by David Sandgrund
VINH LONG, 1st View
The helicopter lifted off
Leaving him alone
Heart pounding, sweating
In the hot and humid breeze
His clothes sticking to his body
Shielding his eyes from the river’s glare
He watches brown water rushing past
Green vegetation floating by
Catching on the rocks
A woman washing clothes
Another collecting the water hyacinth
Straw hats covering their heads
The breeze blowing
Their baggy pants
Their thin blouses
At the river’s edge
A young girl stands
With a sweet, tender look
Smiling she hands him
A water hyacinth
Blue petals sparkling
In the sunlight
A gift from
A serene beauty
Behind him traffic noises
Tinny motors, squeaky horns
Mingle with the distant
From the market
From passing boat
The air filled with strange odors
Fish, drying vegetation
Food from the market stalls
Avoiding the bicycles and motor bikes
He turns and walks
Down the road
I rose from the seat that hot March day,
To a strange, foreign land a half globe away.
I thought to myself, “This place smells like shit,”
But too numb to say or think more on it.
The air was heavy, so humid, so thick;
I feared I’d collapse before walking a click.
Departing the plane we were ordered to stand;
Forming two ranks by a shouted command.
“Attenn-hut! Salute!” Came the ordering cry,
We snapped to respect without knowing why.
Facing the gangplank, in withering heat
Wondering what “lifer” we’d been pressed to greet.
Fighter jet banshees screamed by so loud;
As we sweat in silence, our minds in a cloud.
Trucks moved in slowly and stopped near our plane;
We stiffened salutes knowing we’re in the game.
Men jumped down quickly to the loading prepare,
No lifers? No hotshots? No big-wigs were there.
Only just boxes… handled gently with care.
Long wooden boxes took the seats we left there;
As we watched and saluted and stood there steadfast.
The boxes were carried, through our vigil they passed.
We all too soon knew without uttering a sound;
The reason our lines were formed and held this ground.
Our brothers were leaving.
They are going home.
Not to hear speeches or fanfare or praise;
Not to hear taps as they’re placed in their graves.
Not to get married, have children or dreams fulfilled;
But wait in our shadows, their gardens untilled.
Sleep well my brothers, your hell is over.
“Atten-hut! ….. At ease, men!”
Gasping for breath and sweating like rain;
We heard a voice call out a sardonic refrain:
“Welcome to Vietnam, gentlemen.”
So many years have passed since that day;
I boxed up those memories and stored them away.
Many worse memories are packed along side;
I wonder what’s real and what still I hide.
Long wooden boxes locked up so tight;
But magically open on some sultry night
They dance in my visions, they screwed with my head;
They shriek in my nightmares, their screams I so dread
Blurred faces, names forgotten, emotions that died;
I walk through life feeling nothing inside.
Dreams were a cursed, wretched array,
Parades of dead warriors I’ve packed away.
Their faces sometimes vivid, their names on a wall;
I try to keep moving in spite of them all.
I hope they know the prayers said in their name;
I hope they look fondly of the man I became.
Their life was sadly taken for some senseless cause,
Their spirit lives on and their love gives me pause.
They sacrificed their all for us…
We must live our best for them.
Sleep well my brothers, ‘til we meet again.
David Sandgrund was born on December 13, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York. In the summer of 1966, he was drafted into the army and spent most of the second year in Vietnam where he was a radio teletype operator for the 6th Hawk Missile Battalion 56th Artillery stationed near Bien Hoa. When he returned home in 1968, he married, had two kids, and a career in international shipping. In 2008, he retired, and he and his wife do a lot of traveling and spending time enjoying the grandkids. He also enjoys photography, reading novels about Asia and Asian history, listening to jazz and blues, and writing, especially poems.