Sunday, September 13, 2009


Up a dirt road,
in the back of the cemetery
are the graves of paupers.
A final resting place
for those who couldn't afford
dignity in death.
They dig a big hole about 14 foot deep,
They put 4 coffins in hole.
She couldn't afford a funeral
for the love of her life,...
He served in the Army.
a decorated combat soldier,
proud of being a veteran.
They had been together 20 years,
never took marriage vows,
but lived and loved until death
took them apart.
He was buried in a pauper's grave.
No marker and he's not alone.
The grave is shared with three other people.
A man who served his country with honor
but was buried with no dignity.
A decorated American solider
whose final resting place is in an unmarked,
undecorated pauper's grave that's washing away.


A SWAT team moved in,
all the family could do was watch.
He died thinking that
his family neglected him,
didn't care about him,
and he was alone.
He was suffering
from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There were periods
where he was fine and able to function,
but then there were periods
where he needed medication.
Medication stifled his creativity,
and he stopped taking it.
when officers approached,
it triggered his condition.
He argued with officers,
wielding a sharp weapon,
All the time, his family was kept away.
They first found out he died from the news.

Looking Back

He lives with his wife in a trailer
beside a highway to the national cemetery.
He decided it was a good place
to build a monument to soldiers.
He nailed a sign to a maple tree
that listed every war.
Around the tree he arranged flags,
a headstone, combat boots and,
a helmet resting on a rifle
planted barrel-first in the soil.
Long white hair, a mustache
and pale blue eyes.
He sat in soft chair,
covered with a military flag,
where he retreats every night.
Many relatives served in the military.
That's just the way it is.
He enlisted in the Army at 17
and soon found himself in Vietnam.
He wanted to make a career of the military,
but Vietnam did him in.
It's not what he saw in Vietnam that haunts him;
it's that he can't stop seeing it.
On full disability
he has received counseling
for the last 20 years.
He still can't sleep
and ends up on the chair.
If anyone asked him
what happened over there,
he had a one-word reply...
We lost the war.
And it still hurts, man.
"It still hurts."

Healing The Wounds Of War -- Years Later

Men and women who have gone to war
come to seek peace.
Behind closed doors
counselors help
the emotional wounds of vets,
some untreated for more than 40 years.
They come with a sense of guilt, remorse,
questioning of authority,
questioning of their reason
for doing what they did in war.
Looking for a place where they can talk
openly and not feel judged.
Once a person goes through an experience
like war they are permanently changed.
If he didn’t get therapy,
he would be sadly locked away
in his apartment, not able to function.
Safety is the number one thing.
Feeling safe in the world.
The essential nature of PTSD
has to do with death and dying and loss.
Grieving is not something one can do...
the feelings are held back until
one is back home, feeling safe.
But quite often there’s an avoidance.
They don’t want to do it.
He didn’t want to seek help.
But he was depressed, paranoid
and feeling like his future was “doomed”.
There were failed marriages,
depression, difficulty focusing on the job
and bankruptcy.
He was busy drinking and partying

He’s never been as open
as he is in the group
and can’t imagine life without it.
It’s a process,
and he can’t stop and go back.
He was reluctant,
didn’t want to show emotion,
but if he didn’t come
he probably would have killed himself.
Each time he shares his experiences
it brings some relief.
When he hears other stories,
it’s not just him.
Others have it too.
He’s not crazy.”
It was extra time on his hands
that started him reliving his past.
On the job he never had to worry.
Then came retirement
and remembering the men he served with.
It was just like he got out of the army yesterday.

Faux Family

A tattoo on his forearm.
I've-see-it-all expression on his face.
He sat on the edge of a flower-print couch,
across from a table with knick-knacks.
He’s only 61, but it's been years
since he was able to live by himself.
Estranged from his family
and suffering the psychological symptoms of war
the only place for him,
has been in nursing homes.
It's an arrangement that's part business,
part friendship.
The grizzled vet joined
the old woman for dinner --
the first family Thanksgiving
since his mother died,
more than a decade ago.
He finished his soup and reached
to gather his plate.
Don't you dare...
She was not done
He knew that he had to sit
with her until she was done.
He blushed, slightly, and sat down.
"Yes, ma'am,"
The relationship doesn’t look businesslike.
It looks like family.

