“For Lafayette,” and editorial from the Greensboro Daily News. If you’d like to read all of Laurence Binyon’s poem, go to http://www.bartleby.com/266/41.html. Chapman, the man without a first name in this story, is Victor Chapman of New York, who also enlisted in the French Foreign Legion to fight with the French before the United States entered World War I. When Corporal Chapman was killed, Sgt. Kiffen Rockwell wrote Chapman’s parents. I found this and another story about Kiffen Rockwell after my post about him on Sept. 22, 2016. To see photos of Rockwell and his grave in France, go to that day's post.
“I see them, men transfigured
Again a dream, dilate
Fabulous with the Titan-throb
Of battling Europe’s fate.”
Laurence Binyon’s “Men of Verdun” is the best elegy that could be imagined for Kiffin Rockwell and for Chapman. Yesterday only ordinary American boys, with little to distinguish them from the mass of their fellows; today they are legendary heroes of two nations. One stride through the opal gates has carried Rockwell into the company of Koscusko and Lafayette. He is a man transfigured from an ordinary North Carolina boy into a martyr of liberty in the eyes of the French, and into the coin in which we have paid Lafayette in the eyes of his own countrymen.
There will be those who will assert that after all he was merely an adventurous youngster whom love of excitement carried into war. That is as it may be, but it is well to remember that so late as 140 years ago there was the spirit that was expected of every well-born youth; and their own country regarded the Frenchmen and the Pole whose memories America honors as actuated by much the same motives. The fact remains that when he decided to fight it was France that Rockwell chose to fight for; and France cannot forget.
In years to come when old men who fought in the war of 1916 grope back in their memories for the outstanding incidents of the collision to which Verdun has given its name, they may forget how many thousands of guns were employed, they may forget the fury of the assaults, they may forget how many of their own countrymen lie buried on the field; but they will remember that among the dead were two young foreigners, come of their own free will out of democratic America to fight for democratic France. Living, Rockwell and Chapman were only two adventurous youths; dead they are links that bind more closely the two greatest republics in the world. Living, they accomplished only microscopic things in the elemental struggle about them; dead, they have accomplished what all the kaiser’s men and all the kaiser’s guns in 25 months have not been able to do. They have made France to bow her head.
Ah, well they are gone—dead, and yet not mourned, indeed, not missed. For in their going they have left a thing infinitely greater than themselves—a tradition of heroic proportions that shall only increase as the years go buy.
“For history’s hushed before them,
And legend flames afresh,
Verdun, the name of thunder,
Is written on their flesh.”
Is written on their flesh.”