I rose from the jump seat that hot August day,
to a strange, foreign land a half globe away.
I thought to myself, “This place smells like shit”,
But too numb to say or think more on it.
The air was heavy, so humid, so thick;
I feared I’d collapse before walking a click.
Departing the plane we were ordered to stand;
Forming two ranks by a shouted command.
“Attenn-hut! Salute!” Came the ordering cry,
We snapped to respect without knowing why.
Facing the gang plank, in withering heat
Wondering what “lifer” we’d been pressed to greet.
Fighter jet banshees screamed by so loud;
As we sweat in silence, our minds in a cloud.
Trucks moved in slowly and stopped near our plane;
We stiffened salutes knowing we’re in the game.
Men jumped down quickly to the loading prepare,
No lifers? No hotshots? No big-wigs were there.
Only just boxes… handled gently with care.
Long silver boxes took the seats we left there;
As we watched and saluted and stood there steadfast.
The boxes were carried, through our vigil they passed.
We all too soon knew without utterance of sound;
The reason our lines were formed and held round.
Our brothers were leaving.
Paying most dear for debts ne’er they owed;
Keeping promises, tending gardens others had sowed.
For honor? For glory? For country? For king?
Throughout our land, let freedom ring!
Silver buttons, colored ribbons, spit shine on boot
They’re sent off with fanfare, their questions stay mute.
Will I run?
Will I cry?
Will I show my fear?
Will I let my friends down or do great things here?
These are the unspoken, the worries, the fears.
Those nagging whispers they hide from their peers.
They are going home.
Not to hear speeches or fanfare or praise;
Not to hear taps as they’re placed in their graves.
Not to get married, have children, dreams fulfilled;
But wait in our shadows, their gardens untilled.
They can never be home.
The procession continued… 10, 15, 20;
We stood in our ranks, losing count of how many.
When all the neat boxes were draped in a flag,
I felt my knees weaken and started to gag;
but held my ground firmly, in honor of them.
Squared away shoulders, emotions died then.
Sleep well my brothers, your hell is over.
“Atten-hut! ….. At ease, men!”
Gasping for breath and sweating like rain;
We heard a voice call out a sardonic refrain:
“Welcome to Vietnam, gentlemen.”
(Our hell to begin)
So many years have passed since that day;
I boxed up those memories and stored them away.
Many worse memories are packed along side;
I wonder what’s real and what still I hide.
Long silver boxes locked up so tight;
But magically open on some sultry night
They dance in my visions, they fuck with my head;
They shriek in my nightmares, their screams I so dread
Blurred faces, names forgotten, emotions that died;
I walk through life feeling nothing inside.
Dreams were a cursed, wretched array,
Parades of dead warriors I’ve packed away.
Their faces sometimes vivid, their names on a wall;
I try to keep moving in spite of them all.
But sometimes I just can’t.
Curled in a ball, bitter tears, sweat and pain;
Why did I live? Was their sacrifice in vain?
No answer sounds.
But an answer does surface.
Quietly, they whisper their message.
I must be their voice, their breath in life’s passage.
I need to step forward, take up the reins.
To be their two hands, their heart and their brains.
So now I’ve a mission, my duty most clear.
To live for them, do my best, hold life dear.
Live in the present, bless their names best I can;
A beacon of compassion – give all what I can
I hope they know when good’s done in their name;
I hope they look fondly of the man I became.
Their life was not taken for some senseless cause,
Their spirit lives on and their love gives me pause.
They sacrificed their all for us…
We must live our best for them.
Sleep well my brothers, ‘til we meet again.