He Wanted To Be A Hero

He’s no war hero.
For years, he lied to fellow veterans,
to his friends, to his employer,
and even to his wife about Vietnam.
He claimed that he was a paratrooper...
he was a payroll-distribution specialist.
He took credit for numerous medals,
none of which he earned.
He faked his war record
to receive disability benefits.
If he could take it back,
he would do anything.
He has helped veterans,
at benefit claims hearings
and working on veterans' mental health.
He started lying about Vietnam
He wanted to be a hero.
He wanted to be bigger in life.
True war heroes typically
don't want to talk because
they feel disheartened and guilty.
If convicted he could go to prison.
But the harshest punishment is
the one being meted out by fellow veterans.

In The Dark

Her 61-year old husband died
as a result of Agent Orange.
He was a judge
for 26 years,
and died of prostate cancer.
It makes her sad to know
that he did not know
what caused his condition.
It was all a puzzle to him.
He was diagnosed at age 54,
and underwent treatment
He was fine until a few months ago,
when the cancer came back.
The doctor said the malignant strand
was a very different kind of cancer -
highly aggressive and highly resistant to treatment.
It was different from the original cancer.
Veterans exposed to Agent Orange
have an increased risk of prostate cancer recurrence
than their unexposed peers.
His fight lasted nine months.

Budget Cuts

A silent hallway,
He sits alone.
He’s packing, but the going is slow.
A man leaving home seldom wants to hurry.
Because of budget cuts, he and other
residents of the Veterans Home
will be out as of midnight.
Some of the older and disabled veterans
will join him at a nursing home.
He’ll still have somewhere to hang his hat,
but it won’t be home.
The men who served their country
were given 90 days to find a new home.
Security workers were on hand
in case there was trouble.
They don’t know what they need.
They haven’t been on their own in years.
There is little love for the decision makers.
They just want to sweep the vets under the rug.
It’s really hurt the way they done us.”
“They could have given us a little more notice,”
Some of the guys, they didn’t draw any money,
didn’t have any family,
had trouble finding a place to live.”


He can't stand Christmas music.
It irritates the hell out of him.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
But spending Christmas under attack
by the North Vietnamese 41 years ago
gutted his holiday spirit.
His son was a Christmas baby
(born while he was in Vietnam),
He was getting (shelled) all the time.
and doesn’t want to deal with the occasion.
He doesn’t see the joy in it.
It just pushes buttons.
He isn't alone in his feelings.
It's a common sentiment among veterans
who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,
and it doesn't matter where they fought.
Being in war during the holidays
creates a life-changing void.
If they're going to get depressed,
those are the days,
and it stays with them.
It's the most emotional time of the year.
It's the frivolity and commercial aspects.
All through life, things stick with them.
Why is (Christmas) such a downer?
Because it's never been an upper.
His father was a medic during World War II,
he followed in dad's footsteps.
Both were affected the same way
because of what they experienced...
His dad had PTSD and he has PTSD.
Christmas will arrive,
as will that moment when the grand kids
gleefully tear open packages.
How will he handle it?
He’ll fake it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Near Death Angel

He never expected to find a soldier
with a heartbeat in a body bag.
He didn’t know the name of the man
whose life he saved 40 years ago.
He read a story about a veteran
who had been saved when a military medic
tagging corpses found him in a body bag.
No one had checked the soldier for wounds,
he had gone into diabetic shock
and fell over when the fight occurred,
then was picked up for dead
and put in a body bag.
The soldier had never talked
about his near-death experience.
He never knew what happened to the soldier
or where he was taken.
The veterans now both in their early 60s,
first met by e-mail, phone and
then met face to face in San Diego.
It was "just a fluke" that he was reading
The magazine that day
and came across the story.
It all made sense.

