As emotional as Vietnam will always be, we must never again show disrespect to the soldiers who lived through the conflict and wrote of it so eloquently. The Poet Warrior Project recognizes that Vietnam will always be a source of debate, but asks for respectful attention to the thoughts and feelings of the soldiers.
Lloyd A. King, Selections, FROM 'NAM WITH LOVE
Lloyd A. King was born in the rural town of Batavia in western New York State. Lloyd graduated high school in Sweetwater, Texas and attended college at Philadelphia College of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania majoring in Industrial Design with a minor in Fine Arts.
Lloyd’s many aspirations were put on hold in 1967 during the Vietnam War when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Lloyd served as a non-commissioned officer in the infantry with the 101st Airborne Division-Airmobile during 1968 and 1969, the worst years of the war.
Poet Warrior Project Note: Lloyd A. King received the Silver Star, Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Gold Star, National Defense Ribbon, Vietnam Service Ribbon, and Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.
This decorated soldier writes movingly of Vietnam. We salute Lloyd A. King for his sacrifice and honor his family's strength, and more, we applaud him for his courage in recording his battlefield history in rhyme. We encourage everyone to buy FROM 'NAM WITH LOVE after reading this "Vietnam Quartet." All poems copyright (c) Lloyd A. King.
Day One of Three Sixty-Five
30 April 1968
Hurry up and wait and reams of unnecessary paperwork
As usual ... the Officer of the Day was an arrogant jerk
Telling us we were his property ... knowing he didn’t care
Based on the insolence in his words ... and in his stare.
“Welcome to the ‘Nam!” he muttered ... emotionally flat
Said he didn’t have time for questions or any idle chat
Instead ... he said to look at the person on our left and right
Adding ... one out of three would miss next year’s flight.
The 22nd Replacement Detachment was like a bad joke
I felt like a cow in a herd for others to prod and poke
Doesn’t he care that I’m here ... and ready to join the fight
Or that I’m a human being ... and his attitude isn’t right?
I hope the rest of my tour isn’t a big SNAFU like today
Hell, a little common sense would go a long way
But, I doubt if he cares about the fear that’s mounting
Or that today’s my first day and I just started counting.
24 May 1968
I was a squad leader and I’d only been in the jungle eleven days
A fully trained buck sergeant, but feeling lost in so many ways
I couldn’t stop shaking and my heart was pounding in my chest
Knowing that I had to prove myself worthy, like passing a test.
We’d been humping in the steep mountains ever since I arrived
The company had been in a firefight and most of them survived
But, after the firefight, there were only six men left in my squad
Everyone said it was a miracle they were alive ... an act of God.
Two were wounded seriously and two others had tragically died
The survivors had to pull the weight of ten, as the order implied
I was a nervous wreck finding out about my squad’s recent fate
New replacements was a moot issue, we’d simply have to wait.
Stand-to was at 0600, and unbelievably I was told we had point
Fast Eddie my automatic rifleman promptly rolled another joint
Then informed me he couldn’t function unless he was on a high
I told him “No”, took his hash, and thought he was going to cry.
I decided to walk point knowing I had personal issues to prove
I struggled forward, but the dense jungle made it tough to move
I kept climbing the steep slope until I finally reached the crest
Soaked with sweat, breathing heavy, burning pains in my chest.
I signaled halt ... spread the guys out, so I could recon a clearing
I didn’t like the eerie feeling and unknown sounds I was hearing
A peculiar odor was permeating the air making me very uneasy
My nerves were on edge ... stomach in knots ... and I felt queasy.
Scanning the clearing I saw something in my peripheral vision
I turned quickly and spotted the VC, requiring a quick decision
I yelled, “Dung yen” meaning don’t move repeatedly to the VC
But when he reached for his rifle, I knew it would be him or me.
I stood, face-to-face, staring at my very first Vietcong guerrilla
He was a short, skinny kid and had skin the color of pure vanilla
Wearing long, black pants and shirt that were worn and tattered
But, in that fleeting second of my life, only one thing mattered.
I crouched down fast squeezed the trigger and fired three rounds
My slack man reacted instinctively and responded to the sounds
Spun around quickly, as he fired his grenade launcher or M-79
His single round hit the VC in the gut a split second after mine.
