Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | March 30, 2016

For Vietnam Veteran’s Day

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.


 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

                             -at first

                             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

for brothers,

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.

 Trumpets sound,

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,

-decorations incomplete.


Unfaithful visions,

-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.







  1. Always strong. Always sad. But the passing years only make me grow prouder.

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