Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | May 26, 2013

Memorial Day, 2013

I am a Vietnam Veteran. I proudly served, 1967-1968, with MACV-SOG.  For this Memorial Day, I’m posting a poem that I wrote several years ago: The Wall. The title of the poem refers, of course to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  The memorial was not paid for by the U.S. Government.  The initial funds for its construction came from over 275,000 donors, primarily veterans and their families. A history may be found at  http://www.vvmf.org/History

The poem says that “…soldiers should not make their own monuments…” The simple, stark lines are unlike other memorials.  The names of the fallen speak for themselves and tell more truth than many are willing to accept.  I can go to The Wall and touch the names of friends from college and comrades from the Army. That is enough.

                                                           The Wall

For the Vietnam Veterans of America

I. Roll Call

Arrayed in perfect ranks and files,
row on row,
gleaming metal and polished black,
sharp straight edges cutting the wind,
they stand
in static silent formation.
Only their nameplates speak…
a voiceless babble of American families,
no other speaks, or spoke, for them.

   Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

Away from this place of silence,
this place of unheard voices,
(where a limp flower hangs,
pushed into a crevice of the black stone),
the nation erected proper monuments of heroism:
sinewy white marble demigods with laurels;
or helmeted bronze men, thrusting a flagpole upright.

These recall brass band parades,
bright red roses, gleefully flung into city streets
beneath gleaming, triumphant boots; V-Day kisses, tears of victory, of joy;
these, …in memoriam…in appreciation… are proper.
These tell sufficient truth.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

II. Personnel Files

Teachers filled their childish ears
with the rattle of musketry,
— Valley Forge, San Juan Hill,
and, yes, Antietam, Gettysburg, Atlanta-
they believed.
Believed nostalgic fathers, wistful uncles;
— grand visions of  Over the top… over there,
Pearl Harbor infamy:
steaming Sands of Iwo Jima, Okinawa’s steel typhoon;
—Inchon landings and The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Victory, heroism, glory.
“Glory, glory, hallelujah…” they believed
in “Duty, honor, country,”
with the Faith of Our Fathers,

and on silver Paths of Glory,
blazed into thousands of sunsets;
-on insubstantial contrails,
Blowing in the Wind evaporating in the heat,
leaving no track home.

III. Separation

Believing, they went…
then losing belief,
fought
– or, just endured
and changed.
Some died, most returned;

many to the silent muster of this wall;
more to await honors
from fathers who could not hear,
and children who would not listen;
making their own hollow parades in shabby fatigues,
down almost-empty streets.

These have made their own monument,
a prostrate memorial in black stone.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments

T.D.

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Responses

  1. I have read this before but I believe it gets better the more one reads it.

    • Thank you, Ken. I was tempted to make changes as I looked it over, but as a famous poet (I can’t remember who) said, the guy who wrote this doesn’t exist anymore. I shouldn’t change his work.


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