Anthony W. Pahl

ODE TO THE UNKNOWN VETERAN

I do not know your name or face.
I know not whence you came;
but you are and have been close to me
since man walked on the moon.

In ‘69, as brave young lads, we went to fight a war.
(Better fight it over there than at our own front door)

So we fought and won each battle faced
with the spirit of Anzac pride
but the harshest battle was still to come,
one from which we could not hide.

That battle began inside our heads
before we arrived back home.
Were we truly as the papers said:
killers with hearts of stone?

Yes! We had killed but had been killed as well;
from our minds our hearts were torn.
Hell is where we were sent to fight
and mistakes in hell are born.

But we never knew our enemy;
couldn’t tell the good from bad
so we had to treat them all the same
or go home in a canvas bag.

Killers? Yes!
But murderers – NO!
We were youthful Aussie kids
who stepped forward when our country called
and did as we were bid.

We’d been tasked to stop the tide of Red
and to fight a bloody war.
But no amount of training
could prepare us for what we saw!

The screams for blood, our blood, were loud
since the day our task was done.
We were trained to go and fight a war
but there’s no training to come home.

Author’s Note: I dedicate this poem to Bob Keates whom I have never met, but who is the inspiration for this poem. Bob is a sufferer of Motor Neurone disease that affects the Central Nervous System. His Nurse, Cass, sent the following details to me. Through Cass, I have obtained Bob’s permission to use the following information; you will see how and why he has inspired me.

Cass writes:

“My digger is a Quadriplegic, wheelchair, bed bound. He can’t do anything for himself and needs full assistance with all his daily living tasks e.g. bathing, feeding, toileting. He needs carers 24 hours a day; he transfers by a hoist, and then mobilizes by wheelchair.

Bob is 58 years old, and was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease 3 years ago. After Vietnam, his marriage broke down. He worked for Telecom here in Brisbane for 20 years and has a very supportive wife, of 10 years, who is a Nurse – so he is in the best hands.

He gets our help (Blue Nurses) three days a week, and he has a lot of supportive friends and family. He has good and bad days but suffers with a lot of pain and needs pain control to get through each day. Anyway he is coping well considering.

I saw him today, he said to tell you thank you very much and he appreciates you doing the poem for him. He was a little teary eyed but he’d never admit it. He wants to start emailing you himself when he gets his computer fixed within the next week we hope. It won’t be often though as he needs someone to do it for him.”