Agent Orange, Once Again

He stood in a rural cemetery,
next to the casket of an old friend.
A bugler played "Taps," and
A soldier presented a flag
to his friend's wife ...
with the thanks of a grateful nation.
His friend was 60 years old.
He expected that he would outlive him.
He was killed by a cancer
caused by his exposure to Agent Orange

It made him mad.
If he survived Vietnam,
he could survive anything.
And yet he didn't survive Vietnam.
40 years after his service,
after he had attended college,
established a career,
married and started a family,
he discovered that the war
had followed him home.
Doctors removed a tumor from his abdomen.
The battle to stay alive became full time.
He fought hard and managed to hang on
until his daughter graduated from high school.
He lost his fight a few weeks later.


Doctors put him on oxygen
to help keep him alive.
But he was discharged from the VA
without the thing most essential to his survival:
The 64 year old Army veteran
struggled for breath
as his condition deteriorated.
The oxygen finally arrived,
but his heart had stopped
12 hours after his discharge.
Though it was restarted,
his brain had been irreparably damaged.
He died with the removal of life support.
It just don't seem right,
said his widow,
I just don't understand why
they didn't give it to him.
You've got to stay on the VA every minute.
He was a retired
with a wide circle of friends
who liked to hunt and fish.
He was a veteran who never
had any complaint with the care the VA provided.
A smoker and drinker,
he suffered serious health problems as he aged.
Part of his lung was removed because of cancer.
Doctors never said he was terminal,
though he was clearly very sick.
They just dropped the ball...
The family said the VA apologized profusely,
but only after the newspaper began asking about the case.

Circle Complete

He asked his dad
if he’d like to go back to Vietnam,
don’t ever ask that again.
The trip might reduce the emotional pain.
It might ease his mind.
They landed at Da Nang,
the same airport his father had arrirved
at as a 19-year-old.
It brought the war back to him vividly.
He still remembered the exact moment
his foot hit the tarmac,
and knew he was entering a war zone.
The worst months of his life.
Memories were grim.
The father and son found the firebase
at an isolated coffee plantation.
He was struck by how quiet it was,
and felt like he was standing in a cemetery.
They drank a toast of scotch to all veterans.
The war-torn Vietnam of his memories was gone,
but trip didn’t end his nightmares.
It completed the circle for him.

Time is Running Out

The air is crisp and cool.
It’s quiet around midnight.
The tourists have gone home.
A homeless Vietnam veteran stands watch.
He’s sick and is having a hard time
getting any benefits.
He wanders off into the night,
heading for the mission and a cot
where he can rest his head until morning
to begin another day
of waiting for something good
to happen to him.
The old and ailing veteran
will line up for a cot
in a mission and wonder
whether he can live long enough
to collect from the bureaucrats
what a nation owes him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Always About Vietnam

Her father’s hand hit the table.
She broke the news
she was headed to Vietnam.
He walked out the kitchen to the barn
and never said a word.
Her father was devastated.
Her mother handled it better.
Memories come easily now
for the former Army captain,
now 62
There was a time
— an entire decade —
when she refused to speak of the war
in which she served.
She cared for the soldiers,
but unprepared for what was to follow...
She came home and got on with the life
she envisioned for herself.
She married, had kids and a part-time job.
There were no missing pieces to her life
— only a hidden one.
She didn’t want people to know that she’d served.
and tried to forget the names and faces
of the dead and dying, hurt and wounded.
Night terrors roused her from sleep...
It’s always about Vietnam.


He is still walking point,
still looking out for his comrades.
The 60-year-old Vietnam veteran,
suffers from post-traumatic stress,
and wants to build a Sanctuary,
to shelter veterans
who are homeless or have disabilities
in new mobile homes.
He is in debt.
and can't afford the investment.
Combat changed him.
He tried to go back to his home,
and family and couldn't...
He stayed drunk, stayed high.
He no longer trusted anyone — and he was angry.
He had become callous and uncaring.
It would be a place for veterans to "decompress"
before reintegrating into the larger world.
Many of his "contemporaries" find society intimidating.
They distrust the VA and the government,
He believes the secluded setting
would be less intimidating
and would foster an environment of trust
but buying mobile homes isn't cheap,
and he is broke.