I’d never seen a person shot before or blood and flesh splatter
I watched in complete horror as his tiny body began to shatter
His left bicep, right knee and abdomen mutilated beyond belief
I stood frozen, totally shocked, feeling a deep, emotional grief.
My grenadier and squad were all smiles, patting me on the back
I tried to settle the guys down because I was afraid of an attack
But nothing else happened so we began digging in for the night
Yet, all I could think about was his body and the horribly sight.
After my squad was squared away I had to confront my anguish
Wondering if he was married with kids and if he had a last wish
I couldn’t leave him lying there without burying him properly
His death was strictly personal and again between him and me.
I got out my trenching tool pretending to go and relieve myself
But instead, I solemnly dug a grave rather than thinking of self
While I was digging, the tears began to flow until I couldn’t see
Yet still I asked angrily, “Why the hell didn’t you listen to me?”
I dug a trench and covered the bottom with big palmetto leaves
And carefully placed his body in the grave adjusting his sleeves
I straightened both legs, then folded both arms across his chest
Telling him under the circumstances I was doing my very best.
I told him that he was the first enemy I had ever seen or killed
And tried to explain to him his fate had apparently been willed
I recited the Lord’s Prayer then I read the Twenty-Third Psalm
And when finished felt relief, but knew I’d have no inner calm.
Walking back to my squad I kept seeing his expressionless look
The empty look I’d seen vividly with each round his body took
I’ll never forget his cold stare or how bullets hitting flesh sound
Nor ever forget the sight of his blood soaking the fertile ground.
My very first kill remains indelible because of how it took place
Staring into my enemy’s cold eyes for the first time face-to-face
Knowing I had to take a life or lose mine, neither willing to give
Both of us proud, infantry soldiers, and both determined to live.
I spent the night building his cross and at daybreak set it in place
Then quietly spent some time with him, part of my morning grace
I apologized to him for taking his life and being where I had been
I saluted his grave, said he had been brave then said a final Amen.
04 October 1968
Small ... frail ... hair graying and sparse
Face drawn ... wrinkled and thin
Crippled fingers ... red and calloused
Now hide once feminine skin.
Personal looks ... minor or forgotten
With age and the passage of time
Self ... quickly became second
To her babies helpless whine.
With child wrapped to her bosom
She still tends daily to the fields
Nurturing patiently and caringly
Hoping her toil reaps good yields.
Grossly undernourished ... and gaunt
Results from a life of toil and strife
Remaining faithful as an unwavering
Mother, laborer, and devoted wife.
Lips stained a deep, purplish red
Resulting from betel nut addiction
And diet of fish, rice, and poor water
Compounding her poor condition.
Her teeth were jet black
Her gums swollen and bleeding
Ruined by life ... her personal dignity lost
Now humbled to a life of pleading.
I looked down at poor Mama San
Now on arthritic knees at my feet
Tears welling in her eyes as she begged
GI #1, Mama San need food to eat.
Then my own tears began to form
Deeply touched by this pitiful sight
Wanting desperately to give freely
And help ease her appalling plight.
Yet, we had heard about a soldier
That decided to give C-Ration bread
And, as unreal as the story sounds
Was found stripped naked and dead.
Our military orders are to do nothing at all
But I couldn’t leave or turn my back
So I disobeyed orders ... followed my heart
And I gave her the food in my pack.
23 April 1969
Today was my last day in the Republic of South Vietnam
A terrible day of mixed emotions going off like a bomb
When I left my squad and the many, many others I know
I fought mental chaos and gloom that I tried not to show.
I wanted to leave my buddies as a strong friend and leader
And help ease the tense moment for the emotional bleeder
But it wasn’t easy leaving knowing what they meant to me
Our bond was close and the reason I was still alive and free.
A battalion awards ceremony brought us all together again
Many medals were awarded to my squad and the other men
I received my share as well, but my mind was on my squad
Worrying like a father, yet I knew their fate was up to God.
I stood in formation watching proudly each separate salute
No applause greeted the recipients standing stern and mute
As all eyes were focused on the rifles, boots, and steel pots
Symbolic tribute to the dead; ending with a volley of shots.
