Anthony W. Pahl

ELEVEN THOUSAND DAYS

The drums of war keep pounding in the minds of aged young men
who came home so very long ago but left their minds back when
the sounds of life were very faint because the sound of death was loud.
And the deadened eyes of those aged young men stand out in any crowd.

For thirty years and more they’ve fought the demons of that war
and when they think they’ve conquered them, those demons shout for more
blood and life from those aged young men who gave their very soul;
and thirty years of life in hell have extracted Satan’s toll.

With sweat and tears and dreams and fears and all the memories,
those aged young men lose time and track of truth and sanity
and when, in a moment’s lucid thought, they know they can’t go on
they cry inside and face the wall; eleven thousand days have gone.

Eleven thousand days – each wrapped in fifty-eight thousand names!
And these old young men try to allow themselves to feel that awful pain.
But deep inscribed in each of them is an all-consuming guilt;
the memory of their friends is etched upon the memorial that’s been built.

Look at these aged and old young men; look deep inside their hearts.
What do you see? Can you feel and find what is tearing them apart?
Give them your hand and hold it firm while the pain inside them burns
and pray to Him who hears your prayers that the young men may return.

-----Original Message-----
From: Niranjang [mailto:email address supplied]
Sent: Friday, March 14, 2003 1:22 PM
To: bushranger@the-revetment.com
Subject: Bushranger’s Revetment

Is Eleven thousand days a lyric or a narrative? Why did he write this poem. Pls tell me more about it.

Thanks,
Loretta

-----Original Message-----
From: Niranjang [mailto:email address supplied]
Sent: Friday, March 14, 2003 1:14 PM
To: webmaster@iwvpa.net
Subject: International War Veterans Poetry Archives (IWVPA)

could you please tell me more about the eleven thousand days by Anthony Pahl.

thank you,
Loretta

Dear Loretta,

My name is Tony and I’m the author of this poem. I am also the webmaster of the International War Veterans’ Poetry Archives, so I am responding to your enquiry while wearing both “hats”.

I must admit that I am filled with a sense of trepidation in my decision to try to respond to your questions about this poem. To write a poem is much simpler than to describe the reasons for writing it, and even more difficult is to try to explain the meanings behind it. That is the nature of poetry – it has the profound ability to enable a writer to express emotions within the limitations of the rhythm and cadence that, for me, becomes so very clear at the time of putting pen to paper.

To answer your first question, I consider the poem to be more in the form of a lyrical ballad rather than a narrative because I have a great love for the style and rhythm of the great Australian balladeers such as Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and others. It is a poem written very much from a personal perspective because I am an Australian Vietnam Veteran who is a sufferer of chronic PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which is so very prevalent in Vietnam Veterans all over the world. But in saying that, I have tried not to place my own persona as an individual into the poem, because I felt it most important that other veterans be given the opportunity to claim the emotions that I instil in the poem, as their own. It is a “healing”; a poem in which I have tried to engender anger in a way that empowers the individual to rise above the hopelessness that I have found so prevalent in Veterans, and so misunderstood by “outsiders” – family, friends and even professional health and psychiatric workers.

Let’s face it – it is a difficult matter to accept, even by we veterans, that one year out of a lifetime has had such profound effect on so many of us. We find that concept hard to believe, and if we have trouble in accepting that fact, we feel that a non-veteran could not ever possible understand. It truly is a vicious circle that is beginning to show signs of cracking for some, but will remain an eternally solid barrier for others. What makes it even more difficult for the sufferers is that the majority of Vietnam Veterans returned home with a sour taste, but with very few, if any negative effects. That fact seems to make the sufferer feel inferior.

I am digressing, and I apologise.

The eleven thousand days to which I refer are the approximate number of days that had passed from when I returned from my 365 day “tour of duty in Vietnam to the date on which I wrote the poem – eleven thousand days is just over 30 years.

“… aged young men” – this is a reference to the vividness of that time in Vietnam that still persists today. The emotional and psychological scars have not healed – unlike the physical scars that may have been incurred and which are often worn openly as a badge of honour; they are visible and therefore real. The psychological scars cannot be seen and are thus suspected of being unreal, denied and hidden under the cover of drink, drugs, aggression, abuse and self mutilation – even suicide.

During previous wars, PTSD was know by other names – combat fatigue, melancholia, shell shock, and many others terms. It was not until about 1989 or 1990 that the term PTSD was associated with war veterans, though it had been in use for some time in relation to victims of other types of trauma such as motor vehicle accidents, unexpected loss of loved ones, divorce and most other traumatic events in any person’s life.

An effect of PTSD that I have experienced is the loss of the sense of reality. It is very difficult at times to separate personal experiences from vivid recounting of experiences by others. Being already susceptible to the horrors of one’s own traumas, it is so easy to take aboard, as one’s own, the traumas of others – and these become very real. I try to explain that in the 3rd verse. This is also brought home by the 58,000+ names that are etched into The Wall in Washington DC. Australia lost 504 men in Vietnam, but even for us, The Wall is a living and honoured symbol of the Vietnam War. We do have our own national memorial and it is a place of healing, but it is The Wall that epitomises the loss of innocence and childhood of ALL Vietnam Veterans. In December 1996, I visited The Wall, and I have written about it, and will be visiting it again next year. It is a sacred pilgrimage for me and despite the fact that I neither know nor recognise even one name inscribed thereon, each name is so very real and represents an honoured and heroic brother.

The fourth verse (not the last verse because, until my death, no poem of mine is complete) calls for the understanding by all peoples, of the nature of the terrible seeds of personal doubt and destruction that were sown in the minds of we young men upon return from a war that we fought as bravely and as honourably as any warrior before or since; a war which we were not allowed to win because of political vagaries. We were snuck back home and hidden and when we attempted to claim our rightful acceptance in society, we were ostracised. This compounded our self-doubt and made a lot of us “crazy” in the eyes for the public, and it was so easy for the “world” to call us such, rather than dealing with the pain and doubt with which we were living. And doubt feeds doubt – and pain creates pain…

Dear Loretta – I don’t know if I have answered your questions. I had intended to parse the poem and “decipher” the contents, but I don’t think I achieved that or, perhaps more accurately, I don’t think I was able to do so. The poem says what it says – clearly and honestly, and my words here, are merely an attempt to describe why I wrote the poem, not how I wrote it… for I tell you, it was written in about 10 minutes with a further hour or so in re-reading and changing a few words and some of the rhythm – during which time I never asked why, and certainly never considered how or from whence it came. This is probably the first time I have stepped outside the words and emotions that are wrapped and bound by this poem that I wrote almost eleven thousand days after my return from War.

I hope to receive a response from you, but regardless, I thank you for taking interest in the poem, and “forcing” me to revisit the times that I wrote it – even if that visit was not a complete success… or comfortable.

I need to rest now.

Sincere Regards,
Tony

Anthony W. Pahl
“Bushranger”

March 2003