How appropriate that a classic poem about an “old Bill” who served his country was recited on Memorial Day by another Bill who once answered duty’s call.
Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, was the keynote speaker for the annual ceremony held in downtown’s Centennial Park.
As a tribute to the fallen, Dunn read A. Lawrence Vaincourt’s famous 1987 poem, “Just a Common Soldier,” also known as “A Soldier Died Today.”
Vaincourt was a Canadian newspaper columnist and poet who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He passed away in April 2009, but the words of his most well-known poem live on all over the world.
In it, Vaincourt tells the tale of “old Bill,” a veteran who went to war, then returned home to work, raise a family and live “an ordinary and quite uneventful life.”
Time eventually caught up with old Bill and he passed away with no fanfare .
Vaincourt contrasts this to the passing of politicians, whose lives are celebrated in newspaper articles while “their bodies lie in state.”
This leaves the author to wonder:
“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?”
Vaincourt notes the disparity between the rewards and compensation received by politicians and soldiers for their service.
“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.”
The author asks readers who they would rather have on their side in times of peril:
“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?”
In the end, Vaincourt makes a simple request for all the old Bills out there:
“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.”