The rifles were inverted, stuck in the ground with bayonet
Their boots placed in front, steel pots on top carefully set
A stark reminder of soldiers in the battalion that had died
And as the chaplain read each name ... many soldiers cried.
Military tradition surely didn’t help strengthen my resolve
To remain impassive like I had truly hoped would evolve
When the time came to bid my friends and squad goodbye
I hoped the moment would be brief and without teary eye.
Saying Chao to my squad and my friends was heartrending
Emotionally debilitating, yet the bond will be never ending
We faced death together, saw friends die and we shed tears
Developing a brotherly love to last for my remaining years.
I stared blankly out the window of the huge Freedom Bird
As the plane rolled down the runway, I didn’t hear a word
Just the roar of the jet engines pressing me against my seat
And mental disbelief, that my Vietnam tour was complete.
My heart was heavy and I was trying to swallow the lump
Thinking about my squad facing yet another rugged hump
Alone deep in the jungle ... forced to continue without me
Confronting their own mixed emotions, fighting the enemy.
Finally saying Chao to Vietnam seemed an impossible feat
My heart and mind ached and the emotion was bittersweet
Saying the final Chao to my squad left me spiritually beat
With heart torn and bleeding and thoughts far from replete.
Selections from Kurt W. Hearth, E6 First Class, US Navy, Vietnam
Kurt W. Hearth enlisted in the Navy in July 1955. He was a commissioning member of the USS SARATOGA CVA60, April 14, 1956, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1957 he became a Navy Diver, 2nd class.1961, and expanded his diving position to 1st Class Diver. He missed Korea, but made up for it in Vietnam. In total, he thinks he was attached to seven ships. He was a diving
instructor at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. and was on the island of Guam for several years in a diving capacity.
He retired from active service in January 1977. Throughout his naval career, he wrote off and on. After retiring, and settling in Jacksonville, Florida, to raise his family, he began to take a more serious approach to writing. He self-published a book of nautical poetry, Of the Sea. He became a DOD Police Officer
and soon will be retiring from law enforcement after twenty years. We honor him for his poetry and his service.
FIELD OF BATTLE
I walked the field of battle,
eerie silence accompanied me.
The bitter odor of confrontation,
lingered mutely in the air.
I trod where warriors clashed.
Did my imagination soar, or
Could I hear in the quiet,
sounds of dying souls?
Everywhere I stepped, I touched,
mute tokens of past conflict.
Haunting evidence of siege.
I shuddered as the chill of fear caressed me.
On scorched earth a helmet lay.
What account might it cradle?
Who once, had been its owner?
Had it been discarded, or orphaned?
An empty boot, a broken blade,
a long gun supported by bayonet.
Dented helmet graced the butt.
Had once, young hero rested here?
In this field of battle,
‘midst smoke, fire, screams.
Did valor accompany fear,
and violence cultivate history?
What lie hidden, covered,
in these now so silent meads?
Were fainthearted to become hero,
had victors, and vanquished, dwelled together?
as I walked the field of battle.
Jacksonville, FL, Feb 10, 2006
MY ENEMY AND ME
On the field of battle, filled with terror, chaos.
I face him squarely, my enemy.
Eye to eye, so close we stand.
Our confrontation not impersonal, all other action fades.
Others loudly boast, of the many lives they took.
But did they attest, their foes stood face to face?
Do I really desire, to terminate his life?
Is his sole intent, to seal my fate?
With but a flash of hesitation, we close, engage.
Lunge and parry, slice and stab.
Suddenly an opening, wthout pause I attack!
Disbelief paints his face, a look of surprise,
But short lived my victory, as I watch his life fade.
My guard is down, his bayonet bites deep!
As we die, our eyes meet, the look not of pain or hate.
As with me does he, tears well and fall.
I know now, my enemy he is not.
Nor I his, ours was a common one.
Our enemy a spirit, spirit of hate, greed.
Spawned by evil gods, born to weak men.
We must band together, a single force.
Defeat this scourge, drive it from our lives.
Enemies will be no more.
Conflict shall be known, only by legend past
Jacksonville, FL, March 14, 2006
All poems copyright (c) Kurt W. Hearth, 2006
"The Poetry Within" by Red Dog, Delta Company, 4th Battalion, US Marines, Vietnam
Red Dog's poem sums up the Poet Warrior Project philosophy perfectly. It appeared in Vol. 1 Issue 2 of Salute by Red Engine Press and RRP Consulting, the brainchildren of master promoter and PWP supporter Joyce Faulkner.
