The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

The Old Top Sergeant

From Mr. Braley's book. 'In Camp and Trench; published and copyright, 1918, by George H. Doran Company, New York. Special permission to reproduce in this book.

"Shavetail" is a name applied by enlisted men in the regular army to lieutenants fresh from West Point.

TWENTY years of the army, of drawing a sergeant's pay

And helping the West Point shavetails, fresh from the training school

To handle a bunch of soldiers and drill 'em the proper way

(Which isn't always exactly according to book and rule).

I've seen 'em rise to Captains and Majors and Colonels, too,

And me still only a sergeant, the same as I used to be,

And I knew that some of them didn't know as much as a sergeant knew,

But I stuck to my daily duty--there wasn't a growl from me

Twenty years of the army,

Serving in peace and war,

Standing the drill of the army mill,

For that's what they paid me for

Twenty years with the army, which wasn't so much for size,

But man for man I'd back it to lick any troops on earth.

'Twas a proud little classy army, as good as the flag it flies,

And it takes an old top sergeant to know what the flag is worth.

Then--a shot at Sarejevo, and hell burst over there

And the kaiser dragged us in it, and the bill for the draf was passed

And --they handed me my commission, and some shoulder straps to wear,

And the crazy dream of my rooky days had changed to a fact at last.

Twenty years with the army,

And it's great to know they call

On the guys like me for what will be

The mightiest job of all.

Twenty years of the army, of doing what shavetails bid,

And I know I haven't the polish that fellows like that will show,

And I hold a high opinion of the brains of a West Point kid,

But I think I can make him hustle when it comes to the work I know.

But who cares where we come from, Plattsburg, ranks, or the Guard,

This isn't a pink tea-party, but a War to be fought and won;

There's a serious job before us, a job that is huge and hard,

And the social register don't count until we've got it done!

Twenty years in the army,

And now I've got my chance.

Have I earned my straps? Well, you watch the chaps

That I've trained for the game in France!

Notes

"Shavetail" is a name applied by enlisted men in the regular army to lieutenants fresh from West Point.