Poetic trilogy from the Vietnam war: "Trial by Fire," and "Memories," and "Boys at War."
Place cursor over each picture of Marines in action for description.

Marines at Mutter Ridge Marines at Mutter Ridge

Trial by Fire
by Gary Jacobson © May, 2005

The trial by fire begins
That never, ever, really ends.
For it evermore with nighttime shivers rends
To soldier boys who far from home did roam
Bringing mother liberty far over sea tossed foam
From dawn of morning to twilight’s gloam.

Just a FNG, wet behind the ears green as grass newby
What a difference between now and then he’ll see
In his new uniform so cool
Yet to learn combat’s golden rule...
Get some
Before they get you, son.

My young son so bold ... by tomorrow you'll grow so very old
Dodging bullets, and doing what you're told
But be careful, 'cause there's nobody both old and bold.
Listen well to veteran's plotting out the course to hell
Their souls to hostiles to sell
Because they know the way so very, very well.

Go gallant young gods ... perhaps to die ... for precepts you adore
Young men gloriously gung-ho, sent pompously to war
What a sight, rookies wielding weapons with such firepower
Weapons designed to make the strongest Cong cower
Our nation’s best and brightest
Sent naďveté bristling to this Indo-China War fest.

Too soon the young boy prays to heaven for supernal luck
Too soon a veteran, up to his armpits in blood and muck
Too soon ... he’ll never again smile
Nevermore the same boy who lived with us awhile
He who at his parents knee learned the love of life
Now making his way in the land of killing, tormenting strife.

War brings conflicted ideas of love, joy and peace
Restricting ideas amid jumbled values that never cease
Confused by contradictory forces, living sources of joy
Made uneasy by inconsistent impulses, your soldier boy
Taught painstakingly, “Thou shalt not kill,”
Then handed a gun and taught in the ways of the will to kill.

Give Charlie a taste of American sweet and sour
Pure love turned to hate irate in the stripling hour
Swayed to and fro with every wind of doctrine's power
The sleight of man and the cunning craftiness
Whereby they lie in wait to deceive with glib assuredness
Our nation's very elect with war's beastliness.

With morality
Decimate very mortality
Watch as the cleansing fire of napalm
Wipes away past, present, our very future to embalm
Xin Loi, hope they were all Vietcong
Don’t much matter now anyway ... so long!

What our soldier boys have become, no one can see
So far away in distant war off the South China Sea
Living life where very life is an assault
Whether on the enemies around us dealt
M-16s blazing on rock-and-roll
Raining death all-round in terrible toll
Smoke creeping insidiously in verdant valleys below.

Kiss your boys goodbye
Young princes gone to fight for that great lie
Just boys, these men intrepid
Waging this winner’s war with bravery lionhearted
GIs governed by politics discreet
Leave brave men behind, in this tragic deceit.

Marine with incoming shelling, Con Thien Marines at Chu Lai '65 Marines at Hue '68

by Gary Jacobson © May, 2005
O here they come again ... clashing memories galore
Marching one-by-one of raging days I fought the bloody war
Rushing in, flooding in, how can I ever fight it?
I cannot hear above it gnashing ... how can I ever right it?

I see my marching brothers
Beloved sons, beloved fathers
Standing so hickory straight and tall
What a picture, laughing and joking all.

Then there’s silence, as from the cobwebs of sleep I awaken
Visibly shaken
Pictures in my memory, like pages from a book, start to burn
Fire flicking, licking at the edges as I toss and turn.

I reach in desperation, try to save them
White heat too intense in seething mayhem
Distorted images curling, features, bursting in fires bloom
Like blackening toast, my buddies faces the fire does consume.

Helplessly I writhe in pain
Watching helplessly in vain
Memories screaming, crackling, with sharp snapping hisses
I see the horror in eyes that no more feel a mother’s kisses.

Tonight I will be with brothers again
Tonight I may too die, as faces dissolve in acid rain
Boiling memory burn and crinkle
Rendering apprehensive nerves white-knuckle.

Memory fogs my mind of good-hearted brothers
Smoky mist blackening countless warrior others
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, staunchly brave
My bed wet and hot in roiling effort to save.

Nightly memory takes me back where
Days without number, in deadly darkness wait there
May peace absolve memories of that blasted war
Nightly marching from my subconscious to the fore.

Marines at Khe Sahn Lunch time for Quang Tri Marines
Boys at War
by Gary Jacobson © May, 2005

Boys enmeshed in war's tempestuous time of trial
Walk the rim of existence with denial
Like Boy Scouts on a “big camp out,” tune out war’s reality
Hoping by laughing and talking, to ignore danger’s futility.

Looming death ... only a whisper away.
Every moment adrenaline pumping, every hour, every day
Just boys grown old, going about war’s business
Life and death, ever on the line assiduous.

Boys were taught the Ten Commandments
Guided in youth by its divine testaments
Sent forth in inspiration from above
To pursue our national interests with purest love.

Boys from childhood were taught, “Thou shalt not kill”
For any reason thou shalt not this lust fulfill
For heaven’s reward goes to he with spirit mild and meek
To he indeed, who will turn the other cheek.

Boys were taught to push away vengeful thoughts of war by living
Ground pounding klick after klick into oblivion
Playing hide-and-seek, score kept with the body count, grunt
One foot after the other going on a Cong hunt.

Pursue the wily, hairy beast
Yet think not about what will happen after killing’s feast
Shuck war’s ogre of insanity down deep in your soul
Or you’ll surely go crazy in this hell-hole.

So go on crawling in your knock-down world
Fly your virginal patriotism unfurled
Be all you can be, a red-blooded pepper
Till comes the inevitable day you must pay the piper.

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