Poems from combat veterans are the Proverbs of war, they contain the wisdom of the many and the soul of one.
“Poetry is the fine art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing.” Burke
Much can be said about the shadows of war. Little can be said in polite company. Less can be said that captures the dark night of the soul. Thinking accurately is not the end game, but feeling honestly is the only path to healing and grasping the aftermath that lingers.
“War, that mad game , the world so loves to play.” Swift
I will be posting poetry from a select group of combat veterans I have come to know over the past ten years. They have given permission to publish these for the readers of the TucsonCitizen.com. They have not given permission for any other publication.
The first poem by Bill Black, a former Army officer and Vietnam Veteran, is from the title of one of his collections by the same name, “Old Eyes, Grey Souls.” The title in itself captures a reminiscent feeling for me. I recall my first teacher on the U of A campus, Father Robert Burns OP, head of the Religious Studies program, who once told me that my eyes looked so much older than my 23 years of age. I had been home from the war for nine months.
Black holds deep convictions about the effects of war on our societal structures. “While war makes history and shapes destinies of nations, the individual effects on the people involved need further discussion,” Black states.
The second writer/poet I have selected, is Pete Bourret. Pete is also a Vietnam Veteran, and served with the 7th Marines as a combat mortarman. Pete is currently working on his first novel, and has produced a documentary about his return trip to Vietnam; ” Strands of Wire Around My Heart.”
Old Eyes, Grey Souls
The old man was sad as he walked away.
He should not have seen what he saw today.
He hoped this group would escape it some way.
He knew it well from days gone by.
He knew the anguish would not die.
The young guys were still sitting there,
Not talking, just drinking. He could swear
They each remembered some personal “there.”
They were easy to tell from the other guys,
They were the young guys with the old eyes.
His own “there” had been along a riverside
In an area so low that it had a high tide
That had colored rust brown from the blood
From the bodies from friends that had stood
As part of a team, his buddies on each side.
Their lives and times were shaped in a way
That if they mentioned the place, few could say
That they had heard or knew of the place
Or what the guys went through. A look, a word, a face,
Or a scene was all it took for the memory to race.
So they sat with a stare so far away while memories replay
Places and days they wish would go away.
The eyes mirror a soul locked on a scene from that day.
Tears that they could not cry were frozen behind old eyes
Chilled from the depths of souls already grey.
The old man sighed as he remembered other guys
Who looked this way as their nightmares flowed into the day.
Long lost, dead, but never escaping the way
The eyes showed their souls,
So young in years, but already grey.
Bill Black/ Army Officer
THE SECRET LAW OF PHYSICS
Mortar round exploding
through dozens of Decembers until
the grunts child feels the burning metal shards of yesterday’s war
made unfairly present by daddy’s sentence in his prison of pain.
Shrapnel has no ears to hear a child’s whimpering under the covers
Shrapnel has no eyes to see the vacant stare of a childhood stolen
Shrapnel has no lips to count the thousand smiles that never were.
Shrapnel only has perpetual velocity
too much time on its hands. Pete M. Bourret
The priest said it was the gift of a loving God/ A loving grace for everyone/ It seemed a part of the Church facade/ To us this Church would shun.
For us grace is a fragment/ Or pennies found or lost/ Or spent to buy moments/ For someone else’s cost.
We go on day by day/ As in little moments/ We spend grace away/ In meaningless events.
Yes it was the Priests promise to the poor/ A selling point in his salvation refrain/ But the only gifts in streets and wars/ Are numbing hunger and lasting pain.
Stars everywhere/ Cricket chatter/ Cold beads of sweat– meet my hand—as it roams the geography of my face.
The thought is back
Someone in the darkness
wants to kill me.
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to solve conflicts again.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Some will snicker at the mushy nature of poetry. Yet, in a time like the present when language is used and abused to the sole end of dividing, I see it differently. It is the poet who does not permit us to be distracted by the base and carnival world of politics.
Both of these gentleman are award winning poets. I will share more from their collections in future postings.
