Thurman P. Woodfork

BIG SKIES AND RICE PADDIES

IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: November 18, 2004
Awarded: November 18, 2004
Just thinking: I don’t remember the day I arrived in Viet Nam. Neither is there much memory of the long, long, transoceanic flight from California to Saigon. I remember that I did come alive with the excitement of being in such a new and exotic place; and of course, there was the added fillip of the threat of sudden death.

I don’t clearly recall the day I arrived,
But I do remember that I came alive
At the prospect of death being so near.
And oddly enough, there was no fear.

But I wasn’t really afraid. While at thirty-one years old, I didn’t have the blissful conceit of youth’s belief in immortality; death was still something that happened to other people.

That came later, with the first attack
When it dawned on me I might not get back
To grumble about Montana’s ‘Big Sky’
That had spread before my citified eyes.

That changed with the first attack, when it became inescapably apparent to me that there really were people who, although they had never met me, were determined to help me shuffle off this mortal coil. All that, and crotch rot too.

There was something about a bullet’s hum
That made me realize this wasn’t much fun,
And, maybe in Biloxi, it got just as hot,
But at least I never suffered from crotch rot.

Believe it or not, there were actually times when I felt a bit of nostalgia for the grand sweep of ‘The Big Sky’ country. Even if I was only half joking when I said I volunteered for Viet Nam to escape Montana. Those visits to Glacier National Park did have their good points, even for this city boy.

“You can only watch with furious eyes
As mortars explode and the agonized cries
Of the victims pierce your soul with a chill
That freezes memories that will never melt,
And bares a nerve that still is felt
In those unguarded moments when you’re still.”

I don’t remember the flight out of Saigon either – coming and going, both a complete blank. A lot of what happened in between those two events has also vanished from my memory as though it never was. But I do remember Viet Nam. Yes, I do.

I don’t remember boarding the flight,
I don’t recall what was my last sight
Of the land that has so affected me;
Now why, do you suppose, that should be?

Thurman P. Woodfork: Big Skies and Rice Paddies
Cut Bank Air Force Base, Montana circa 1963: Graphic from photograph courtesy of Radomes, Inc.

Trai Trang-Sup Army Special Forces Base, Vietnam
Trai Trang-Sup Army Special Forces Base, Vietnam. Graphic from photo ©Copyright circa 1968 by David Honey