Saturday, December 10, 2005

a brother/sister on the wall

This is a personal poem about my military service and yet about all of our service. Some references are fairly esoteric (some are footnoted); but it is a good representation of my emotions and experiences after 28 years of military service.

Being unable to find a word that linguistically and stylistically would convey the meaning of both male and female and yet not be bland or totalitarian in nature has left me with using the term 'brother'. My intent has always been to include all of the female soldiers I have had the privilege to serve with; so my best resolution is to include both in the title. When you speak/read 'brother' the author's intent is to have you speak/read 'sister' also.

Note: Use mouse over to see background notes or click on the text if you get a link pointer.

a brother/sister on the wall
by CW4 Lorin Welker (ret)

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
When I was young, I listened . . .
To half told stories about the wall
And watched the eyes of men whose feet had trod upon its crest.
I saved the stories. I have them still, all bound and kept.
Others do important things for kith and kin and clan
And never serve up on that wall
And rightly so, and courage and honor remain.
But I knew I had to climb the stairs and serve up on that wall.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
And as my pappy and his before him, got ready for the fight.
Seems fathers and sons been gettin ready or scrapin in a brawl
Since before the Revolution and that Pennsylvania Hall.
Grandpa stood in the foremost line in that Winter of '76
Grandpa James Welker died with the Legion in the Illinois trenches in the Fall of ‘44 Grandpa's Cazier marched with the Battalion to California in the summer of '46 Grandpa danced with Buchanan in the Winter of ‘57
Dad punched a hole in the Siegfried Line in January of ‘45
And at Remagen charged across the Rhine.

Uncle Rex lost two landing craft in that hell off Tarawa.
Brother Brian in the Navy off Cambodia.
Brother Corey in the Army in Germany.
I come from a line of watchers and recognized the call.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
At first I was too young and ugly to gain admission to the dance;
But soon the ranks was thinning and boys I got my chance.
I’d read all of the stories and seen the fabled heroes
Of that corps upon the wall.
So I swore the oath and shouldered my musket
And joined the ranks a waitin up on that wall.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about,
While listening for the bugle many a youngin came and went.
Some stayed just a little while; but others picked out their spot.
Some of us, the older ones, kept a sittin on that wall.
Too proud to leave and skeered to live alone
Without our friends upon the wall.
But whether short or whether long we’ve served
We’re brothers on the wall;
For all who’s dared, and risked their all;
And stepped foot on that crest
Will always be
‘A brother on the wall’.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Waited for the bugle and the tappin of the drum,
Waited for the evil hordes and waited for the rush,
For the hammering at the gate,
For the noise and the smell of diesel and burning flaming towns.
Got called to the gate . . . but late one time;
It warn’t more than a scrap
The boys were already marchin back ere I ventured in the gap.
And them hordes never did came a courtin
While standin on that wall.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
We marched and marched with Jody.
What use the ruck or the deuce of a truck
When you couldn’t march no more.
We ‘Cotched the rheumatism a campin in the snow‘
And the frost came hoarly chargin near 58 below.
Waited knee-deep in mud and ate grub a standin in the rain.
Heat and dust measured themselves agin me in the fray
And bugs and little crawlers scarred me head to foot.
Been marchin with no water, no shade, no comfort items,
But them times without no letters were the cruelest times of all.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Went out for a scrap in the desert, it warn't much of a fray
We watched them Scuds come roarin in and then went back to play.
We came back home
And marched in their parades.
But marched for our older brothers
Who never got the chance.
We marched for them that day.
. . . . .
Then went right back up to a waitin and listenin on that wall.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Volunteered to go a scoutin and hunt the devil out.
(After all, I spoke the lingo.)
Went sneakin and a snoopin amongst that evil foreign horde.
Warn’t too much surprised though
When they looked and talked like me.
With families a waitin while theys a sittin on their wall
. . .
. . .
Never felt much agin like fightin
. . .
But went back up on that wall.


Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Had my chances to be a ‘Hero’
And get written in their books:
Went dancin with a Ballerina
In a plaza on the Spree.
Then rescued De Witt’s lady
From a half score cardboard knights;
And got tickets for Dzerzhinsky’
But failed to make the show.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
One night our lines were mighty thin and I stood my post alone.
Something prompted me to turn about and I see’d I warn’t alone.
In double rank on double rank, the souls of old time watchers stood.
In uniforms, some gaudy, some threadbare, some forlorn.
That night our line was supported by boys from beyond the grave.
I gazed at them and they took me in.
Then some Sarn’t Major tipped his head
And I turned back to the night.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Cursed her sore and cursed her long
But loved her all the same
A mistress to my darling
And one I could not tame.
She’d spun her web and knowed me sure
And would not set me free.
No longer can I caress her or view the distant plain
But in my dreams and eternity
I’m walkin her bounded main.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Got called down off the crest and told I was too old
And worn out from a scrapin.
But suddenly one more bugle call
And the gates swung open wide
And when they warn’t a lookin, I slipped back in the tide.
Went forward one more time huzza’ing
And upwards toward the copse.
But, dang’em,
Floundered partway up, too used up to reach the top.
But watched them youngins take that hill
And swarm upon that ridge.