Thanks to the Veterans Benefits Blog for dogging this intractable issue that is taking the lives of our veterans to this day. Forty years we have been fighting for full disclosure. I feel so sad for the families who lost love ones prior to the truth being told. One wonders how long this information has been known. I too experience the symptoms of Agent Orange, but praise be, it was discovered early enough to ameliorate some of the conditions. It is still difficult for me to allow into my consciousness that I was sprayed with chemicals by my own country. Desert Storm soldiers are just now being accepted for chemical exposure. And then Iraq of course, with Depleted Uranium et al. Is is possible that the WMD is in the dust?
Be sure to rent a real sleeper movie, starring the late John Ritter. It is titled, “Un-Natural Causes.” 1986. It is the true story about the history of the VA’s struggle with accepting the effects of AO, and the saga of one Maude DeVictor who was a benefits counselor at Hines Hospital in Chicago.
Just think, we are still treating sailors who were exposed to asbestos during WWll!
VA Creates List of Ships for Vietnam Agent Orange Presumed Exposure
by Audrey Beebe on September 7, 2011
Vietnam veterans who served on ships have been asking for decades for medical benefits due to exposure to Agent Orange. Until now, most of these veterans were not considered under the presumed exposure idea which covers the majority of Vietnam veterans who served on land.
The VA has listened. There is still a list of criteria that has to be met, and of course proof of service must be shown. There are several groups of ships and boats that are on this list.
The first, is a set of two categories: Mobile Riverine Force and Inshore Fire Support (ISF) Division 93. Both of these two groups are on the list.
The second, is a list of boat/ship designators:
- LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized)
- LCU (Landing Craft, Utility)
- LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)
- LST (Landing Ship, Tank)
- PBR (Patrol Boat, River)
- PCF (Patrol Craft, Fast or Swift Boat)
- PG (Patrol Gunboat)
- WAK (Cargo Vessel)
- WHEC (High Endurance Cutter)
- WLB (Buoy Tender)
- WPB (Patrol Boat)
- YFU (Harbor Utility Craft)
A veteran who served on a ship or boat with one of these designations will also have this information shown in their service records.
The third, and largest category, is simply an alphabetical list of every ship that counts for presumed exposure. There are a LOT of ships on this list. When looking for the one you served on, look under the first letter of the ship’s formal, full name.
If you cannot find the boat or ship you served on, but are certain that it should be included, there are ways to get it on the list. You will need to first file a claim for a condition that is related to Agent Orange, and provide proof that it was developed due to Agent Orange exposure, in Vietnam, on your ship.
Photo thanks to Kevin H. under creative commons license on Flickr.
In June of 2009 when the Tucson Citizen editor Mark Evans extended the offer to join the ranks of a handful of bloggers and lend some attention to Veterans Affairs, I accepted, but not without some trepidation about holding my own with genuine journalists. The likes of, Rene Shaefer-Horton and Hugh Holub, have decades of journalistic integrity and a loyal reader base.
With the guidance and tutelage of Mark Evans, a University of Arizona journalism instructor, and the the occasional rebuking and syntax correction of fellow blogger Carolyn Classen, I have managed to hang in with content that I hope is timely and compelling.
The feedback from the TC.com software indicates that Veteran Veritas, when disciplined, hovers in the 45-50 percentile range of reader interest. Sports rules! That tells me that it has been worth the modest dedication and rigor it takes to keep this Blog chugging.
There are days I feel like the “little engine that could,” yet in reading over the past two years of comments and private emails I am assured that Veteran Veritas has been helpful and occasionally enlightening for our community of veterans. It is for them I write and remain invigorated.
Cliche as the journalistic dictum may be, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” it remains as a guide.
When I received a call from the Department of the Air Force Public Information Office about a posting that spoke of planes at Davis Monthan being contaminated with Dioxin,(Agent Orange), I knew we were serving the interest of our population of veteran readers. They have not called again.
I write to connect. It seems to be have been my lot in life since childhood. Even as a young paper boy for both the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen, (my brother and I delivered for both in the same day), I was connecting my subscribers with each other. As the first paper boy for El Con Mall in 1959, everyone on my route knew of all the special sales at Dave Bloom and Sons, Mills Touche and Steinfelds and Gruenwald Jewlers. Connecting is a joy and blogging permits the flowering of a natural tendency.
