Sometimes we make unexpected discoveries.
This happened to me at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France when Norm and I went there to pay our respects to the World War I heroes who are buried there. Ambivalence washes over me when standing among such greatness: sorrow, pride, and humility.
I learned of the heroism hidden behind the gilded cross of 2ndLt. John Hunter Wickersham, Medal of Honor recipient.
Mortally wounded by an explosion during the St. Mihiel offensive, John ignored his injuries to attend to those of another. Without medical treatment, he accompanied his platoon in the next advance where he fired his weapon with his left hand as his right hand had been rendered useless. The twenty-eight-year-old soldier collapsed from loss of blood and died on the battlefield.
Though he was a soldier, and died as he would have wanted – with honor, saving the lives of his compatriots – the necessity of his heroism caused me grief.
My heart was saddened further when I learned that this soldier had written to his mother on September 11, 1918 – the night before his death. In his letter he wrote this poem for her – and for all mothers, the ones who bear the heaviest loss during war.
The Raindrops on Your Old Tin Hat
The mist hangs low and quiet on a ragged line of hills.
There’s a whispering of wind across the flat.
You’d be feeling kind of lonesome if it wasn’t for one thing
The patter of the raindrops on your old tin hat.
An’ you just can’t help a-figuring sitting there alone
About this war and hero stuff and that.
And you wonder if they haven’t sort of got things twisted up,
While the rain keeps up its patter on your old tin hat.
When you stop off with the outfit to do your little bit,
You’re simply doing what you’re s’posed to do –
And you don’t take time to figure what you gain or lose –
It’s the spirit of the game that brings you through.
But back at home she’s waiting, writing cheerful little notes,
And every night she offers up a prayer,
And just keeps on a-hoping that her soldier boy is safe –
The Mother of the boy who’s over there.
And fellows, she’s the hero of the great big ugly war,
And her prayer is on the wind across the flat,
And don’t you reckon it’s her tears, and not the rain,
That’s keeping up the patter on your old tin hat?
Words are inadequate to express our gratitude, so all I can offer you is thanks.