WHEN THE BOYS COME HOME
IT will be a great day when the boys come home—the boys that went as boys, but are coming back battle-scarred and bronzed men. It will be a great day down at the great docks when those sons and lovers and husbands and fathers and brothers come leaping down the gangplank to throw their arms about the neck of mother and of father. I don’t know whether I should want to be there or not to see your boy come, for there is such sacredness in that touch of lip to lip. There is such almost infinite pathos and suggestiveness in the tears that dim the eyes on glad days of reunion. I know what will be the first thing that mother eyes and that father eyes or sweetheart’s eyes will say. You will look into the face of your boy and ask, unconsciously, the question: "My boy, did you come back just as you went away? Were you fit? Did you play the man? Did you do your bit?" And when those great wide-open eyes of son, or husband, or lover, or brother make their answer, and you will catch the answer, almost unconsciously you will catch the answer, then it will be the turn of your son, your lover, your brother, to look into your face and ask the same question: "Mother, father, wife, sweetheart, did you play the game? Did you play the game? Were you as true to this great, holy enterprise of the ages as you expected me to be? Father, mother, wife, sweetheart, did you keep the home fires burning, the fires of love, and faith, and patriotism and devotion? Did you keep the home fires burning?" And when his face says "Yes" to you and your face says "Yes" to him, O the tenderness of the embrace! It will be worth living years and years, and suffering years and years to have your goblet filled to the brim with the blushing wine of gladness.
When your boys come home! You have been reading the story of the war day after day, haven’t you, and know something of the anxiety of hearts when things looked blackest and how your heart gladdened when word came that the line was still being held. But we know too that somewhere in France, there are scores and hundreds and thousands of the sons of Great Britain and of France lying with their faces turned up toward the stars. They have gone over the top. They have gone out. I pray God that they may also have gone in. I do not know what it shall tell tomorrow. But I think, and I am assured of myself as I say to you what I think. I think that we should be praying, as perhaps none of us have ever prayed, and that we should pray at this very moment and through this night, and through these days, for this that is happening across the seas may be the most pregnant happening of human history apart from Bethlehem and Calvary. We do not know what the story will be. But we know this pretty well—that the boys will not all come home. What then? What then? This: that if they shall do their bit, they may not come home, but they will go home, thank God, and it will be a better house than ever they could come to over here, and it will be a more beautiful land than any they could see this side of the seas. They will be going home, please God. We will be going home too, by and by, and in the presence of the King we will meet them. We will be looking into their faces, conquerors crowned by that Great Conqueror who by his conquest purchased the right to diadem believers of all lands and of all centuries.
And I pray, men and women of America, do our best, do our bit, and keep the home fires burning, the fires of faith, and love, and prayer and loyalty to the old flag and loyalty to Jesus Christ. Keep the home fires burning, so that on that morrow when we enter into the city of the King, they will be glad to see us and we will be glad to see them, and their story will be the story of a task well done, and our story will be the story also of a task well done.
It was a day or two after Mr. Choate’s great address in New York that Mr. Balfour was returning to England, and Mr. Choate, full of years and honors, one of the most distinguished of America’s citizens, grasped his hand and said as he held it, "Mr. Balfour, goodby. We shall meet again to celebrate the victory." And Mr. Balfour went on his way to England, and a few hours afterward Mr. Choate fell on sleep and passed into the eternals. But we believe that they are to meet again, and that they are to celebrate the victory.
Men and women of America, let us place ourselves anew on the altar of humanity and on the altar of God. Let us with a great devotement dedicate ourselves anew to the task which in the providence of God falls to our lot in this sad but high day of the world’s history, and let us wholly resolve to be with the men who fight the good fight in all the land and keep the faith—men over the seas and by our side. Then, when the boys come home somewhere here, or somewhere there, we shall all celebrate the victory.