Prophetic Poetry of War

Among the major operations I partook in during 1966-67 in Vietnam, two were called Junction City 1 and Junction City 2. They were vicious, search-and-destroy battles. All Vietnamese personnel encountered in our sweep areas were considered enemy or enemy sympathizers. Killing in so-called black zones was expected.

By their uniforms and helmets we identified most enemy combatants as North Vietnam regulars, not local Viet Cong. I remember crawling over a dead enemy soldier in his foxhole, using my flashlight to follow the dugout that led to a tunnel which led to an underground hospital room. They were definitely there for the long haul. At my squad leader level, we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. But it was big.

I didn’t speak about the war for about ten years, except when I was drinking–and now you’d think I can’t shut up about it. What got me to talk openly, and soberly, about my combat experiences was writing. The poem below was my first published piece on the war; it was published in 1980.

Junction City 1

I’m far too young to be afraid

Of plots and schemes that others laid.

I’ll survive

Come out alive

God damn this war that old men made!

I hate the napalm bombers drop

Too close screams that will not stop.

I’ll survive

Come out alive

To see a fertile paddy crop.

Boredom, action, firefight

Zinging, whistling, bursting light …

I’ll survive

Come out alive

But will I ever sleep at night?

These words came easily to me way back then. Their prophetic quality, eerily, is contained in the last line. I still can’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time, regardless of medication or level of the day’s activity. I don’t dwell on the war, it doesn’t permeate my life; and yet to this day I remain hypervigilant, especially at night.

I wonder what demons haunt today’s soldiers. Will therapy and medication help them? Will they in fact receive the treatment that is owed them? How long will it take to eradicate the 22 suicides per day among our veterans?

And will they ever sleep at night?


The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach; two benefits: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.


2 thoughts on “Prophetic Poetry of War”

  1. I have been thinking about the night you and your men surrounded the dead until morning. You painted a word picture and anyone who was not there cannot know your pain. But as for an observer of this scene, I see a noble and heroic effort to keep the remains of the fallen safe from further insults.It is an honorable endeavor and of course my personal perspective.I hope that you can someday step out of that scene and look back at it with a more peaceful mind.

  2. What I am always amazed at is how any soldier can see what they see and do what they do and are able to come home and go on as if nothing is wrong. Something is wrong and help has been denied to long.

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