By Ken Newberry
I enlisted in the Army for three years in 1967, one step ahead of the draft. From June 1968 to June 1969 I was assigned as an Intelligence Analyst to the G-2 section of XXIV Corps HQ in Phu Bai.
I tried sporadically over the years to write about Vietnam, with little success. Then, a few years ago, the leader of an Adult RE class at the Unitarian Society we belong to asked us to "draw a picture expressing your feelings about life and death." It was just before Veteran's Day.
So, I went home, drew a picture with words, and called it "Ho Chi Minh's Birthday."
And I found I "draw" best when I write poetry.
HO CHI MINH'S BIRTHDAY A loud thud. Shock waves end one life, and Reverberate throughout another's. Danger! Shouts, sirens running feet! The Local inhabitants celebrate Ho Chi Minh's Birthday. A young man. Seventeen days from home Screams aloud. Writhes on the ground, glassy- Open eyes. I do not remember His name, tho it's etched forever on A black granite wall. A soaring eagle. Silver and flame Swoop down thru turgid sky. Vengeance drops From its belly, exploding in black And orange death. Celebrations cease on Ho Chi Minh's Birthday. An unkempt soldier. Perched on tin roof Curses in triumph, and points to the Tableau back-dropped against hazy Green hills. Dazed, I wonder, did our side Just score a touchdown? A needless dying. Life and death are Sharply edged when at war. There is no Compromise, no escape from that Truth! I understand. A lesson learned on Ho Chi Minh's Birthday. A lesson remembered. I grasp Life With all its wonder, joy and sorrow. I love - gratefully, laugh - heartily, And mourn - sadly. And I live my best roles: Parent, Lover, Friend. A found peace. The river of time rolls On. And I give thanks for it all! For Each turn of season, for each spin of The Earth, for each precious moment since Ho Chi Minh's Birthday. (copyright © 11 November, 1996) SUMMER RERUNS Thunderstorms on hot summer eves Bring back flashes of flickering Firefights in the distant green hills. A throbbing roar against the sky Quickly recalls the loud, dark-black Shadows above the troubled land. A hunter's echo in the woods Is a memory of red and Green death streaking through the jungle. A warm greeting glimpsed in passing Replays a fond family, but Also a cold, uncaring World. Media tales of delayed stress Aptly show the futile anger Of the now forgotten soldier. Thunderstorms on hot summer eves Remind me to tug on the leash, And head for the safety of home. (copyright © 1982; revised 1997) SEARCHING FOR RANDOLPH SCOTT I felt as if I were in a Randolph Scott Movie. You know, that one about war buddies: Augie-Gene-Dan-Steve-Dennis-Ken, as played by Marvin-Gosset-Savalas-Eastwood-Wayne-Scott. We had the "All-American" hooch, just like in The movies. Our ancestry was African, European, Polynesian and Native- American. We didn't care; we got along. Once, two of us got blind drunk, and slept through a Rocket attack. We all thought that was funny. My best buddy was a career Lifer, but I liked him anyway. Together, we drank At the NCO Club, cruised the black market In Da Nang, and chased the bar girls in Taiwan. But the young Sergeant chose a different path Than mine after the 'Nam. It seems we all did. I have not seen any of them for almost Three decades. Yet, for a time often shorter Than three sixty-four and a wake-up, they were Closer to me than my own brothers could be. Perhaps, even Randolph Scott once felt that way. (copyright © 1997) THE BLACK MARKET A shroud of monsoon gray enveloped the Road running straight out of China Beach. But Gray was better than black, better than rain So thick you couldn't see anything but mud. Our olive-drab bus slowly stalled in the Sprawl of traffic, our transport seemingly In league with the black marketers whose make- Shift, ramshackle booths smothered the roadside. Poncho liners were the hot item, as They made good, light blankets. The monsoon rains Felt frigidly cold after following A season of hot steam served up each day. Price bargaining quickly became squabbling, Became arguing. A tall, young Marine With the build of a high-school line-backer Confronted a short, black-toothed old woman. But for me, the shouting about prices Faded in a flash of seeming sunlight. A young woman wearing red had entranced Me, her bright, angel-like smile becoming Laughter at children playing nearby. All Else melted away, all -- except her smile. Suddenly, her head jolted up as if She had heard a rifle shot. She saw the Young Marine and the old woman, and her Face contorted in anger, her smile gone. She strode over to them, her eyes staring At the middle of the young man's chest. A Volcano of Vietnamese erupted. And then - English - You can have no babies! Her accusation hung in the heavy, Humid air for all to see. A bubble Of silence surrounded the trio; all Was quiet. The scene is still in my eyes. Then our bus began to move. The young man Quickly jumped on board, to insults from his Friends. He sat down, bemoaning that he did Not know what he had done that was so wrong. Again, now with tears, the cry leapt thru our Wire frame windows - You can have no babies! I looked back at the vanishing sight; the Line of military vehicles, the Three-wheeled buses, the bicycles. But I failed to glimpse my angel in red. This scene has long since faded into an Impressionist painting, one shaded in Green-gray-mist hues. I sometimes wonder if It was real, or only a fantasy. Yet I can still see: The tall, young Marine; healthy, armed and righteous; The beautiful young woman in red; smile turning to rage, turning to tears; The black-toothed, old woman, cowering behind her booth. And I still wonder about that old woman: Which one of the other two, had caused her to be more afraid? (copyright © 1997; revised 1999) TROPICAL COLD The sudden Sun of a tropical Morn quiets the night chill. You shed your Field jacket, unbutton your shirt. You Stand atop the bunker, watching a Procession old as the Dawn. Farmers Glide towards rice paddies, women with Baskets jog to market, bicyclists Ride to jobs on the base. All are in A timeless race against the mid-day Blaze of heat. In the humid haze, you Imagine two shadows slip away From this parade, move off-road, low-crawl Towards your position. It's Midnight In your mind, and you think you hear the Stealthy snip of wire-cutters. And you Ask yourself -- could you? Could you throw the Switches on the deadly, little gray Boxes. Could you calmly squeeze off a Few bursts from the killing machine you Carry. Could you so easily end Another Human Soul? Strong sunlight Seers off the morning mist, warm rays dance Upon your skin. But inside yourself, You feel only a deep, dark coldness. (copyright © 1999)