Just a Common Soldier: Recognizing Veterans at the End of Life

May 31, 2022, We Honor Veterans

Just a Common Soldier: Recognizing Veterans at the End of Life

As I reflect on Military Appreciation Month and the approaching Memorial Day holiday, I am enormously grateful to serve as a volunteer for Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Throughout my time as a volunteer, I have been privileged to meet a multitude of veterans, especially Vietnam vets. I am active on Gilchrist’s Vietnam veterans task force, serve as a Vet-to-Vet certified end-of-life counselor, and assist with many other community outreach programs at Gilchrist to promote veteran support.   

Art Grau, Gilchrist We Honor Veterans volunteer

The opportunity to give back to veterans who enter Gilchrist’s hospice program has brightened and enriched my life beyond anything I could have imagined. Several people have asked me if dealing with hospice patients makes me sad. My response is, “No way!” It is the highest privilege and honor to meet these heroes and their families. Otherwise, I would never have had the opportunity to meet them and shower them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Several years ago, I discovered a poem that I now read to Gilchrist veteran patients at the end of life. “Just a Common Soldier (A Soldier Died Today)” was written by World War II veteran A. Lawrence Vaincourt.  He wrote the poem because he and others felt that veterans were ignored and received little help with problems related to their service.

When I first read the poem in its entirety, I wanted to salute Mr. Vaincourt for the way it touched my heart. To me, this remarkable piece of literature also expresses the mission of our Gilchrist We Honor Veterans program: to recognize and honor veterans for their courage and sacrifice, especially at the end of life. So many ordinary men and women did their duty and performed their jobs, not for glory or recognition, but because they promised through their oaths to protect our country and our Constitution.

We were all scared and wished we weren’t in harm’s way, but I never saw anyone hesitate or run from the battlefield. We promised ourselves and each other that we would watch our buddies’ backs. I will always feel a sense of pride, chills and warmth when I spy someone in uniform, listen to the National Anthem, see our glorious flag, or hear the all too often bugle playing “TAPS.”

Here is Mr. Vaincourt’s poem, which, to me, says it all. If you haven’t read it before, I guarantee it will have an impact on you. Thanks again, Mr. Vaincourt, for your special gift.

(A Soldier Died Today)
by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

This blog was contributed by Art Grau, a Gilchrist, We Honor Veterans volunteer

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