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Poetry and Medicine
September 14, 2011

The Lieutenant’s Story

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

Author Affiliation: Ballard Pediatric Clinic, Seattle, Washington (tmcmahon@u.washington.edu)

JAMA. 2011;306(10):1061. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1192

The mines were laid in orderly arrays by German boys
so sure they would prevail, so sure that they’d return
one day to dig them up. So said my father
when the conversation turned to IEDs
and amputees, breaking seventy years of silence
about his Normandy platoon. “They're treating them
much better, now,” he said, as he recalled his sergeant
running back into the field, the tally one mine short—
and then his foot attached only by the big tendon in back,
which the medic cut. All of them cursing,
the morphine injector failing to pierce khaki
till the sergeant said, “Lieutenant, it’d work better
if you took the guard off that needle.” After the war
he got a letter from that Kentucky sergeant
who wrote, “ I got my rifle, my mule,
and my dog. I’m happy.” My father smiled
when he told that part.

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