My father would have been the first to tell you that he was not a hero, but he was a hero to me.
We remember those who serve our country in the armed forces, and especially those men and women in military service who have given their lives. These are among our greatest heroes. My father would have been the first to tell you that he was not a hero, but he was a hero to me. He did not die in World War II, but a poem that he left to me—a poem he first read for himself during the years of his service in WWII —helps us all remember those who have died.
My father, James Wesley Bolin, died on June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He was not part of the Normandy invasion, but served in the Pacific theater as a pharmacy mate on a troop transport ship. Of course, World War II was a watershed event in my father’s life. Having rarely left his home county in Tennessee before signing up for the Navy before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he surely got a taste of the world by having enlisted—a big, wide world he had only read about before.
My father stayed on board that troop transport ship for 2½ years, as it carried U.S. troops to exotic places such as Tongataboo and Okinawa. During that time, he set foot on dry ground for shore leave only two times—once in Sydney, Australia, and once in Wellington, New Zealand. In New Zealand, Dad wandered into an old used bookshop and picked up a volume of Selected Verse by English poet Alfred Noyes.
That small leather-bound book is now one of my most prized possessions. It contains “Distant Voices,” a poem my friend and fellow historian Dr. Kenneth M. Startup read at my father’s funeral. This is the poem I read to my students on the last day of class with each passing semester. This is the poem I hope you will read on Veterans Day as we remember the debt we owe to those who died in service to our country.
Remember the house of thy father,
When the palaces open before thee,
And the music would make thee forget.
When the cities are glittering around thee,
Remember the lamp in the evening,
The loneliness and the peace.
When the deep things that cannot be spoken
Are drowned in a riot of laughter,
And the proud wine foams in thy cup;
In the day when thy wealth is upon thee,
Remember the path through the pine-wood,
Remember the ways of thy peace.
When the cares of this world and its treasure
Have dulled the swift eyes of thy youth;
When beauty and longing forsake thee,
And there is no hope in the darkness,
And the soul is drowned in the flesh;
Turn, then, to the house of thy boyhood,
To the sea and the hills that would heal thee,
To the voices of those thou hast lost.
The still small voices that loved thee,
Whispering out of the silence,
Remember the house of thy father,
Remember the paths of thy peace.
I read the poem for my own sake, to help me remember the home and the life that my mother and father marked out for me. I read the poem to help me remember the sacrifice of Kentucky and American soldiers through the years of this country’s history. But I also read the poem for the sake of my students. My students need to understand the significance of that sacrifice. And they need to understand the significance of history. If they could go away from my classes with the understanding that remembering is important, that the act of remembering is crucial for their own well-being, for their own sakes, then those minutes we spend together each semester will be worthwhile, and students and professor will be the better for it.