On Guard

 On Guard

Fresh out of college,
Economics major, French minor.
Decision time.
Wait for greetings from the President, or
Join the Guard.
In the end, an easy decision.
He joined the Guard.
Six months of active duty, then
Two weeks of summer camp and
A weekend a month for a term of years.
A drag, to be sure, but
Better an armory in the suburbs than
A rice paddy in the Delta,
Hunting for Victor Charlie,
Being hunted by him.

Active duty in Georgia,
At Fort McPherson, Third Army Headquarters,
The Circle A Ranch the soldiers called it,
After the shoulder patch.
George Patton long dead, but
His army still renowned,
Racing across France
In the high summer of Forty-Four,
Relieving the Screaming Eagles
At Bastogne in December.

The duty at McPherson was easy
Once his commanding officer learned that
He could shoot a basketball.
More play than work after that.
Sports a big thing in the Army.

Only one gut-tightening moment.
Detailed as prisoner chaser
To stand guard, shotgun in hand,
Over a dozen miscreants
Dispatched from the stockade
To pick up golf course trash.

In his mind a nagging question:
What if one of them ran?
Could he pull the trigger,
Shoot something other than a basketball?
He did not know,
Did not wish to know.

His wish became a prayer:
Please God, don’t let any of them run.

God heard his prayer,
Smiled upon him, and
Was gracious to him.
No one ran.

The clean-up over,
He returned the prisoners to the stockade,
Drenched in his own perspiration,
A great weight lifting from his shoulders as
He handed over the last prisoner.

On his way back to the barracks,
He thought, strangely, of Camus,
Who also knew the absurd.