We honor Red Dog for his poetry and his service, we salute his family for their sacrifice, and we believe that soldiers' heroism creates the most moving poetry.
Poetry hidden in a warrior’s heart,
Slowly makes its way to his mind.
Expressing himself in this way
Is all the peace that he can find.
He hasn't done any more or less
Than others by his side
But he looks on them as heroes
And knows the tears that they have cried.
Marines lying dead on a battlefield
Someone's husband, brother or Son,
He's wondering what they may have thought
As their last day on earth is done
Did they cry for Mother or God?
Please don't let me die
Or did they gasp; say something nice
To whomever it was by their side
Some of us express our war
The fighting and remembered dead
The only way that we know how
With the words that reach our head
In this way we find comfort
As we choke down the tears
While our mind takes us back
To our fighting years
We can be with our brothers
Fighting side by side
And we may be there once again
Holding one that has died
We know our words won't be taught
By professors to college kids
Because they themselves dodged the war
By going to college, where they hid
War poetry to a poet is truer
Than history that is written and taught
Because war poetry is written by the hero,
The boy that went to war and fought
History books are written
By documented or guessed at fact
While war poetry is written
With every little heroic act
Those that have read the history books
And can quote them well
We do love to hear them speak,
And the stories they can tell
The boy that went to war a fighter
And came home with poetry in his heart
Should also put it all on paper
And let the healing start
So when we read our poetry
Or history books so smart, remember,
History is written over the ages
Where poetry, comes from the heart.
Delta Company 1st Battalion, 4th Marines
Sergeant of Marines
Copyright (c) 2004 Red Dog
James Kirk, "Why Memorial Day?"
James Kirk served in Vietnam from December 1967 until Dec. 1968 as an Army Infantry Platoon Leader with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta. He left the Army in 1975. We honor him for his service, his dedication, and poetry.
"Why Memorial Day?"
Asked the old vet,
"We've always celebrated
Veteran's Day. Memorial Day is for the dead."
"Yeah," the young vet replied,
"Your dead lie quiet.
You won your war fair and square!
Have you seen our monument?"
"Our dead lie uneasy -
They toss and turn
In our heads and ask
"Because we have no answer, they say
'Never again let this happen!';
And they tell us, 'Do not forget us -
Your dead... and those
Who were left behind!' "
"Memorial Day is for the dead!
Hugging each other as we share
Our grief, we reaffirm our shared
Vow - We shall not forget!
And we raise our battered cups
In the old salute,"
"Ave atque vale!"
Prompted by a comment made by my VA Outreach Center counselor after Memorial Day, '90.
Original version written 1991
Revised and (c) 2004 Jim Kirk
"Misery Loves Company," Tucker Smallwood, US Army Lieutenant, Vietnam
Tucker Smallwood, apart from serving bravely in Vietnam, is an actor seen on "Star Trek: Enterprise" and the NBC hit "My Name Is Earl" as well as "The One," "Traffic," "Panic Room," "Like Mike," "The Cotton Club," "Presumed innocent" and "Turk 182!" His next project is "Shut In," currently in post-production and due for release in 2006. He narrated "Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam" in 1987. Visit www.tuckersmallwood.com Mr. Smallwood's book, RETURN TO EDEN, is available from lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/tuckersmallwood. We honor him for his service and his prose/poetry. The following was written after September 11, 2001.
Tomorrow, September 14, has been designated as a day of prayer and remembrance for the tragedy visited upon our nation, this past Tuesday. I will grieve tomorrow, for the dead and for the unhappy survivors, (which include any American and foreign citizens not yet infected with the poison of hatred…if any still exist.) Now WE know the pain, uncertainty, horror, and bitterness so much of the world has endured in recent history.
Know it will beget further horror; administered with the same self-righteousness possessed by those who gave their lives to cause our present angst. We will retaliate; we must, we should, we know no other choice. The images are unforgettable, the affront unforgivable, America is once again, at war. And what had been for so long a time of personal reflection, for what I experienced on September 14th, 1969 in Vietnam, is now an anniversary to be shared with my countrymen, with citizens of the world. The irony is rather compelling, for both the timing and my connectivity to it all.
