They were young and full of dreams,
When reality awoke them to the sound of artillery and screams.
Their innocence lost in a far away land,
Only to be replaced with a weapon in their hand.
Kill or be killed is what they were taught,
But for most survival, returning home, and a future is what was sought.
Fighting an enemy that was everywhere, but nowhere to be found,
On guard with every hint of a movement, or murmur of a sound.
Living day to day, knowing that it might be their last,
Praying that if and when they got home, this war would stay in the past.
Jumping into a roadside ditch in a vain effort to protect them from death,
But as they looked up, they saw their hooch mate struggling as he took his last breath.
Radioing for re-enforcement, so they could make it out in one piece,
Watching the effects of napalm and hoping the enemy fire would cease.
Thoughts of loved ones at home, got them through the night,
Sleep was restless, with their minds preparing for tomorrows inevitable fight.
Finally their twelve months was up, they had survived their tour in hell,
No more bloodshed, no more death, no more rations, and most important, no more of that smell.
The flight home was an anxious one, waiting to see the faces of family and friends,
Unaware that their memories would betray them, for in their minds this war was far from an end.
When they unloaded the airplane, they kissed the ground on bended knee,
Thankful to be home, and alive, and that God had heard their plea.
They received no hero's welcome, but yet another violent attack,
For the soldiers of the Vietnam War, the country had turned its back.
They were spat upon and called names that were hard to ignore,
This would be the beginning of their own personal war.
Peaceful sleep of yesterday, now just a forgotten memory,
Restless nights and twisted sheets, an ever-occurring reality.
Looking glassy eyed into the darkness at something that wasn't really there,
Like the veterans before them, they too had acquired the Thousand -Yard Stare.
Staring for hours at the blood that wouldn't come off of their hands,
Trying desperately to talk to someone who would listen and understand.
That they did what they were sent to do,
But no one wanted to hear , unless they had served time there too.
Purple hearts, bronze stars, and medals of honor, awarded like a consolation prize,
Well-earned and deserved, but didn't erase their memories or destruction of their lives.
They told them Agent Orange would have no health effects,
Then how do they explain the cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, and birth defects?
Thousands upon thousands of lives and spirits lost, in a country they never should have been,
In a war they were sent to fight, but not allowed to win.
June 16, 2002
©Verla Denise Gower
Why not visit her site "A Daughter Want's To Know" compiled in honour of her Father.