To Those Who Did Not Make It Home:
Yeah, I’m talking to you. It’s been close to fifty years since most of you got “wasted” in Viet Nam. I’m not saying that I’d trade places with you, but I have to say for some veterans of that horrific war maybe a quick death would have been better than the lives they tried to put together after getting out.
Many came back and immediately quit. They committed suicide. Many came back and couldn’t fit into the mold of modern America. They had lost hold of something profound and couldn’t figure out how to get it back. Drugs and alcohol helped some but kicked the shit out of others. Others fell victim to Agent Orange and watched their bodies implode. Some of us were fortunate enough to find life-mates that made living a compartmentalized existence possible — we could bury twisted memories most of the time and not let them control our lives. Some of us are here with you on this Memorial Day, 2018.
I try to write at least one poem a year that I will leave at this Wall. So here’s what I wrote this year. I dedicate it to a friend of mine who got wounded in the war, came home and put together a decent life teaching at the local university that I worked at for almost 30 years. He’s a good guy. But he got me to thinking about how we, now over 70 years old, have come to terms with that shattering year we spent in that war that claimed your lives. And left us to survive. In one sense , we never have really come to terms with it. Hence, the idea of trying to figure it out through the use of zen koans — questions that defy “rational” responses….
NAMVET ZEN KOANS
For Jon Oplinger
When does a house stop being a tomb and become a home again?
When does a memory stop riding you and give you hold of the reins?
When does morning birdsong stop piercing to the quick and begin to soothe?
What, for that matter, could possibly be the sound and smell of truth?
When do you get to sing along with the choir?
When do you get to come back in through the wire?
When do you get to leave your nightmares for the night?
What, for that matter, is the need of all this light?
When do the years finally come out of their spin?
When do you start letting your lovers take a win?
When do you stop lying to all our children’s children?
What, for that matter, is the good of letting anyone, anyone in?
II Corps Central Highlands
July, 1969 — August, 1970
In remembrance of these fallen soldiers and their families. We will never forget those whom have lost their lives in service to our land. We pray that those whom come here to remember will find ‘peace and comfort’ in this Memorial Wall.
Bobby Croce died four days after arriving in Vietnam. He was a Marine, part of the first deployment of American combat soldiers in 1965. Apparently a mortar round landed next to his tent, which was pitched in the dunes behind the beach at Danang.
Bobby had been the captain of my high school track team. He was good in the sprints, but his best event was the pole vault, in which he won the Massachusetts State Championship. He was from a working class Italian family and college was not something in his future. Our track team coach suggested to Bobby that he join the Marine Corps where he could continue his pole vaulting career. Some context: This was 1964 and Billy Mills, a Sioux Indian, had just won the Olympic Gold Medal in the 10,000 meters as a member of the United States Marine Corp. I’m fairly sure that Bobby Croce was one of the many high school seniors in 1964 who had never heard of Vietnam.
Myself, I safely went off to college with a four-year deferment, which was quite common for the son of a middle-class family. After graduating college, I started teaching in a pubic school in New Hampshire and that earned me an occupational deferment. Then in the fall of 1969 all deferments were to end and the first draft lottery was to be held. 366 ping-pong balls, each with a different day of the year (including Feb. 29th) inscibed on them, were placed in a large container. Then, one by one, they were randomly drawn out. My birthday, May 5th, was selected 364th. That essentially ended my exposure to the draft and any possibility of my being sent to Vietnam. Not so fortunate was Bobby Croce and four other high school classmates who later died in Vietnam.
All five were from working-class families who had little chance or opportunity for an educational or occupational deferment, as I did.
The rabbit and the wall.
The young rabbit lie dead in the road when I got home today. Such beautiful eyes as I looked down into the redness of a body ripped open wide, senseless roadkill.
Wasn’t it yesterday that Vicki asked me to put out some carrot peelings for him? I want to spare her the pain, seeing him like this.
The shovel does the dirty work, entrails slopping off. Carried to the wooded area, covered with leaves, a rushed tobacco prayer. Grateful for the openness and lovingness, Grandmother will take him back
Memorial Day event at the wall two days off. Two-legged relatives of the world, sobbing for loss of one of their beloved. The War Machine, a walking corpse, refuses to rest.The granite wall is the wooded area. Channeling grief to the Great Mother. The ancestors sit patiently peering through the black hardness waiting for our fever sickness to end.
Tonight heavy rains wash the land; I know he sleeps eyes open, under the leaves close to the earth. I give thanks.
In the sleeping madness, we have forgotten our original instructions. To take care of Pachamama and all our relatives in a good way. With open heart, eyes open, I will do what I can to stay awake…..Sweet Mercy on us.