Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 28, 2013

Old Glory also waves for the youth in a teen tribute to America’s military


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Every day could be Veterans Day in Four Seasons Country, in part because there are few other places where so many have stepped forward to serve others, often at the peril of their own lives. Here at the end of September, the month when World War II officially ended in Tokyo Bay 68 years ago, we can celebrate our brave men and women once again.

An absolutely grand story in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph about four remaining U.S. Navy veterans ranging in age from 89 to 95 years young is enough to make any of us stand and salute the nearest flag. Those World War II veterans are slipping away, icons from a time when America was truly the hope of free people everywhere. Their sacrifice made possible the chance for you to read this column in English, rather than either German or Japanese.

American soldiers in battles since have been equally dedicated in their service. From Korea, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others, our wonderful men and women in uniform have continued to display a willingness to lay down their lives for their friends, for people they don’t know and will not meet, and for all of us. We can all respect and love our military personnel, veterans past and present, and look forward to generations still destined to serve.

So it was on Friday morning at Tazewell High School, in the midst of research paper work in my Advanced English 11 class, that I received a wonderful surprise when one of my “last year’s students,” Brooke Sandifer,  brought by a poem she composed. Brooke is not only a talented writer, but also a thoughtful and caring one.

We talk often in class about how sometimes the finest writing, those lines that truly reach out to others, come to us not in our comfortable living rooms or dens but outside, maybe up on a hill or near a creek or deep in the forest. Brooke was in several of those discussions last school year. This “country girl” found her latest inspiration while out on the lawn doing some yard work in the bright autumn sunshine earlier this week.

Not only had Brooke composed the poem but she and her mother, Diane, put it in a frame and charred the edges to make a haunting border, perfectly enclosing smoldering thoughts of friends and families whose lives have been interrupted by war. The idea is about thoughts, in fact, and the word completes the title. Such work is once again proof positive that there is no age limit to care and concern for others.

The poem itself is perhaps directly related to Four Seasons Country with images of the fall, and winter, combined with bursts of light. Significantly, those same can be found on a thousand battlefields or in cemeteries spread across our mountain home. It is a mixture of sight and sound, a combination of life and perhaps, death. Figurative language for those who willingly fight, and those who honestly love them.

Brooke noted that “leaves can remind you of fallen soldiers.” As the great battle of Gettysburg has been recalled this summer after 150 years with the famed address by Abraham Lincoln to be celebrated in five weeks that stark image can bring home to us the all-too-often ultimate sacrifice of war.

King Boyce, a proud U.S. Army veteran and a Tazewell teacher himself, said the poem with its reference to numbers, and the endless procession down through the ages, is what touched him first.

How many soldiers, battles, wounds, casualties, and sacrifices have been made…and how many more to be completed in ages yet unknown, as Shakespeare might have said.

Our own Ms. Sandifer brought her poetic skills to the modern era, with a child’s eye and a young adult’s talent for expression. She, too, had the Army influence, thinking of her cousin Shane Blankenship and her uncle, Roy, soldiers serving in different generations but joined forever by the unshakable bonds of family and service.

That care was certainly evident to our assistant principal Cynthia (Brown) Beavers, recalling her years as a young wife. Her husband, James, served in Iraq. “Mrs. B.” said there is a war of emotions during a deployment that rage within everyone, and that Brooke’s insight captured it so eloquently, adding that wars are fought for causes but individual lives are the casualties

It was equally heartwarming to have so much of Abb’s Valley in that poem, thinking about Brooke and her family, neighbors to Flora Lee Asbury, my high school best friend’s mom, and her uncle, whose pick up truck my Dad bought many years ago, and that I still drive around the farm.

With winter not far from these hills, those soldiers do remind us of “snow flakes with soft angel kisses.” My perceptive student concluded with revelations of a mother’s love across the ages. Thanks, Brooke, on behalf of all soldiers and their families in our great country.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.