I know war. Even after 32 years, I remain a victim of its hold upon my emotional stability. So I know what lies in the years ahead for all now newly encountering this horror. “Misery loves company.” Trust me, I know this of war - what we are now learning is nothing that enriches human existence. Regardless, war is upon us. Until men learn how to exist without war, how to reconcile their differences without strife, war will continue – this much I learned in combat.
Years ago, on this day, September 14th, I was pronounced dead. That doctors managed to revive me, has long been a cause for celebration, reflection - and sadness, for many others were not revived. For most of the 80’s, I lived in Battery Park City, directly across the street from the WTC. (In the 70’s, living in a Tribeca loft 5 blocks away, I watched a man make his way up the outside of one tower, climbing to its summit.) I entered those towers daily, to take the subway and shop. To see them struck, burn and collapse, to see
my familiar neighborhood transformed into ground zero, (like Hiroshima or Pompeii), is difficult to bear. It is intensely personal; an attack upon my neighborhood, my city, my country. And when I try to express my sadness, I am astounded to discover the underlying rage beneath.
I watch the rescue efforts, admiring the courage and professionalism of our firemen and policemen. They are soon victims of their commitment to serve others...and I’m reminded of our Medivac pilots in Vietnam, who were similarly committed and all too often, victims to that selflessness. Their efforts saved many lives; many survivors will feel a debt of gratitude to them…and live to question why their lives were spared when so many others ended. It's called Survivors Guilt. This day will resonate in years to come, for countless
Americans. It's called Anniversary Syndrome. All this I know because I’ve re-lived this "Groundhog Day” for all these years. It seems unfair - to have survived and yet remain hostage to the horror of one day…but fair or not, (for life is rarely fair) this day will forever be a part of our being.
Those men who brave the dangers from collapse of surrounding buildings or the foundations, upon which they probe, will also be wounded beyond healing. Their friends, brothers, colleagues are entombed beneath that mass of rubble. They will work on, through exhaustion, rain, fire, smoke in hopes of finding someone, anyone still living…and in the process, be confronted with the remains of victims. Victims whose bodies have been transformed in ways that once seen, cannot be forgotten. Some bodies may even be their friends – bodies subjected to both death and decomposition…and with each passing day, it will get worse. In Vietnam, men assigned to Graves Registration (GR Point) were among the most affected by PTSD (even though many of them never heard a shot fired in anger.)
Those families now awaiting word of their missing loved ones and holding onto hopes for a happy resolution, now share the anguish of families of men missing in action, in years gone by – it is the same unrelenting, wretched, encompassing existence. It is to be endured, until they receive that certainty they both sought and feared, which brings an end to their hopes and a beginning, to that process of healing. There will be no shortage of victims here, obviously; there’s more than enough pain to go around. My tsuris, like an annual PMS has long been private, incomprehensible to others - and gratefully so. But what had been a time of personal grief seems now co-opted by those with compelling and worthy claims o call this time their own. Like a stream flowing into other streams, my pain might become a part of our collective open wound. How could it not?
Yet I remember how I felt when the red ribbons, which had for so long been symbols of those soldiers fallen in defense of their country, were suddenly co-opted into symbols for something very different. Something undeniably compelling and immediate and important. Those same red ribbons suddenly became an expression of solidarity amongst those committed to end the plague of AIDS. How do you criticize such a decision? AIDS must be defeated, no question. But I still resent that an immediate concern chose a symbol which already HAD meaning to many. I was born February 22, 1944, the birthday of George
Washington, which was once a national holiday…but no longer. And so I find myself resistant to surrender my connection to September 14th. I hope it is not just selfishness on my part…but time will tell.
For the moment, September 11, 2001 is a date that will be forever remembered by us all. Tomorrow, September 14th 2001 will be a day for prayer and remembrance of what we suffered on Tuesday. It will also be a day for which I commemorate the anniversary of the worst…and best day of my life.
