Many remember the movie “We Were Soldiers” and its poignant soundtrack. I have never seen this movie, yet I know it comes to mind for so many Americans who have watched fathers, mothers, siblings and friends leave for combat and who have gone themselves. Many do not return; those who return are changed for life. All nations are transformed, deeply, by the rights we uphold on the battlefield.
This morning, I pause from my usual posting routine as a gesture, albeit small, to pay homage to those who have the courage to fight. I do not understand war, but I can appreciate that there are rules of engagement between humans and nations that exist for a reason and that the men and women who voluntarily offer their expertise, body and soul to such end ensure and secure the rights, freedom and creative wealth of their nation.
Those who are familiar with the “We Were Soldiers” movie also remember the Sgt. MacKenzie song. Its lyrics and the sort of all at once courageous and pain-stricken composure of its melody embody the experience of the soldier as both invincible fortress and vulnerable man. It is a prayer of resolve and resignation, not the resignation of defeat, but the resignation of selflessness.
Joe Kilna MacKenzie wrote and performed his lament with his band Clann An Drumma, in memory of his great grandfather Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, killed in hand-to-hand combat in the French trenches during World War I. He was 35 years old. Joe was a personal friend. I used to hate that song because of its heart wrenching truth and beauty, yet every time I saw him sing it, I was mesmerized by his countenance and the history and soul it conveyed.
“Charles Stuart MacKenzie went to fight in France during World War I and was shot in the shoulder,” recounts Joe Kilna, “He returned to Scotland for treatment. The surgeon wanted to amputate his arm. He refused, stating that he had to get back to his men. During his time in hospital he was asked what it was like to kill ‘the hun’ (as the Germans where called then). He replied ‘what a waste of a fine body of men’. The last picture of him was taken in his uniform on the steps of the hospital. On his return to battle, he and his men were engaged in fixed bayonet combat. To the best of my knowledge and taken from reports of the returning soldiers, one of his friends fell, badly wounded. Charles stood his ground and fought until he was overcome and died from bayonet wounds. This same picture now hangs above my fireplace,” Joe Kilna continues, “In my grief, after my wife died of cancer, I looked at his picture to ask what gave him the strength to go on. Then, in my mind, I saw him lying on the field and wondered what his final thoughts were. The words and music just appeared into my head.”
“I believe the men and women who are prepared to stand their ground for their family, for their friends and for their country, deserve to be remembered, respected and honored. Sgt. MacKenzie, is my very small tribute to them.” Joe Kilna MacKenzie
Joe passed away on 28 April 2009
Sgt. MacKenzie (Song & Military Photo Archives)