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Now I sit a crippled watcher still yearnin for the boys;
Not wanting it, but needing it and wishing I still could dance.
Cause once you’ve seen the elephant it’s hard a comin back,
And harder still to cheer the boys a marchin to the fray.
But she’s a bitch and she’s had her way,
And left you lie’in in the clay.
She's sent a score out scrapin and some came marchin back
And them thats fell
. . . . . .
are brothers all.
. . . . . .

Stood upon that wall and waited, 28 year near about.
Soon it will be my time to join that ghostly corps.
I recon I paid my debt
To that corps that’s stood the wall.
Then all you’ll hear from me is the soldier’s farewell:
. . . .
‘Well boys, . . . . . . . . . . . I’ll see you all in hell.’
Then it’s ‘Forward March’ and ‘Eye’s Right’ to the echelons of the dead;
. . . .
‘Halt’
. . . .
‘Left Face’, and ‘Dress Right Dress’.
. . . .
'Eyes . . . . . Front'
. . . .
And oh what joy . . . . . . you’re back again
. . . . .
A standin on that wall.

---


Explanatory Notes

---
Return To Berlin East Berlin 1978: In Aug 1978 I was ordered to Berlin to support USMLM, United States Military Liaison Mission to the Commander-in-Chief, Group of Soviet Forces, Germany (USMLM to CinC, GSFG). What I actually did is still classified. It was an interesting assignment as I stayed in the Kaserne right across the street from where my father stayed after the end of World War II. While there we were promised a trip into East Berlin at the end of our work.
The day before our scheduled trip an international incident happened in New York. In short: a Soviet ballet troupe was visiting New York. A husband and wife in the troupe had planned to defect to the US together. The husband was able to get away but the wife was restrained and hustled to JFK Airport and put on a flight back to the USSR. The US government discovered this and demanded to speak to the wife. The Soviets declined so the US blocked the runway and refused the aircraft permission to take off.
Intel sources in Europe indicated that the Soviets were looking to grab a US person in order to have some leverage in the ongoing incident. The threat was evaluated as low so we were allowed our excursion into East Berlin. We had a very eventful day but too long to discuss here. At the end of the day we ended up at a large department store next to a very large plaza in central East Berlin. I had spent all my East German Marks and so decided to wait alone outside on a second story landing that overlooked the plaza. (This was a big no-no). It was a beautiful late summer’s day afternoon and I enjoyed watching the East Germans watch me (in my US Army khakis).
After a while a young man approached me and began a casual conversation. He was very very nervous. At first I thought this was because we were in full view of all the locals on the plaza, events would show differently. Finally he came to the point of the conversation. He offered to exchange East Marks for West Marks or Dollars and quoted me his exchange rate. I immediately blew him off because such transactions were illegal and I could be arrested by the Soviets. His offer seemed strange to me and not because we were standing in front of hundreds of East Berliners. I suddenly realized that the exchange rate he quoted was that days ‘official’ black market rate in West Berlin and not the black market exchange rate in East Berlin. So I started looking around the crowd and soon spotted three guys that did not fit in. They were all about 5’5” with no necks and 1950s style suits and hats. And none of the East Germans would stand or walk anywhere close to them as they recognized them easily as Soviets. It was so ridiculous that I almost burst out laughing, expecting someone to shout ‘cut! That’s a wrap.’ It was just like a spy movie; except it was real. The young man eventually left and met with the three off to the side. I pretended not to watch them. Suddenly one of them pulled a large hand held field radio from under his suit coat and began speaking into it. Now I was not amused. Two small GAZ Red Army jeeps roared to life behind the building and tore across the plaza scattering East Germans in their wake. At this point I resolved to flee into the department store in probably a vain search for my fellow soldiers should they start up the ramp to the second floor entrance. However, after coming to a screeching halt, the four piled into the GAZ trucks and roared off.
And that is how I was almost exchanged for a Russian ballerina. As in all such cases there were no witnesses around (except the East Germans).
---
Return To Top Minsk, Belarus: In late 1993 I was asked to volunteer to provide Russian language translation for a military medical evaluation team that was going to Belarus under the auspices of Provide Hope IV. After accepting the assignment, I was notified that the mission had been modified to include supporting the stopover of President Clinton and the First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Minsk, Belarus for a mini-summit on 15 January 1994. We were subsequently tasked to support the visit of the First Lady to Children’s Hospital #5.
My particular task was to make sure that all went well with a presentation of medical supplies to the hospital. The presentation was to take place at the rear of the hospital in a loading dock area. Next to the loading dock was a small plaza, a park and a child’s playground area. The playground area was uphill from the loading dock and had a chain link fence running along its side. A truck was parked by the children’s playground with several large cardboard boxes containing the medical supplies. From the area where the truck was parked a winding concrete path snaked its way down the hill alongside the fence. On the opposite side from the fence and the playground the ground dropped off sharply. This was supposed to allow the truck to be off loaded easily; but was to cause unforeseen problems later.
