The Poems of Rod Stemp

Rod at 18

Date of Birth: 31Jan48
Where: Inverell, New South Wales, Aust (a country town)
Enlisted RAAF: 31Aug65
Discharged RAAF: 16Jan86
Overseas Service: 2SQN Phan Rang AB 7Jan70-8Jan71
Corporal Supply Clerk
2SQN flew Canberra (B57) medium bombers attached to USAF 35th Tac Fighter Wing
A223024 Rodney A. Stemp (Rod)
2Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
Phan Rang AB 7Jan70-8Jan71

Married: 28Apr73 (Julianne)
Divorced: NO
Children: Kellie Joy 8Apr76

David William 9Nov79

I suffered no injuries in Vietnam except for hearing loss caused by jet engine noise and tinnitus associated with it. I suffered bouts of depression associated with intrusive memories from 1987 onwards, culminating in a breakdown with full-blown PTSD in April 1997. I am currently on sick leave being invalided out of the Federal Public Service; and these poems, plus more I hope to write and a "private" essay I wrote, are part of my therapy.

Rod Stemp


A puzzled look on the doctor's face,
I only saw him a week ago and everything was fine.
But suddenly two hours have disappeared without trace,
and my brain is shattered, shivers down the spine.

What are these images running through my mind
and transporting me to a time and place thought forgotten.
The nightmares of war that come with the 3am wind,
of rockets and mortars and heroes and ordinary men.

A country boy, now become a man and taken
off to fight an unpopular war in another people's land.
This place is strange and my ideas are shaken,
my psyche is bruised and unknowing, my heart wears a brand.

I am a vietnam veteran and for twenty seven years
strode through life, loving the good days and without fears,
but one day it stopped. Lord what has brought these tears
and taken my memory and brought chaos to a mind once clear.

Why do I suddenly not want to be in a group.
Why do I hate the sight of walls and the milling strangers.
What is this feeling that makes me want to shoot
through and leave this place of perceived dangers.

The doctor tells me here take these pills that
will calm your nerves and help you to sleep,
but he can't tell me late night and early morn what
to do about the unknown scars of war that cut deep.

He doesn't know the sound of a mortar, the thump
that drags you screaming from your bed in the dark.
The whistle of a rocket aimed at the bomb dump,
the scream of jets leaving, have all left their mark.

A mark that is a wound long thought healed
but now torn open and shown as the festering
abyss of a soul in torment with layers to be peeled
gently back to allow for its real homecoming.

for Kanga, Bigwebby, and Roy22 on irc #aussievets
thank you my friends.

Rod Stemp

My Best Friend

The morning light.
A bright new day that scatters the night.
My heart rejoices to share this day
with you my best friend, come what may.

The shopping centre.
A little worm disturbs our joy, it doesn't matter,
Go inside! Buy a new dress! I'll just wait here.
I do not see my best friend shed a tear.

Let's go for a drive.
Out in the country, it's fresh, its alive.
We'll stop at that little pub, have some lunch.
My best friend sees but I don't, we come to the crunch.

A couple of beers
won't hurt with the meal and brings some cheer.
But four hours go by and we are still there
and another problem my best friend must bear.

Alcohol addiction
I can "handle" it but it does create friction
with my family, and friends I had have all gone
and left my best friend to handle it alone.

I used to work
but once too often my mind like a shaken bottle cork
exploded. And now I sit at home most of the day
tormenting my best friend with the words I don't say.

I keep it hidden
but every now and then the unwelcome thoughts unbidden
release the pain and anger and I lash out.
My poor best friend is the one who feels my clout.

At last to sleep
drugged up with pills and alcohol I creep
off to bed. Then in the darkest hours awake with a scream
that my best friend knew would come and shatter the dream.

Shaking in fear
I think I am back there but my one and only holds me near
to her. Eases the heartache and calms the brain
but God why must my best friend also bear this pain!

for every vets partner who has had to share a war to one
degree or another. Especially my best friend Julianne.

Rod Stemp

This poem is the story of and a tribute to Mike Herbert and Bob Carver, the only 2SQN RAAF aircrew lost in combat. They disappeared in Quang Nam province 65 kilometres south west of Da Nang on the night of 3rd November 1970.

The official findings of the court of inquiry decided that "the possiblity of enemy-initiated action cannot be ignored," implying that there may have been SAMs in the area which allied intelligence did not know about. To this day there has not been a satisfactory answer to what caused a catastrophic, mid-air explosion which caused the Canberra to disintegrate.


Twin Avon jets roar
building thrust held by brakes on tight.
Lights flickering red and green,
waiting the order to lift into the night.

"Magpie 91 rolling" comes the call
as power unleashed, she gathers speed down the runway.
Five thousand pounds of high explosive
that will turn jungle night into day.

The masterful touch of two young hands
feels lift under outspread wings
and the "graceful old lady" soars
into the air, her turbines seem to sing.

Climbing turn to starboard and Magpie91
heads north for a 'Skyspot' mission in the dark.
Quang Nam southwest of Da Nang,
a known VC outpost but on the maps just a mark.

Though young, these are professionals.
Well trained and doing the routine before the action,
they feel like eagles searching for prey
in a steel machine that delivers destruction.

But the time for reflection is over.
Destiny awaits Carver and Herbert.
Change frequency to Skyspot Control,
"Magpie91 is ready for the target."

The mission controller calls them in,
"Straight and level above the triple AAA at 22,000 feet.
All bombs in one salvo,
Let's make Charlie feel their heat."

The flash and roar of six explosions splits the dark!
"PERFORMANCE EXCELLENT!" is Controls' response.
"Thank you Skyspot" and "We liked it too."
Time to bug out, Canberras have no defence.

They were there on Udorn radar
The next sweep showed empty sky.
Not a trace of them has been found, but
for 2Squadron, forever, Mike and Bob continue to fly.

Rod Stemp

All Poems Copyrighted © by Rod Stemp, All Rights Reserved