The Vanguard

I met élite today – not fixed in one who’d claim
     To be, but rather one who was, and scorned the label
          Lest he be associated with that other kind.

In former days of war – before the unmanned drones
     And battles fought from Keys, we sent élite
          Out to the front to standard-set the quality of fight
               Ones faltering not – nor quisling in the clutch
                    But hitting hard and fast, then ruthless to the chase.

And in behind, we lesser minds and hearts who hold selves back
     In mortal fear, find courage rise, or shame,
          And drive on forward to the breach
               In front or flank or rear
                    With nothing held reserve.

Not that there aren’t reserves held back by leaders
     Such as he – for winning’s not
          First battles fought, but smashing blows
               To countering foes where ’ere
                    They show their heads.

These men, the real élite, are those we’d follow into hell
     And gladly give our all to them, if just to battle well.
           I understand the ruthless force such men
                  Infuse throughout -- lest glances back
                        And furtive looks give place to
                               Spreading doubt.

They snap us to attention fast in body spirit mind
     And raise us to the battle call
          When dragging far behind.
               They laugh and cry like other men
                    And long for restful nights –
                         Then hold that thought
                              As to be wrought
                                   Out daily in the fight.

The morale-sapping influence
     Of Cancer’s festering growth
          Now stops in me –
               The terrors flee –
                    And I take up again my sword
                         And press on to my fight
–                                Lest war be lost by me –
                                        Not vanguard or reserve –
                                                   But me – the sagging middle of the ranks.