The poem "Ia Drang," was taken from the writings of PFC Jack Smith, son of the famous ABC anchorman, Howard K. Smith. There is much sorrow, pain, and gut-wrenching hardship in Jack's story. I have long wanted to do a poem honoring Ia Drang, LZ Xray and Albany ... for this is the history of B company 2/7 1st Air Cavalry, my unit one year later. I found Jack Smith's account told incredible stories of bravery, horror, fear and gruesome death seldom read in the annals of history. For soldiers who fought at Ia Drang, and to Jack, who died young of Cancer (agent orange), April 7, 2004, I dedicate this poem ... for many of the words and descriptions are yours, my brother, and the spirit of it is too.
Ia Drang, Oh Ia Drang...
Are you just another forgotten name?
You're so far away ... except to men who fought there
Resting sacred now in memories care.
Oh those days of sunrise~sunset
Days we feared for our last breath, we will never forget
Days fostering a gamut of emotions, pride to regret
Scenes therein live courageously, beaucoup melancholy
Tales of bravery, approaching holy
Rivers of tears give honor to your valiant story.
Men were born-again in chaotic Ia Drang!
Men who lived and died there, honor your pain
Mournfully, tearfully, macho thoughts sear our brain
Of the place where death did reign...
Courageous days of gun and bayonet
Still raging in our minds, sunrise to sunset.
In our hearts you never left us
Forever haunting souls ... ingrained on our senses.
Oh Ia Drang, you were our youthful sunrise
Wherein heroic deeds in valorous honor comprise
You were our dawn, Ia Drang, our lives now but your reprise.
Memories fly west to a place beyond Pleiku
Over grassy highland damps and dew
Past stilted Montagnard huts
To a smuggler's refuge next to Cambodia juts
Come brave men of the 1st Air Cavalry
Riding iron horses to destiny ... to the Ia Drang Valley
Testing for the first time in combat, air mobility
Steel birds flaring nostrils, breathing fire and brimstone
With emblazoned eyes shooting bullets, from a steel backbone
Malevolent machine guns prepping hell's battle zone.
Brave warriors rode birds of prey from the sky
The hot LZ raking holy fire spitting, come to do or die
Huey's ferrying stoic, hard-eyed men to fate
Downloading chivalric knights laced with fear abominate
Carrying their chief, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore
Who led the mighty 1st Cavalry into bloody war
Dropped in ready for spine-tingling action
With Peoples Army of Vietnam met in collision
First infantry division delivered to war that way
Prompting fierce fighting at Landing Zone Xray.
The belligerent three-day battle begun
Cavalrymen within inches of being overrun
Death ... mayhem ... bloodletting fear alive in Vietnam
The Ia Drang rang with violence and killing, a bad omen
Hatred's fury reigning down on every side
Soldier's merged with hot dirt bide
Burrowed deep their souls to keep, in the bloody Ia Drang
Brave men trembled as whistling bullets overhead sang
Singing eerie songs of contemptible death
Singed with barbaric hatred's breath.
In the muddy, bloody Ia Drang
Men knew on this battle would the rest of life hang
Swallowing gung-ho patriotic pride
Waiting to taste death fragrant on every side
Lying congealed in moldering jungle's bide
Seventy-nine Americans in three days died
O the odor of innate sadness permeating
Swelling in tremulous breasts with loathing
For four xin loi days courageously.
Such filthy, awful, blessed troops
Covered with blood that valorous countenance droops
Bagging enemy body counts, highest toll of war till then
American wounded tolled 200 brave men
Mankind for very life in mother earth scratches
Beaucoup lives spared by inches
Seeing brother's fall beside, hot blood riled
NVA bodies knee deep around foxholes piled
Two thousand North Vietnamese casualties reaped
So thick you could walk 100 feet on human remains defiled.
Torn by shrapnel from war-time colleagues
Boys had long rips in their fatigues
From boys on the other side
Boys united in national pride
Ripped by bullets that jolly-well missed them
Yet touched them ... pent up fear embedded in them
Each man stared with that look of shock
Hard eyes seared with the emotion of a rock
Covered in blood from other guys' wounds
Wedged in a place where abundant heroism looms.
Men lay on edge between life and death all round
Jumping anxiously at every dinky dau sound.
Hard, nervous eyes darting,
Anxietie's born seeing death unfolding
Ia Drang tragedy only just begun
Under relentless heat of withering sun
Soldiers fast becoming the same color as dirt
Intimate with cruel war's hurt
Fraught with a thousand-yard stare
Indoctrinated with unfathomable fear.
"No one can tell me when I'll stop having nightmares,"
Whispered one soldier who bloody battle bares
Who this fight did survive
Come out of bloodstained days ... alive!
Perplexed when from LZ Xray the next day
The victorious 2/7, just walked away.
Turn out the lights, the party's over
Time to saddle-up and head down-river
Pack up your old kit bag
Sing the hit-the-road rag.
The NVA, not about to let go of this tiger's tail
Shadowed retreating troops an ambush to unveil
On the mighty 1st Air Cavalry
Toward a star-crossed clearing called ... Albany
To a place away from battle for the haggard many
Who'd labored mightily in the fight for Xray
Fragile lives worn down day-by-day
FNGs so weary, so used up, so tired to the bone
Humped to ill-fated Albany to reconnoiter, reconcile, atone
To get away from fighting going on.
