Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday's Poetry: Scenes from the Vietnam War

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

As I mentioned in this space a couple of weeks ago, I had plans to go to Guam with a friend over Thanksgiving, and then on a tour to Australia at Christmas time.  The trip to Guam is still on, but unfortunately not enough people signed up to make the Australia trip happen.  So a quick change of holiday plans was in order, and I am now scheduled to fly with another friend to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, on Christmas Day, spend a week being bused north through Da Nang and Hue, and finally ending the trip in Hanoi.  We will leave Hanoi on New Year's Day.

I didn't go to Vietnam in the 1960's when some of my high school and college classmates did, and to this day I am glad that I was spared that awful experience.  But in order to achieve a fuller understanding of the years that shaped my worldview and political persona, I thought that a trip there at this time might provide me with some insight into one of the most tragic and prolonged events of the twentieth century.

And while I have a very jaundiced view of the Vietnam War and the politicians who pushed us into it, I have nothing but respect for my friends who served there.  They were brave beyond measure.

My favorite works of fiction regarding the Vietnam War are The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.  Both of these extraordinary authors are of my era.  O'Brien served in Vietnam and obtained his education on the war there.   Johnson, on the other hand, absorbed the Vietnam experience through participation in the counter-culture.  The movie that does the best job of capturing the pain and murderous nonsense of that war, in my opinion, is Apocalypse Now.

The following three poems were written by young men who served in Vietnam more than forty years ago.  They are snapshots of tragedy put into verse.

Midnight Movie
by Mike Subritzky  

(With the dedication:  
"To Jimmy B. from Huntly -  I hope you find peace mate.")

A quiet night in the barracks,
around midnight he starts it again,
he's yelling about some damned ambush,
and calling some Viet woman's name.

He always yells out he's sorry,
so sorry for all of the pain,
but every night around midnight;
he kills her all over again.

His life's in a kind of a freeze frame,
he can't move on from the war,
and every night just after twelve,
he's back in the Nam once more.

Back with the old 'Victor' Company,
back in that same Free-Fire-Zone,
and no bastard told those young Kiwi Grunts;
they patrolled near a woodcutter's home.

When the Lead Scout signals it's Charlie,
the Platoon melts quietly away,
the 'Immediate Ambush' signs given,
and the Safety Catch slips onto 'play'.

There's five in the group in pyjamas,
as black as a midnight in May,
and the Killing Ground moves into picture;
then the Gun Group opens the way.

Black figures are falling around him,
now he's up on his feet running through,
and they're sweeping the ground where they dropped them,
as he 'double taps' a screaming torso.

At the Re-Org his fingers are trembling,
the Platoon Sergeant gives him a smoke,
then it's back to the bodies to check them;
and his round hit a woman in the throat.

There are blood trails leading behind them,
and entrails are spilled on the track,
but the woman who screamed once is silent,
two rounds exit right through her back.

The jungle seems silent and empty,
as they dig down and bury the mess,
then it's check ammunition and weapons;
and don't dwell on the past just forget.

Another night in the barracks,
and Jimmy is yelling again,
it's that same old Vietnam movie,
that's spinning around in his brain.

He always yells out he's sorry,
so sorry for all of the pain,
but every night around midnight;
he kills her all over again.

by Jackson H. Day (Dak To, 18 August 1968)

Black clothed he sits there on the sandbags
Eyes covered by a bright yellow bandanna
Seeing nothing.

Boy in black surrounded
by GIs gawking and picturetaking
here buddy, I'm gonna give him a drag on my cigarette
take my picture

Hey George see the gook over there we captured
in the fight last night
yeah we slaughtered 'em
well we oughta shoot 'em all--runnin'
around the hills with their machineguns and rockets
they'd kill us any chance they got--and then we
bring 'em in here to this hospital
our own guys don't get any better treatment.

What the hell Mike it's just a
damn kid
don't look more'n thirteen or fourteen

Eyes puffy and verging on tears
Playing games too old for any man.

Back Then
by A.D. Winans

Intelligence never got much further
than downtown Saigon
or a short trip to Da Nang
most of us were in the states
doing our best to keep the world
safe from the Commie hordes
I remember one time interviewing
a young marine
a victim of the “Tet” offensive
he talked about  throwing Cong
out of helicopters after interrogations
claimed the nightmares kept him sleepless
kept seeing all those faces
in on between the walls
said a buddy of his had sent
home drugs concealed inside
body bags
but no one believed him
tiny pieces of flesh hitting
him in the face
blood between what was left
of his chewed down fingernails
and fragging a Lieutenant
kept haunting him
Intelligence said
he couldn’t be trusted
he was either a basket case
or perhaps just wanted out
of the military
so they gave him a three-day pass
just to play it safe
and made an appointment for him
to see a V.A. shrink
not surprised when
he didn’t show up
a week later
they discovered his body
down by the Beach Chalet
behind a forgotten old
WW 11 bunker
the bullet lodged in his head
no bigger than
the guilt he left behind

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