Healing From War

He will never forget
the face of the first man he shot.
He was just a kid,
a scared 19-year-old in a firefight.
"It was either him or me,"
but that didn't make the death
any easier to deal with.
Four decades later,
the face of the enemy soldier
still haunts his dreams,
and occasionally his waking life.
He didn't share his nightmares
with his loved ones,
and did not seek out help
He still didn't know how
to deal with his personal devils.
He first opened up about his nightmares
to a VA Chaplain
but he never intended to share
his personal problems with a pastor,
or anyone.
Most crippling is the guilt,
a confusion of core ethical beliefs
as soldiers struggle with their actions
and religious teachings,
"Thou shalt not kill."
He wasn't brought up
to kill people.
Forced to confront
suffering in terrifying ways,
some renounce their faith.
Others feel abandoned by a God
they believed to be their protector.
“The boy doesn't seem to be quite
the same since he got back.'"
There's only so much medicine can do.
He used to be tough, but now he’s weak,
or God's punishing him
for killing in combat,'
If he was smarter, he could figure it out.
It’s not about intelligence,
or about strong and weak,
and it's not about God's will.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Prison Vet

A Vietnam veteran...
he has spent the past 15 years
behind bars.
He thinks he’s found the right support
to keep him out of prison.
He belongs to a group of men
who search for help getting jobs,
training and a place to stay
when they get out.
He knows he’s not coming back.
Inmates who served in Vietnam
made up the largest share of veterans,
who returned and felt they couldn't talk
about their experiences
because their friends and family
opposed the war.
Some returned to the states
with substance abuse problems.
It was depressing
his family more or less kept it kind of quiet.
It wasn't something
they sat around and talked about.
It took him a lot of years
before he could come to terms
with even being recognized as a veteran.

A Veteran's Appeal

They make a lot of promises,
but actions speak louder than words.
When you hear the politicians speak
about how much they respect veterans
and the sacrifices they make for their country,
He has been fighting for his rights
40 years after coming home
from the Vietnam War.
He suffered nearly fatal injuries
in a war so many have forgotten.
Shot several times,
combined with exposure
to the toxic Agent Orange,
has led to lingering effects
that some doctors have said
caused a stroke and disability.
He has been battling the VA for years
to receive acknowledgement of what
VA doctors have determined,
that he is 100 percent disabled.
because of the wounds
The VA acknowledges
that exposure to Agent Orange
can lead to diabetes,
Doctors told him diabetes
could have led to the stroke.
Even though he was recommended
for 100 percent disability
by the Social Security Administration,
The VA contends, that the stroke
couldn’t be caused by the diabetes
because the diabetes wasn’t diagnosed
until he had the stroke.
His wife, had to give up her job
to take care of him after the stroke.
All the years of frustrating communication
with the VA and its procedures
has left him discouraged
but determined to continue the fight.
He wants to say to the VA,
“You inherited a healthy human being
and this is what you turned loose
after three years of service
and the gunshot wounds.”


Over 6 feet tall and 275 pounds,
carrying broad shoulders,
a thick neck and a white beard,
but he felt his 60 years
after he was hospitalized
after being attacked
by a group of youngsters
wielding baseball bats.
It was cool,
so he had the window open.
He hollered at them to keep it down.
The youths were
destroying his neighbor's mailbox,
so he and his 20 year-old son,
went outside to run the vandals off.
He wasn't expecting a war.
The Vietnam veteran,
had never been less prepared
for a fight in his life.
He was still half asleep...
the first blow took him
in the back of the head
and another soon followed
that shattered his ankle.
If he'd had time to think about it
he would have called the police.