The one aspect that provides the most fuel for blogging is the outreach to our veterans who bore the weight of battle. They deserve the best and most useful information available to enhance their quality of life.
Veterans of war frequently do not hold the same divisive and charged viewpoints as the dominant culture. It is vital that we remain connected and with solidarity–if only for the sake of vigilance. To protect our democracy we must grasp the historical meaning, burdens and ramifications of war, with all its consequent impact on society and the individual psyche.
Many of the postings of the past two years are no more than informational direction, with attribution, while others have been intended to heal and advocate for the disabled veteran. I try to leave editorial for the pros. There are plenty of them, including the self proclaimed ones! At times it is hard to resist or may even seem irresponsible to not add opinion, especially when a commenter is off base. But then that is the beauty of entering dialogues that only blogging affords.
As a 100% disabled veteran of the Marine Corps and a combat squad leader in Vietnam, I know well the dark night of the soul and the travails my comrades have experienced. For 12 years I worked as a Veteran Service Officer shepparding hundreds of men and women through the disability claim process. I have walked Point on that patrol and know well the nuances of the Congressional Federal Register Title 38 that dictates the process. Never did I imagine that we would be engaged in a now 11 year long war sending home so many wounded men and women. August was the deadliest month in the Afghan war.
It is for them I write and connect, with the full awareness that the validation of their experiences and the fellowship, as temporal as it may be, is the space that heals. I pray that Veteran Veritas has served that end.
As a student of history, it strikes me that the ecology of our society is more transformed by the connectors than the trench workers. Without the connectors, the bankers, politicians, automakers and pharmaceutical companies, have no juice.
The waterways, railroads, highways and phone companies have connected us for a century. It is now the Internet that trumps and transcends all of them as the world above the world that connects us in cyberspace and is the new unregulated democracy.
Journalism will survive and blogging is its ship. Veteran Veritas is a small cabin on that big boat. I invite you to continue to sail with us.
“Only the dead know the end of War.” Plato
” I am but a small pencil in the hand of God.” Mother Theresa
FREE EVENT call 298-7498 for more info
SOUTHERN ARIZONA VA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Activating Veterans Through Healthy Peer Relationships
Engaging Veterans to develop and sustain lasting peer relationships focused on healthy behaviors and activities: Empower Veterans to identify their own wants/needs
Enhance collaboration among current programs in Pima County Area in support of Veteran driven activities
Establish a network of mentors to offer coaching in healthy skills development .
Utilizing Technology and Social Media to promote peer driven relationships
Conference Room A & B
Where: Southern AZ VA
Health Care System
3601 S. 6th Ave.
Tucson AZ, 85723
Date: Friday, September 9, 2011
Time: 8:30 am to 3:30 pm
RSVP: Jeffrey Winter
For more information about the Southern AZ VA Health Care System
Veterans Lead Symposium
Introduction and Mission Dr. Jeffrey Winter 8:30 – 9:00 a.m.
of the Symposium Health Behavior Coordinator
Southern Arizona VA Health Care
Social Skills Development Dr. Chris Segrin 9:00 – 9:30 a.m.
Chair, Department of Communications
University of Arizona
Resiliency Training M. Sgt William Naney 9:30 – 10:00 a.m. Arizona National Guard
Break 10:00 – 10:15 a.m.
Intergenerational Communication Dr. Jake Harwood 10:15 – 10:45 a.m.
University of Arizona
Therapeutic Recreation and Exercise Beth Lucas 10:45 – 11:00 a.m.
Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor
Tucson Parks and Recreation
Social Media as a Networking Tool Will Patterson 11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
OEF/OIF Patient Transition Coordinator
Southern Arizona VA Health Care
Lunch 11:30 – 12:30 a.m.
Breakout Work Sessions 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
Utilizing the GROW Model
Goals, Reality, Options, What’s Next
Communication and Marketing
Measurement of effectiveness
Establish Priorities for this initiative
Nuts and Bolts of successful planning
Break 2:00 – 3:15 p.m.
Follow-up planning – What’s next 2:15 – 3:30 p.m.
Where does that leave us?
Commitments of participating organizations