Jim's Note: Inspired by the several lines of dialogue right at the end of the Sam Peckinpah movie, Cross of Iron, one of the few Hollywood films to depict war from the German point of view. In the film James Coburn plays Sergeant Steiner, a man who fights the war on his own terms because he knows that is the only hope he has of surviving the war on the Eastern Front where the film is set.

His main protagonist is not the Russians but his superior officer Captain Stransky, played by Maximillian Schell. Stransky has volunteered for the Eastern Front because he is convinced this is the only way he can win an Iron Cross, the ultimate German symbol of bravery during war. Unfortunately, he wants Sgt. Steiner to win it for him.

To cut a long story short, Steiner and Stransky confront each other at the end of the film in a classic Hollywood stand-off. Steiner (Coburn) is tempted to kill Stransky but of course, doesn’t, and turns his back on him. Stransky/Schell now has a chance to shoot Steiner/Coburn in the back – but realising Steiner is challenging him to act like a real man holds his fire and says:

"All right, I accept your challenge. I will show you how a Prussian Officer fights."

Or words to that effect, to which Steiner/Coburn replies;

"And I will show you where the Iron Crosses grow."

I was tempted to change the title to something like, Marble Crosses, or Wooden Crosses, but decided I prefer the ambiguity of, Iron Crosses.

Iron Crosses (a poem)
© 2002, Jim Lesses. All Rights Reserved.

A thousand wars have left their mark,
On soldiers waiting in the dark.
Who meet with fate, the final blow,
In the place where iron crosses grow.

Who count the dead with haunted eyes,
Afraid that we might see the lies.
The victory march. The years of woe,
The place where iron crosses grow.

Where steel meets flesh, and crushes bone,
Where young men scream, or weep alone.
Where some die quick, and some die slow,
In the place where iron crosses grow.

Where blood once warm, now stains the leaf,
Where the dead are blind to living’s grief.
Where many come, but few will know,
The place where iron crosses grow.

Said one, ‘I will show you how we fight.
We rage against the dying light;
We rise to meet the deadly foe;
In the place where iron crosses grow.

‘Then I will show you how we die,
While cursing God. With choking sigh.
One final breath, and then we sow,
The place where iron crosses grow.’

A mother waits. Laments again
The madness that will blacken men.
Who reason spurn, and life forego,
In the place where iron crosses grow.

A thousand wars. The millions dead.
The wasted dreams. The words unsaid.
Eternal Flame. The marbled rows.
In fields where iron cross still grows.




JIM LESSES: Sometimes I Wake Up Naked

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JIM LESSES: American Dream

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