Bill Jevne, Vietnam veteran
Sequim, WA , USA
I look back on Vietnam as the only truly evil undertaking I have ever participated in. I blundered into it, like most of us, not through evil will of my own, but through sloth and neglect. I had graduated from college, even had a masters degree, and had all the skills I needed to research what was occurring in Vietnam, but I never read a word about it except newspaper and magazine stories. My first day in Vietnam I learned that Bill Smoyer, a great friend who had preceded me there by a month, was already dead. I saw immediately and with excruciating clarity that I had chosen this year of killing by using the same crude mental processes that had turned me toward sports, like it was a new and more exciting kind of hockey season. I didn't have the courage to back out.
You went before.
You taught me before I had to see for myself.
You took me out of the game.
Did you know I ran into your platoon once?
They told me of your brave death.
I could see their love in their eyes.
You died to save others.
You saved me.
Any I saved, you saved.
But I wish you were here instead.
I wish we had heard those who went before us.
I pray those coming next will hear you and me now.
I wrote this poem and the other three poems below one after another in the throws of an emotional discharge early one morning after visiting the travelling Vietnam Veterans Wall the night before.
This poem is about 6 buddies from 1st Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines who were killed by a botched American air strike that for some reason didn't take me, too: Joe Davis, Larry Du Bose, Matt Ruden, John Schrom, Corporal Foy, and Doc Thornton (I can't recall the first names of the last two).
JOE, DU BOSE, FOY, RUDEN, SCHROM, DOC
Remember the jet thundering in from nowhere?
The bomb's ripping blast?
Was it God who put me in another place?
If so, why?
You died, I lived.
I found you blown to jelly,
Chanced upon your pieces scattered across the blast zone.
I cried, but not enough, nowhere near enough.
I carried on.
We moved out an hour later,
First Platoon on point.
I passed the night dug in next to a 4-deuce mortar,
My insides jerking each time it blasted out another load of what blew you to bits.
Now I live here and you live on this wall.
You live in my life, too.
I don't see you or talk to you,
But I use what we learned together in that burning vill in 'Nam.
If we look for enemies, they will find us.
The path is to look for friends.
Ray Hesterlee was a beautiful soul who was shot down walking point on a jungle patrol.
A child you were.
A child who one day walked over a rise on a jungle trail
And was machine-gunned onto this wall.
You annoyed me when you first came,
Constantly asking questions like a 5-year-old.
But your heart beat too fast to feel the cold.
Your beauty won us all.
You died on a child's day.
The sun shone warm through the green tops of the great jungle trees.
We were Marines, and we were good.
You and De Blauwe found the bare footprints and smelled the cigarette smoke.
Childlike, we walked on.
The machine gun burst, rifles cracked, and bullets hissed in from the flank.
They shot a few of us and were gone.
You were gone. The child was gone.
The Medevac came.
It dropped us a loop and we put it around your chest.
Christ you were, stretched on an invisible cross as you rose through the green forest.
A child you were.
At this instant I just remembered that it is Easter Morning. Ironic. Anyway, this last poem tells one of the ways the war affects my life today.
HONOR, DUTY, COUNTRY
The wall rises and spreads two great wings of names.
I find yours, sit before it, and weep.
There is a name to the left, the right, above, below.
You are ranked here, a great army that kills and dies no more.
For each name there are those who weep like me.
Today I am the only one who knows who you were and how you died.
But your name is covered with fingerprints, the ground is wet with tears.
For each name, how many have come and wept?
The wall sinks down into the earth, but it does not end.
Millions more are on it.
More are added each day.
When I see the wall, I can hear each name calling, "Peace."
Not just the 58,000, but all the rest, too.
When I leave, their cry grows fainter,
But I must not let it die out.
Peace is my honor, my duty, my country.
I'm Bill Jevne, and I live in Sequim, Washington. If you know me or any of the men I write about, get in touch.