Captain Casey

We listened to the enemy’s communications. And one of his comrades on a hill
aimed a mortar round in our direction that took you away from us.
But for a breath of breeze, it would have missed you and hit one of us, or hit no one at all.

I was sent to get an ambulance for you.
I didn’t know what one looked like. MASH wasn’t on TV then,
so came back without finding one. They told me you didn’t make it.

Later, back home, I tried to tell my folks about you.
About when they said, It’s time to meet the captain.
I saw dirt flying up out of the hole you were helping to dig before I saw you.
You said, “I won’t have you guys do anything I wouldn’t do.”
You were very patient when I had a hard time learning my job.
And that the last words you spoke was to yell at us to get into the bunker
you helped us build.

Kindness for mom and dad was to say, “Wrong place at the wrong time”
Or, “Glad it wasn’t you.”
It only made me feel worse that it was you.

Captain, we were young, and none of us knew how to grieve for you.
We never talked about having lost you, just kept it all inside.
Weeks later, when the chaplain, who didn’t know you or any of us, said a prayer,
All of our eyes rested on your helmet, stuck on an upright rifle, bayonet in the ground.
By then the defensive numbness had set in that would last decades.

I had to see your name thirty years later on The Wall we built for ourselves in Washington,
before the tears would come. But come they did.

Is it a different sort of grieving
To lament the role of chance, or the role of the indifferent whims of those in power
Either of which takes a brother from us?

The farmer prays for rain for his field of hay
While the vintner down the road prays for dryness for his grapes,
Neither wanting to take a chance on chance
They petition an old, white male Being.

My mom believed in God, but also prayed to my dad in the night,
Please don’t let anything happen to my little boy.
Captain Casey, you had a mom and dad, too.

All too often, my friends
we are in the range of mortar or rocket fire,
our helicopter goes down, our truck rolls over some improvised device
or someone makes an accidental mistake with a weapon.

And all the while, the senators who never went to war, and the generals, the old white men
Pray for the annihilation of our enemies, the destruction of his crops and the suffering of his children at their Prayer Breakfast.

And you and I and every boy and girl destined for Iraq and Afghanistan,
From the instant we sign on the dotted line and raise our right hand
Are at their mercy,
or lack of it.

I would have done anything for you, then, captain.
And the one thing I cannot do for you now
Is to believe, as you did, that our war was the right thing.

—Doug Nelson