Thinking all fighting for them was over this day
Safely away from hostilities roiling, boiling at Xray
Through eye-high elephant grasses foliate
They marched on to Albany, and fate
All more than ready for a day without fear
Knowing carefree days weren't common here
Wanting just to lick sore wounds ... rest ... heal
Committed a most fundamental mistake, banefully real
halting for an officer's conferee...
They let down their guard
Plopping down in eye-high grass sharp like a sword.
Poor leadership and tired green troops combined in infamy
Haunting the accursed march to Albany
Snatching sour defeat from the mouth of victory
When suddenly, marauding NVA tripped an ambush
Shrill screams breaking stillness hush
Deadly fighting ensuing hand-to-hand
Weary soldiers, struggling to make a stand
Small groups, and individuals valiantly fought
Hundreds of disparate battles with sickening fear fraught
Dueling in the ferociously bloody, murderous melee
Brawling men frantic for their very lives, awash with VC.
Thick grass halls echoed
With a thousand screaming moans bellowed
Individual battles raging in line-of-march where they lay
The 1st Cavalry, suddenly abandoned in disarray
Mixed and matched with VC they could not see
Incredible fear excruciating palpable
Blood curdling struggles erupted nigh unbearable
Caught in corridors of grim death, fear increases
My battalion cut to pieces.
Oh the reigning terror
The aggravating horror
All round a painful din
Mid death-filled sound
Blood your nostrils clogging
With the pungent smell of dying
All life decimate
Misery incarnate our imminent fate.
A small group of enemy VC came on me
Jabbering incessantly, moving through tall grasses adeptly
To where ashen I laid feigning death, waxing so still inanely
Stiffly gaunt, sore afraid to move a muscle still
Covered by dead men's bloody kill
Pretending vile death had cashed my bill
By the bloody Albany ballet drilled
With Ia Drang grime and dirt filled.
An enemy soldier proceeded to use me as a sandbag
Using this mound of flesh as a prop for his melodious machine gun rag.
The gunner crammed his bony knees against my side
Digging in like a cowboy spurring his ride
He didn't discover I was alive, because just like me
He was a callow teenager ... trembling bad.
I nigh went completely mad.
My buddies fired M-79 rifle grenades
Volleys of red glared fusillades
Ferociously exploding on top of me
Killing the enemy boy, while injuring me.
I crawled like an alligator from that spot
Through bloody grasses filled with bodies death bought
Another NVA machine-gunner appeared at my elbow
Malevolent in the savage broil he didn't see me
A swath of elephant grass separating me from foe
Noxious spraying egregious death, a right neighborly fellow
So I stuck out my rifle in temperament bellicose
Blew off his pugnacious head without morose
Sent him to his reward from a bullet overdose.
It went on like this all day, long into the night,
Blood like the sunset flowing red, a gory sight.
Abiding in the rank smell of imminent death
Rotting pungent in each fetid breath
"Oh, my God. If I stand up, my enemy will surely kill me
But if I lay me down on the blood-soaked ground
Try my best to make not a sound
My buddies will surely get me."
Many times I thought myself dead
Wounded twice, in severest dread.
Soured on life, angry, cynical, alienated.
Dealt by memory of my unit decimated.
Albany's experience earned beaucoup scars
Wounding body and spirit, birthed within and without nightmares
Replayed in bugbears through lingering years
Harassing hobgoblins come again in living color every night
In a world where but one thing I trust ... constant fright.
Brother's now nightly march before me in grim review
Before my bed in grim rendezvous
Leaking souls muster on reconnaissance patrol
No longer lifeless mannequins now
Torn fruits of battle, before Albany's abyss bow
Soldier's altered only by death's afterglow.
Now I stand in the middle of myself
Wondering how does one forget oneself
Stifle memories of Nam's creation
Repress constant whispers of past desolation
Stifle violent memories from deep well hidden
Still sudden tears flowing like rain unbidden
Reminder's live of the cruel war at me nags
Brothers sent home in bloodstained body bags
Gouging out past feelings as my soul they engulf
Then casually put them on a shelf.
Now an old veteran traveled the long road back
With brothers of Ia Drang's ferocious attack
Finding long ago guns silent ... now finally still
Along Ia Drang's craggy rock and rill
Searching for spent shell casings
Physical manifestations of war so devastating
To lay at the feet of brave soldiers of the Vietnam wall
Men, brothers, who for this patch of ground gave all.
Now struck by a peacefulness of the place
Where I once fought death's great race.
Now, in my sunset of life after all these years
After crying all these many tears
I still remember the flaming guns of Ia Drang
For on those few days lifes fatal climax hang
On ground once slippery with blood's disgrace
The final battle was won by overwhelming peace.
For I could not find nary a sign of war ... not one
Forces of nature simply erased all trace of battle done.
Flowers of spring bloomed in that place of death
So I pressed them, and brought back the flower's breath.
Looking at these last two pictures, I know some won't approve, thinking they are just too terrible to be seen. They are right ... but we must see them. We must! We must see the boy next door in them. We must see our children in them, or inexorably, they will be! We must know this is the fruits of war, the harvest of our sons, for war is not some game we play. The bullets are real, war is not antispetic, the blood bright red and sticky, the vacant eyes haunting evermore. We must learn its lessons now!