The Death Of A Brother

The call came in the middle of the day.
It was his sister
His brother in the hospital.
The doctors say it’s the end.
He didn’t remember the rest of the call.
He has told the doctors
to turn off the life support
and his pace-maker.
It was a long night.
He slept very little,
Late the next morning,
his older brother,
had died from heart disease,
diabetes, and kidney failure.
He was 69 years old.
The last few years,
it seems he’d lost so many people.
Grief incapacitated him.
The memories (good and bad)
came flooding in,
the ache in his heart
became noticeable
by the shaking of his hands.
Night came and he relaxed
and slept with no dreams.
The memorial service...
His brother lay in the casket,
an American flag pulled
up to his chest.
His time in Vietnam had convinced him
there was no heaven or hell.
Last night, he dreamed of his brother.
Young and healthy,
he wore the uniform of a soldier
and walked towards the hills
out of sight.

Indecent Proposal

The 63 year-old Vietnam veteran
stood at attention
to receive his sentence
on indecency charges
involving young girls.
His former commanding officer
came to court to support him
and also stood at attention
among the public seats.
The old veteran had pleaded guilty
to the charges.
The judge did not give details...
There was no doubt
that all three girls
had been affected...
He served his country
as a frontline infantryman
and saw much violence,
and coped with the death of comrades
at the young age of 21 years.
The intensity of that experience
had a profound and long-term effect.
The judge said the veteran’s remorse
and his health problems,
convinced him he could use his discretion
and impose a year's home detention sentence
rather than imprisonment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Together Again

Tears flowed,
laughs were exchanged
solemn remarks were made...
the Vietnam veterans
sat around a table
Men from across the country
met to reminisce about their service
in a foreign war
more than 35 years ago.
19 and thrust into combat
He made the rank of sergeant
the insurmountable responsibility
he had at such a young age.
Hit by a land mine
injured and sent back to the rear.
He was “short” only a month to go.
He recovered from his injuries,
but never saw his friends again.
The U.S. Army sent him home,
They reunited at a reunion,
and have remained close
Many stories shared,
some tears shed,
but one thing remains constant —
the sense of honor --
proud they served.

Mother Knew Best

Their mothers were the first
to know they had it,
even when there was no name for it.
The mothers were the first to realize
their children weren’t the same
as they were before they went to war.
Vietnam veterans move from job to job,
some from wife to wife,
some from place-to-place.
Most veterans are still
in a form of denial,
because denial feels safer
than facing issues.
He worked in a plant
for 30 years,
missing work
often due to problems
later traced to his Vietnam experience.
When he went over there,
he was normal.
By the time he left there,
he was afraid to go home,
because at home
the normal was still there.
He was carrying the abnormal within
and he didn't know how
to turn it back to the normal.

No Home For The Brave?

It was always hard for him
to make the house payment.
A disabled veteran,
his mortgage payment
doesn’t seem like much.
But living on a fixed income
with a family to support
caused difficulties.
He’s more than three months
behind on his mortgage.
He’s working with the lender,
but they want their money.
Disability is a major factor,
but even veterans without disabilities
are having trouble.
They can’t make a rent payment
or mortgage payment,
or they’re losing their car,
or at least the threat is there.
The 63 year old Vietnam veteran
worries he will lose his house.
He receives VA disability payments.
and is behind on his house.
He comes up short every month
because of the increased prices
of gas and food.
He owes so much money
he barely has his eyes above water.
Problems arise
when an unexpected difficulty
breaks an already thin budget.
Something comes up
and they can’t do it.
They lose a job
or can’t get work in the first place.
What they were able to live on
six months ago
doesn’t buy the same things today.
He had big plans.
A three-bedroom condo, fully furnished.
He had two vehicles,
one fully paid for,
the other he made monthly payments.
He had to give it up too.
It hurts.
It’s not a manly feeling at all.
He tries to save money
by driving as little as possible
and spending no more than $50 a week
for food. Still, he keeps falling behind
with his mortgage.
He really doesn’t want to lose it,
but he’s about ready to pull his hair out
and give up.
He did give up when
he no longer could afford
to heat his house.
He moved into his in-laws’.
and is uncertain what his next move will be.
It’s not a good feeling at all.

