Come on my "Vietnam Picture Tour..."
Through lens and poet's pen bleeding sweet and sour
Leave on your tongue songs of war
Of horrors good men abhor
From a combat infantryman who's walked the walk,
And can talk the talk...
Take a walk in "the park"
A deathly walk scary, dawn to dark.
From a "boy next door," comes pictures and poetry,
Of combat patrol, With the 1st Air Cavalry
Experience bone-chilling reality
To leave the taste of "the Nam"
Pungent smells of "the Nam"
Textures of "the Nam,"
Melting on your tongue,
Clogging your nostrils,
Dying in deathly drills
Forever embedded in fevered brain
Nam's esoteric refrain...
My goal in writing is to educate
Nam's story to elucidate,
So, Feel like walking beside me in combat?
Get ready for a chew the fat chat,
Reliving old horrors that around every corner lie,
Wishing stories of what happened there never die.
People have no idea of the realities of grim fate,
War awaits with fears trauma Nam saturate
Dark history living on in telling infamy
Reopen now, the pall of war's torrid story
Reopen firmly established memory.
Telling how “the Nam” changed the very direction of life
Often soured what's good in life,
Forever in Vietnams hellborne strife
For young boys indelibly
For generations incredibly.
Vietnam embedded souls with a new set of senses
Altering the "good life's" chances...
Forever to rend
Life without end
This deep down jungle fever!
All the people of the world need to understand
How important war is comprehend.
For those taking the stand,
War will always be a determining factor
A soldier's common denominator
A life and death dictator
Determining who we are in a worlds scheme of things
Determining life’s aspiring
Haunting life’s remembering
Life’s future limiting
Wives and children's futures altering
Phantoms like Agent Orange breathing down their neck
Making mockery of life a living...heck!
A specter of hopelessness, devoid of all respect.
Hear a Combat Soldier’s Prayer
From the depths of his Thousand Yard Stare,”
Hear the cry from Soldiers Of the Wall
From we who have given all
In shadowed war's pall.
Who gave our very life...
To the country we loved more than life.
Do not doom our children as their fathers...
Do not embroil a hundred thousand brothers
Plunge them into senseless battles to fight
For mistaken cause of right.
Do not shackle them to a similar fate
Suffered by their fathers in hating irate
Contending the latest series of war-to-end-all-wars!"
Teach the lessons of the history of wars
Learn of destruction of values implications,
Abiding with warring factions...
Do not send them where there’s no glory but death
Lingering in foul cankered breath
Hovering in gloom’s misery for vanquished heroes
Enduring shadowed stain forever, those,
If we do not learn war's history,
Tell of wars untold misery,
We are doomed to repeat it!
The next war inexorably we'll get!
Again and again and again and again...
For though war is sometimes a necessary evil...
Deterring madmen contentious in greed as the Devil...
Sometimes it's not...Sometimes there's Vietnam!
My fervent wish is that some
Will come to understand
Comprehend where to make a stand,
To draw their line in the sand...
Better plan how to use our might
Know the score without experiencing the fight...
Think first, before we act...evermore,
Fairly grievous wounds have been dealt me from Vietnam, but for some reason unknown to me, I feel something like a miracle has restored me, and in fact, enhanced my being that I may tell Nam's story...healing is a good word.
"The Nam" was terrible beyond description, as are all wars fought in history, wars ad infinitum meant to end all war. Yes, wars are very much different, different terrain, different climate, different enemies, different technology...yet the underlying reason for war, the effects of war on the soldiers who fight it, are very much the same. Whether freezing, or in insufferable heat, the common denominator is the spectre of death in the mud and the blood, soaking the sand with blood, but the physical aspects of war were a piece of cake to a soldier fit and ready. I know my wounds pale in significance to those suffered by others. Yet, the most difficult thing to bear was mental...as "the Nam" turbulently turning upside down all my concepts and value systems in the hating killing. War shook me to the very core of being, gnawing at the very heart of a belief system carefully taught by goodly and loving parents, enhanced by Christian society, church and neighbors that had heretofore held me in its respective arms, teaching and guiding me. Now on my own and far from those loving arms, Nam severely strained me to my limits and beyond. Nam tested me, flaunted me, tossed me to and fro with the vile and sometimes petty disputations of men. But though it took awhile to sink in, Nam taught me a lot.
I call the process of hate and destruction I went through in Vietnam, my "refiners fire." The "refiners fire," is a process whereby the finest stainless steel cutlery is subjected to intense heat, in order to bring forth a perfect product. Flaws and imperfections in the steel break and crumble under this incredible strain, but the cutlery making it through this final testing process of fire is hardened with remarkable and unexcelled quality. The very worth of the cutlery is enhanced greatly by the "refiners fire."
