Veterans in Watership Down

I listened to Watership Down at the end of last year. It’s quite an interesting story about rabbits searching for a new home, figuring out problems, and fighting through dangers. The author, Richard Adams, was careful to have the rabbits act like rabbits, not humans, except for the ability to talk and think, which naturally led to a rabbit history and mythology.

Part of their mythology revolved around a folk hero rabbit, El-ahrairah, clever, cunning, strong and brave. In one of their stories, El-ahrairah has just finished a long, harrowing battle at great personal sacrifice to protect the warren. I took him three months to get back because he had to stop and rest and heal. This is the scene when he returns:

They made their way along the hedgerow, but could not altogether get their
bearings, because apparently the warren had grown bigger and there were more
holes than before, both in the bank and in the field. They stopped to speak to a
group of smart young bucks and does sitting under the elder bloom.

“We want to find Loosestrife,” said Rabscuttle. “Can you tell us where his
burrow is?”

“I never heard of him,” answered one of the bucks. “Are you sure he’s in this

“Unless he’s dead,” said Rabscuttle. “But surely you must have heard of Captain
Loosestrife? He was an officer of the Owsla in the fighting.”

“What fighting?” asked another buck.

“The fighting against King Darzin,” replied Rabscuttle.

“Here, do me a favor, old fellow, will you?” said the buck. “That fighting — I
wasn’t born when it finished.”

“But surely you know the Owsla captains who were?” said Rabscuttle.

“I wouldn’t be seen dead with them”‘ said the buck. “What, that whitewhiskered
old bunch? What do we want to know about them?”

“What they did,” said Rabscuttle.

“That war lark, old fellow?” said the first buck. “That’s all finished now. That’s
got nothing to do with us.”

“If this Loosestrife fought King What’s-His-Name, that’s his business,” said
one of the does. “It’s not our business, is it?”

“It was all a very wicked thing,” said another doe. “Shameful, really. If nobody
fought in wars, there wouldn’t be any, would there? But you can’t get old rabbits
to see that.”

“My father was in it,” said the second buck. “He gets on about it sometimes. I
always go out quick. ‘They did this and then we did that’ and all that caper.
Makes you curl up, honest. Poor old geezer, you’d think he’d want to forget about
it. I reckon he makes half of it up. And where did it get him, tell me that?”

“If you don’t mind waiting a little while, sir,” said a buck to El-ahrairah, “I’ll go
and see if I can find Captain Loosestrife for you. I don’t actually know him myself,
but then it’s rather a big warren.”

“That’s good of you,” said El-ahrairah, “but I think I’ve got my bearings now
and I can manage by myself.”

El-ahrairah went along the hedgerow to the wood and sat alone under a nut
bush, looking out across the fields. As the light began to fail, he suddenly realized
that Lord Frith was close beside him, among the leaves.

“Are you angry, El-ahrairah?” asked Lord Frith.

“No, my lord,” replied El-ahrairah, “I am not angry. But I have learned that
with creatures one loves, suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity
them. A rabbit who does not know when a gift has made him safe is poorer than a
slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.”

I fear too many of us are like those young rabbits who had no knowledge or appreciation of the sacrifices made for them, of what could have happened to them without those who fought for them. Whether we agree with certain wars or not, we can appreciate those who serve their country – who serve us – at great cost to themselves.

To all our veterans…Thank you.


(Sharing With Literary Musing Monday)

Thank You to All Our Veterans

The following has been attributed to Reverend Denis Edward O’Brian, but he says the author is unknown. I originally received it via the Good Clean Fun mailing list of Tom Ellsworth.


Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them, a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking. What is a vet?

A vet is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.

A vet is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is overshadowed by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th Parallel.

A vet is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

A vet is the POW who went away one person and came back another – or didn’t come back at all.

A vet is the drill instructor who has never seen combat – but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account punks and gang members into marines, airmen, sailors, soldiers and coast guardsmen, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs.

A vet is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

A vet is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

A vet is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

A vet is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – palsied now and aggravatingly slow – who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

A vet is an ordinary and yet extraordinary human being, a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

A vet is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say, “Thank You.” That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Those two little words mean a lot … “THANK YOU”.