Anthony W. Pahl


Dreams of medals and shiny brass;
importance clear in childhood’s gasps;
heroic standoffs and selfless acts
saving mates, staving off attacks
by demonic enemies and deadly thought;
things we dreamed but were never taught.

In the fetid muddy rice gardens
and the broiling jungle where fear hardened
the softness of an innocent child –
where youth learned to forget to smile
and the mantra of “back to the world”
seemed the only reason for our toil.

We did it because there was no “can’t”
and “can do” became our mindless chant.
As one foot in front of the other
was the only distance we could cover
and the mantra caused us to forget
the punji pit and jumping jack.

In the instant just before the shot
dawned awareness that we just might not
make it back to the world we knew
and in that moment the anger grew!
Damn the fear and damn the hope;
do the job and try to cope.

Then back to base and “safety’s arms”
to bug-ridden nights and mortar alarms:
into mud-filled, rancid, sodden holes
where reptiles and rodents refused to go
unless the smell of human food
offered that which they could not refuse.

With the silence of the leaden night
came the absence of any light
to see, to cook, to warm, to be.
And the monsoon rain stung like a bee,
disguising sounds from any source.
At night we became death’s main course.

We survived we think! Some mates did not
and “in-country” we knew that we forgot
so we could live and protect our minds
from the phantoms they had left behind,
because the memory of lifeless friends
was death to we who had life to spend.

With just a “wake-up” to survive
(if we made it that far alive)
the mantle of weariness disappeared
with the silence of a hidden tear.
Still, joy at the thought of home was dimmed
because of dead and weary friends.

Like unwanted aliens we returned,
to the lands for which we had been burned,
as the scourge and waste of guilty times;
outcasts created by political grime.
Unwanted, unseen, unloved, reviled
we excelled despite honour defiled.

Made to teach – for we have learned
Made to forge – for we have been burned
Made with honour – for we know guilt
Made in war – for our blood was spilled
Made with pride – for we spurned despair
Made in Vietnam – that’s what we are!

This poem prompted the response, “Indeed ~ A Response” ~ ©Copyright August 8, 2001 by Nancy L. Meek