Copyright (c) Tucker Smallwood, 2001
And two encore pieces:
I found a boot one day. It was during a sweep of a marshy flank. We were a
blocking force, intended to entrap any VC the main force succeeded in driving
toward us. It had rained off and on all morning, for we were in the midst
of that transition between the dry season and the intense monsoons, which
were yet to come. Any operations in my area generally involved continual
immersion in canals, rivers, rice paddies and swamp, so the issue was never whether we'd get wet (count on it), but whether we'd dry off before we got wet again. Leeches, trenchfoot, jungle rot were all simply a condition of life in
the Delta; keeping our weapons, ammo and most importantly our PRC-25 radio dry was as essential as breathing...and often required creative solutions to the
simplest of movements. Both Sgt. Sparks and Sgt. Brand were taller than I
but were rarely with me. One was usually manning the radio at the base camp, the other more often than not, with a separate element of the operation. As I was by now fluent in Vietnamese, I generally left our interpreter with one of
Because I was now the tallest man for miles, it usually fell to me to carry
across water the radio and occasionally, the machine-gun. Imagine crossing
water 6 feet deep, arms extended overhead, protecting the precious battery and radio from the salt water. (I am 5'10" on a good day.) You take a deep breath, focus on the far bank, gauge the current and set off for the far side, hoping not to get stuck in the mud bottom, praying you don't wander off course before your air runs out. One slip or moment of panic and we'd lost our communications, our lifelines to artillery, air strikes and most importantly, Medivacs. Occasionally a soldier was swept away by the water, but we always
recovered him and pressed on. In a squad-sized crossing, we'd send 2 or 3
men to secure the far side, I'd then cross with the radio, then the remainder
would cross over, while we covered them. In this manner we traversed what
constituted the majority of the terrain within my AO as commander of Mobile Advisory Team 36. After a few failures, I even learned to keep my Pall Malls dry.
So here we were, moving through a soggy reedy marshland, watchful of our front, to set up our blocking position, when I came upon a single jungle boot, clearly one of ours, a sign of the earlier presence of an American. And I experienced a momentary rush to judgment. "How careless, that a trooper should have neglected to take along his boot". (I was still pretty green.) As I bent over it, I realized that he had left behind not only his boot but also his foot... and the fragment of shinbone protruding from the rotting remnant of his misfortune touched me in a way that was new. In a sense, I lost my virginity that cloudy morning. Somehow this sad discovery affected me in a way no corpse ever did.
I took a snapshot of it as I passed, the first and only time I ever chose to record on film the human detritus of combat. To this day, I feel shame
that I chose to photograph it...rather than to bury it.
Copyright (c) Tucker Smallwood, 1992
THE WALL December 2002
I visited Washington DC, the city of my birth this past weekend, and as always, felt compelled to revisit The Wall. On it are the names of two of my Tac Officers, some of my OCS classmates, some of my OCS candidates. Six men named
Smallwood died in Vietnam, none of whom I knew. There should have been seven,
but for the grace of God. Yet to me, the most affecting, the most resonant
name there is Paul Savanuck. He was a friend from college; enjoyed guitars and
girls and beer and poker, as did I. Paul was easy going, with a ready smile
and sly sense of humor. He was a combat photographer, and he died with great
valor, while trying to protect and rescue several wounded soldiers.
I attended the dedication of The Wall, back in 1984 and have the strongest
memory of having touched his name that day. It is etched high atop Panel 26W;
oddly enough, fully ten inches beyond my reach on tiptoes.
This past Saturday was grey and overcast, a typical DC winters day. As I stepped back from Panel 26 to collect myself, I noticed among the crowd two middle-aged men, one in a flight jacket. After allowing them a private moment with their own memories, I approached and asked, "You were a chopper pilot. Did you fly slicks or gunships--or dustoffs?" He replied, "I flew Medivacs, 1969-70, out of Cu Chi." I said, "I was an advisor with MACV in 69; my dustoff flights came out of Bien Hoa...but someone like you, maybe someone you knew, took care of me and my people when we were most in need. Thanks."
Then we shook hands and exchanged the phrase that is our benediction; expressed with gratitude by all Vietnam Veterans who made it back. "Welcome Home."
Copyright (c) Tucker Smallwood, 2002
DISCLAIMER: All poems are the intellectual property of the poets involved and cannot be reproduced without permission.