Vietnam was like that for me. It WAS my "refiners fire." For though I would not wish this daunting task on my worst enemy, Vietnam made me stronger...revealed more to me, about me, of the values and concept of life and death than most will ever know. Nam embedded in me a new set of senses and appreciation for the simple things that most mortals take for granted. The memories of that action still bear hard on my soul, but I have more of an understanding of what is real and eternal than most just going about their lives without a clue as to what is important...what is lasting. What I did gain that was lasting, was a bonding brotherhood, a love of life, and the simple things most just take for granted, like a moon without blood on it, not fearing the enemy can see me in its revealing light, or the darkness that covers the earth when it's not there, making a hiding place for hateful enemies. I now notice those things. I now feel greater respect for brotherhood and love. I value greatly peace. Those were hard gained lessons...but the foremost ingredients in my life, shored up and made more meaningful by the seemingly senseless struggles in Vietnam.
Please understand, Vietnam combat vets have a lot of baggage they need to contend with, depending on how much blood they got on their hands...and how much of it was their enemies, their buddies, or their own. There needs to be healing, not only of the body, but of the spirit within.
I was on the fifth day on patrol in the boonies we grunts called "the
killing zone," walking at point on the right flank of our operation. A sniper had
shot directly at me three different times that morning...shooting at
anybody, but I happened to be closest to his line of fire, so his bullets
whizzed by my ear and pocked the dirt at my feet...lucky me!
It was blazing hot, and we were all dog tired, so when our company commander
signaled for a break. We immediately began to move into a big circle called
a defensive perimeter, all guarding out and watching one another's backs. I
had my eye on a shade tree to sit under, so moved towards it, scouring the horizon and really looking at the bushes anxiously, searching to see my little friend waiting to have a fourth shot at me. I tripped a piano trip wire booby trap, detonating a grenade, that in turn set off a mortar round...and ruined my whole day! I describe it in my poem, "I Felt I'd Died." As soon as I was hit, I blacked out. I felt no pain...heard no sound! I don't remember anything....in a coma for about three weeks.
Once stabilized after a three week coma, they sent me from the aid
station in Nha Trang to Japan. My medical records say I had substantial
brain damage. I didn't know much for a couple of months...had to learn to
walk again, had to learn to talk, or even write. It's like when you zero
in your weapon on the target at the rifle range...my shot would have been so far off it would have made the sergeants in the observation tower jump for safety.
I now have a roughly a triangular plate in the back of my head measuring 3
X 4 inches. Three inches into my brain is a jagged piece of shrapnel about
the size of a quarter.
My poor mother, bless her name. I think war is hardest on the mothers. She received a telegram that I had been wounded in the head, neck and leg...then heard nothing more for over two months...hearing not if I was OK, Not if I was dead or alive, not what hospital...nothing. She about went out of her head with grief not knowing if I was dead or alive. She told me later she erected a kind of shrine for me, with my picture, some flowers, and a candle with "an eternal flame." And she prayed to it. And she sent my name to a number of temple prayer circles.
I am a miracle. The doctors cannot understand, because the
path the shrapnel took into my head should have without doubt, and without any chance, either killed me, or made me a human vegetable for life. But I'm not, and they wonder why. And sometimes I wonder why.
Of the four hospital neurological wards I was in, of all the head injury patients no matter how small a wound, I retained more of myself from before the wound than any of them. If Nam was hell, then my 14 months in the hospital was Hell's Hell. But it did teach me compassion...for during that time I couldn't feel sorry for myself... I couldn't look around without seeing someone very much worse off than I. I saw some real horrors there...both in my neurological ward and next door in the burn ward. I saw big, strapping, good looking men...who were relegated for the rest of their
lives slobbering in a wheel chair with vacant, mindless expressions. I saw families come in and tend to their son who was strapped to a bed in an endless coma for the rest of his life. I saw men who literally looked like creatures from the black lagoon...all flesh charred like a bubbling black ash, no ears, no nose, no hair, no features...only a hole for a mouth. I empathize with some who feel the ones who died were the lucky ones.
It's like the parable, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet."
Life is fragile at best...and we should not waste one minute feeling down. Bring those demons out into the light of day my brothers, where they can be dealt with. Promote healing from the memories we Vietnam veterans have repressed and held so deep for so long...too long. That is the purpose of this tour. Life is sweet, my brothers and sisters, and I hope you find in others camaraderie in
brotherhood, empathy, understanding, caring, and above all...a zest for life... May it always be so...