I am a Vietnam Veteran. I served with MACV-SOG from July 1966-July 1967. I was stunned, when I returned at the negative or even hostile attitudes of many of the American people. I still can’t quite understand it. I know that many of the national opinion-makers, starting with Walter Cronkite, soured the public’s view toward its own military, but there are other factors, too. Some of them did not come from domestic sources.
March 29, 2016 has been designated as a day to honor Vietnam Veterans. Better late than never, I suppose.
The following bit of poetry comes from a chapbook called Finding The Way Home. The picture is of a Vietnam Veteran standing in a crowd that is enthusiastically welcoming the veterans of Desert Storm as they make their triumphant return. The Vietnam Vet doesn’t resent them, he only feels painful envy.
WAITING FOR THE PARADE
I had that dream again last night,
or maybe today…
dressing for a parade,
but couldn’t find everything I needed;
medals, rank insignia, or unit crests;
always something different,
-always something missing.
Memories of war
ran just under my feet
like foreshortened shadows
following at midday;
when yesterday was no more than darkness
before this day’s light.
All senses remembered too much
and fear stabbed the gut
like frozen glass shards
or rage stung
like sweat in an open gash.
But here I stand anyway,
among all these people on main street,
-still wearing my beret,
– my faded tiger-stripe fatigues,
and waiting for the homecoming parade
under this new American sky.
I’m looking through the crowd
wondering if their uniforms fit
and if they have their ribbons.
Months of war-stretched memory
numbed into distortion,
a long darkening trailed my boots
leaving only momentary shade,
and disappearing holes
in watery mud.
Footprints in tall grass lifted back,
stretched in long afternoon sun,
unbent again by evening
showing no sign of passage.
so distant that fluttering banners
and muffled pop of yellow ribbons
hide their songs.
American flags reach from every lamppost
like open arms
stretching in spring winds
to touch and bless
victorious columns in desert tan.
Shadows hide in night
like war’s remembering,
waiting for morning’s eyes to cling,
mocking every clumsy movement,
faster than running can escape,
burning through flesh like white phosphorus,
cleaving to the bone
with a phantom ache of loss
like pain in an amputated limb.
I cannot march to this coming drum
Bouncing too loudly against my ears
and echoing back from The Wall;
my uniform is out of date,
-colors out of style,
-blacker in strange winter light
mutable as shifting colors
walking beside me on unquiet waters.
That old land may have remembrance,
but not of me.
My passing shadow touched its earth
more faintly than the wavering reflection
I throw in a lake.
when the brassy Stars and Stripes Forever
leads young heroes past chanting crowds
my toes, in worn-out jungle boots
will twitch to feel the rhythmic stamp,
my shoulder will bear the rifle’s weight,
and my ears,
filled with the surf beat of welcoming cheers
will let me pretend,
for a time,
I did not return alone.