's 18 year old stomach and flows from his mouth and his nostrils. And he falls forward, first insensible, then dead. His skin changes colour as he hits the mud, from white to greenish-black and yellow, and his eyes assume a glassy stare. Johnny and Alex see nothing of this. But they see him fall and they run.
Johnny is a few feet ahead of Alex when he hears the blast and he turns and his best friend is dead. A shell has taken him. Johnny knows medicine well, well enough to know his best friend is no more and he stands and looks at what once was Alex. And he remembers how only last year he was driving the tractor and fast, so fast Alex hadn't the time to get to to the hay bales. And Alex had cursed him and they had laughed. And they had talked of the great adventure that awaited them in Europe. And they had gotten drunk on dandelion wine. And Johnny felt the smell of pineapple burn his nostrils and he backed away and fell in the mud and got up and ran fast.
They buried Alex the next day but there wasn't a chaplain to be found. Chlorine is no respecter of God. So Johnny presided over the service. And afterward he sat, silent, and looked at the white cross where the name of his best friend was uninscribed. And he took pencil to hand.
"In Flanders Fields 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."
Johnny didn't live to see the Armistice signed. Three years after he buried his best friend he developed a nasty cough. He was dead in a week. His corpse had the slightest whiff of pineapple about it.