Mrs. Clinton was supposed to stand at the edge of the plaza and watch while some Byelorussian soldiers removed a large box containing the medical supplies from the truck and then carried it down the hill to the loading dock and on into the hospital. There was a press area established up the hill near the truck where there were several news cameras to videotape the presentation. I was informed that there was no planned interaction between the press and the First Lady.
For whatever reason the Byelorussians did not remove part of the supplies from the 4’x4’x4’ triwall cardboard box to make it lighter. The boxes were very very heavy and a forklift was always used to move them. For photo purposes, 6-8 young Byelorussian soldiers were brought in to move one of the boxes.
After a group photo with the American civilian and military personnel who had coordinated the hospital visit, Mrs. Clinton emerged from the building, walked to the edge of the plaza and stopped.
With great difficulty the Byelorussian soldiers removed the box from the truck and began to carry it down the hill towards the loading dock. Because the box was 4’ high, when they carried it, the top of the box was higher than their heads which made it difficult for them to see where they were going and to coordinate amongst themselves.
Immediately after removing the box from the truck they almost dropped it. Within a few more seconds they bumped into the fence and then recoiling almost fell off the sharp incline on the other side of the pathway. At this point it was obvious to me that they were out of control and that without help they would quickly drop the box. This would certainly ruin the presentation if not severely injure one of the soldiers. I looked to their officers and they were doing nothing and showed no intent to do anything. Since I was ‘in charge’ of this activity I immediately jumped in to assist. In Russian I ordered the soldiers to steady the box and get a better grip and then ordered them down the hill. I was backing down the hill as I directed them so that they would not hit the fence nor walk off the sharp incline. Everything was now going fine except that the weight of the box began to cause the soldiers to accelerate their descent of the hill. We were in clear danger of dropping the box again; but this time there was nothing I could do. They were now moving at a pretty fast clip, at least as fast as you can carrying a large box you are about to drop.
The last part of the story happened literally within the space of a few seconds. At this point as I was wont to do while backing down the hill, I turned to look behind me and discovered that Mrs. Clinton had left the plaza and had begun ascending the small hill. There was no room on the path for a large box and the soldiers and the First Lady; let alone the fact that the box was accelerating down the hill and would not be easy to stop in a dignified and safe manner. I thought that she might notice this and stop; but she did not realize the danger. I immediately turned around and ordered the soldiers to stop and put the box down. This was extremely difficult to do because of the weight of the box and its desire to continue down the hill. We were just barely able to stop and set the box down. At that point the First Lady was right alongside me. Had I not turned around when I did; I, the box and the Byelorussian soldiers would have been videotaped tromping right over Mrs. Clinton which would have probably resulted in the very very very heavy box being dropped on top of her. Serious injury to the First Lady and/or serious embarrassment for all involved would have resulted.
However the story ended happily. The First Lady stepped behind the box, gathered the tall handsome young Byelorussian soldiers around her and began talking with the press.
Me, I just got the heck out of the way.
---
Return To top 9/11: The year before '9/11' I was supposed to go before a medical review board because I could no longer run and was suffering severe hip and knee damage from years of running, marching, etc. The paperwork got misplaced and I was called up after 9/11 and sent overseas to support the 5th Special Forces Group. I participated as long as I could; but finally was medevaced back to the states when the doctors would no longer give me narcotics for the pain in my hips and knees and and couldn't bring my blood pressure under control. I don't want to give a wrong impression so I can say that I wasn't in combat and did nothing CNN worthy. I then spent 16 months in a hospital and medical rehab and was eventually medically retired.
---

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:15 PM

    Lorin Welker,

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I am a distant cousin, and I am also a descendant of Adam Welker and James Welker that you included in your military comments. My father is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army and we have a special place in our hearts for members of the military. My father and I were interested in finding out what your sources were for Adam Welker serving in the Revolutionary War in 1776 and James Welker dieing of cholera due to exposure while serving with the Nauvoo Legion. We would love to hear from you about these sources. My email address is joshualeebriggs@yahoo.com

    Your Welker cousins,
    Joshua Briggs
    Colonel Lee Welker Briggs

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kate Nixon1:27 PM

    Well, Lorin, you kept stories from us for awhle. It was nice to read about them. I never realized how close your story was with Dad's about not being allowed to serve, and, then, suddenly finding yourself serving.
    Tx,
    Your sister Kate

    ReplyDelete