Healing Trip

He will return to the place
he lost his legs.
To a place that should
conjure up bitter memories,
a place you'd think
he'd want to forget.
40 years ago he stepped
on that land mine in Vietnam
– enough time, to have healed
not only physically
but also spiritually.
His faith won't let him be bitter.
He will lead a handful
of Vietnam veterans
from across the U.S.
back to where their lives
changed forever.
He hopes the journey
will help veterans
who are still angry and resentful
to heal and forgive.
As he sees it,
he's fortunate to be alive.
He promised God if he let him live,
he'd do with his life
what he wanted him to do.
He often meets with Vietnam War veterans,
many of whom are struggling..
He encourages them to talk through
their war experiences
so they can move on with their lives.
Until a man vents,
he can't get a break.

Final Decision

He had long sought
higher disability benefits.
A Vietnam veteran
who had been denied an increase
in disability payment for years
will now receive that increase,
and back payments.
The 65-year old first submitted a claim
in 2004 asking for an increase
in his compensation.
previous rulings went against him.
He’s amazed
at receiving the letter.
He feels sorry for the people
who have not been able to do
what he was able to do.
He developed Type II diabetes
many years after his service
because of exposure
to Agent Orange.
Veterans Affairs seemed
to have interpreted
things differently
from his doctors...
until now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pawn Of A System

He’s supposed to get free
and complete medical care
from the VA...
The trick is getting in the door.
64 and dying of leukemia,
the VA is too crowded.
He has been forced
to get care outside the system --
accumulating thousands of dollars
in medical expenses.
He thinks the VA should pay.
The VA refuses.
He was a good soldier
and did what he was told...
forced out of his home
for lack of rent money,
he is living in a trailer.
He owes thousands of dollars
in co-pays and deductibles
not covered by Medicare.
The VA said federal law
ties its hands.
He hadn't realized
he was eligible for VA care.
He believes his leukemia
was caused by exposure to Agent Orange,
But the VA, refused to give him
a higher disability pension.
His health has been up and down
and he has been admitted
to a non-VA hospital five times.
VA rules are a maddening injustice.
"It's blatantly unfair," he said.
"There's no justification for this.
Bureaucrats are making the decisions,
not doctors. And they're playing God."

Living In Peace

Once homeless,
a Vietnam veteran
proudly flies
the American flag
outside his red-brick home.
The 60-year-old man
sits in the living room
of the place he's called home
for the past two-and-a-half years.
He enjoys the unconditional love
of his old white cat.
They're both survivors.
Cat was the only survivor
of a litter of kittens.
It’s the first time
he’s ever had a house.
He always lived in an apartment.
His treatments at the Veterans Hospital
turned his life around.
For the past four decades,
he has battled with post-traumatic stress.
Never married, nor a father,
just trying to care for himself
was a big enough challenge.
He couldn't see himself
sharing that burden.
He learned how to deal with PTSD
from the VA.
He’s not trying to make them look good,
but they saved his life.
It's been 40 years,
he still has nightmares.
For a while his life was pure hell.
He learned to pick up the pieces
and start over again.
Spending time with his beloved cat
and taking each day as it comes
is a source of strength.
For the rest of his life
he wants to live in the peace
that he has found.
He knows where he has been
and where he’s going.

Healing Process

The Vietnam War veteran
will never forget the time
an enemy soldier shot at him.
He suffered from PTSD
for more than two decades
without seeking help.
12 years ago the symptoms
begged for something to be done.
He still has “dreams”
of things that happened in Vietnam,
but now they are controlled.
His PTSD never goes away
but now through therapy,
it is controllable.
His wife has been passionate
about trying to call attention
to veterans with PTSD.
She will always have a connection
with the Vietnam War,
it was what was going on
in her young adult life.
Having PTSD can be like
someone with alcoholism
not admitting they
have a problem,
until the person admits it,
they are not going
to deal with it.
Everybody needs a healing process...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Road Home

Dedicating a stretch of highway
to Vietnam War veterans
will help them make peace...
They left Vietnam,
but it never left them
It’s a step toward
reconciliation with
many veterans...
They can use the memorial highway
as a “road home.”
The road has its ups and downs
like Vietnam.
At times it is turning back on itself
like it’s searching for something.
But it doesn’t know what it is.
A lot of them didn’t want
to go to Vietnam,”
but, they did.
The highway’s a constant reminder.

