A Warrior’s Poem: "Murder–So Foul"

by Sgt. James Lenihan
World War II Veteran (1921- 2007) and Purple Heart Recipient

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die.

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn’t see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand–
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn’t shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him “Brother”
But he gasped out one word
And that word was “Mother.”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close
His eyes.

The above poem was published in the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) blog with the following notation:

While cleaning out their father Sgt. James Lenihan’s basement after he died, Brooklyn, N.Y. based Rob Lenihan and his sister, Joan Lenihan, found this poem that he wrote about World War II. Lenihan was assigned to the 413th Infantry in the 104th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, nicknamed “the Timberwolves.” He toured Europe fighting.

With the mantra, “nothing in hell must stop the Timberwolves,” the division was responsible for overrunning the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, and was later recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sgt. Lenihan was wounded in action and later received a Purple Heart. He never spoke with his family about the emotions he experienced during war, and they were very surprised to find this poem. Towards the end of Lenihan’s life, he actively sought out his old war buddies and described his time serving as one of the “worst and greatest experiences” of his life.