Mad About The Nam

He was back in Vietnam.
A Vietnamese man
had given him
a particularly hearty reception.
So glad to see you Americans!
Everything you left here still works.
There are still some hard feelings
but the fact that they could forgive us
fascinates him
The war seems to be over for them.
He doesn't think
it’s over in his own country.
It’s not over for him.
Vietnam won't be over for us
until we all die,
He makes no bones
about what the Vietnam experience
did to him --

At The Hospice For Ailing Veterans

A Christmas tree
lights up a corner.
American flags
carefully folded behind glass
in wood-frame cases...
each with a metal nameplate,
commemorate the men who died.
It's a placid retreat
where ailing veterans
can reach the end of their lives
in dignity, in a bed
instead of a hospital ward
or the street...
He’s a veteran with liver and lung cancer.
The room
where he sits
is homelike
with a big-screen TV,
and a long, comfortable couch.
Most served in Vietnam...
the alternative would likely be
a veterans hospital or nursing home
-- or worse, the street.
Society doesn't really have a feel
for what goes on in the life
of someone who has been in combat
or been in a war.
The 62 year old veteran
had lived alone in an apartment.
He moved to the hospice
for companionship.
He keeps plugging along...

The Vanishing Army

No doctor had indicated
"Agent Orange exposure"
as the cause of a Vietnam veteran’s death
– until last week.
On his death certificate,
his doctor attributed
the 65-year-old’s death
to Agent Orange,
among other causes.
For decades he and his family
had been fighting
the Agent Orange battle.
So many guys passed away,
same symptoms as his
but no doctor acknowledged
their deaths’ connection to Agent Orange.
Of late a lot of the guys
have been getting sick.
He gave instructions to his wife
not to pin on his medal bar
when he was placed in his casket.
Others noticed it too.
He didn’t want his medals on
because he would not have been
in this state
if it was not for Vietnam.
In the back of their minds
comrades also know
many of them
will not reach old age.
His passing
is a reminder to them all.
They did not mind going to war
and dying in the hands of the enemy
but to slowly die
from a silent killer
has had a devastating impact
on their lives.

Another Veteran Standoff With The Cops

His suicide threats
caused a massive traffic jam.
The 66 year old had been jailed
since his nationally televised capture
by a police SWAT team.
He felt alcoholism
and a combat flashback
caused his freeway drama.
Court-ordered psychiatric tests
revealed "alcohol played a large part"
in the three-hour freeway drama.
He tearfully said he had
"let veterans down
and himself down."
It was only the calm work
of the hostage negotiator
who talked to him
during the standoff
that prevented him
from carrying out
a suicide threat.

Help For A Vet

No longer does he have to choose
between buying food and medicine
or having the deteriorating screen
replaced on his house.
This month, he got both.
The Vietnam veteran
is having much of his home renovated,
including shelving for his kitchen cabinets,
handicap bars in his bathrooms,
exterior painting,
floor boards replaced around the house
and other odds and ends.
He and his wife are on a fixed income
so it’s a big help.
Now confined to a wheelchair.
He had a leg amputated three years ago
a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
Because he's in a wheelchair,
he couldn't move around
his house very easily.
but now he can...

Up In Flames

The old veteran lost
almost all his possessions.
The house burned to the ground.
He lost all his books,
valuable antique furniture,
china and memorabilia.
He also lost his cat.
The city sent him a letter...
they would demolish
his uninhabitable home
and assess him for the expenses
for cleanup,
including removing the tree branch
that had fallen,
struck the power lines
and caused the fire.
It’s a high-crime area.
He had to think of a benefit,
moving to a much safer place would be one.
His personality has changed since the fire.
He was sad and gruff but started to come around.
He's more content, more accepting
of what's happened to him.
He still feels the loss, but he's changed.
He probably will never be able to get over
what he lost in that fire, though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spirit In The Sky Pilot

He has dreams.
Dreams of recovery.
He sits up in a cot
at the VA Medical Center...
Every few minutes,
his face wrinkles...
he begins to cry.
The chaplain says
"Think positive!"
The 63 year old Vietnam vet
has cancer.
He admits
that he neglected
his health for years...
his eyes welling up with tears.
he can no longer speak.
He stayed away from psychiatric treatment
for fear of being labeled "crazy" .
He lapsed from his faith years ago,
He’s found faith again.
He’s a Catholic.
"There has to be something
higher than where we are.
I have to believe that."
He struggles with thoughts of death.
"If God wants me to die,"
"that's okay."
"Think positive," the chaplain says.

Collateral Damages

They put to death
a mentally disturbed Vietnam veteran
On death row for 18 years,
the 60-year-old grandfather,
was executed by lethal injection.
He was convicted of killing
a 78-year-old woman.
Attorneys argued
that he had a Vietnam War flashback
and was in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze
when he killed.
The Governor rejected an appeal for clemency
He received the Purple Heart medal
while on death row.
He spent his birthday,
counting down the hours
to his 12:01 a.m. execution
and asked that the $50
allotted for his last meal
go to homeless veterans.

Missing In Action

She knew something was wrong
when her husband couldn’t remember
their favorite fishing spot —
A Vietnam veteran
who is now 60, he
didn’t seem to know
they had a favorite spot.
He had to leave his job.
She left her job
to manage the household
and take care of him.
Her husband takes a bus
to a VA program.
He got off the bus,
but never joined his group
and wandered into a neighborhood.
A woman getting in her car
to head for work
saw “a strange man”
standing in her yard.
He seemed confused
about where he was supposed to be.
It’s not unheard of
for veterans to wander.
It generally isn’t a problem,
as police can easily spot them
and help them.
“We are committed to caring
for these veterans,” said the VA

An Old Vet -- Who Cares

He knows what it's like
to fear for his life.
He knows how it feels
to board a plane,
deploying for combat.
He knows the feeling
of making it home alive.
He’s among the last people
soldiers see as they deploy
and the first they see upon their return.
The 64-year old vet has been there
to shake their hands
and give them a token of support:
a small American flag.
"When they get on that plane,
they're gonna know
that this old Vietnam vet cares."
'It's OK to be scared.
You stay scared, you stay alive.'"
Sometimes it breaks his heart
because he asks himself,
'Which one of these people
is not coming home?'"

Silence Of The Lambs

Veterans of the Vietnam War
haven't said much.
They fought in a place
most of them knew nothing about
and for a reason most of them
only vaguely understood.
They did it at the risk of death.
They did it because
their country asked them
because they thought
it was the right thing to do.
The two wars are not unlike.
Their origins by men
with little understanding of history
We are spending our national treasure
and killing our young people and for what?
The outcry from veterans of Vietnam
has been neither particularly loud
nor particularly public,
Maybe they are confused.
Maybe the veterans of Vietnam
are weary of this war.
Maybe the veterans of Vietnam
remember how the nation
turned critical and cold
to their sacrifices
while they continued to be killed.
Or maybe they fear
what comes to those
who question war.
The nation no longer
can afford the war.
Maybe the veterans of Vietnam
just want to be left alone,
maybe they are no different
than veterans of all the wars.
After fighting many battles
all they want is peace.

Free Falling Through The Cracks

He did two tours in Vietnam .
He joined the Army as a teenager,
and is now 64 years old.
In the past months,
he has slept in motels,
in a laundromat bathroom,
at The Salvation Army
and outside in the rain.
He doesn’t want sympathy, though.
He has his challenges.
He was shot in the guts in Vietnam.
He collapsed in the bathroom
and, because of that stroke,
he now uses a walker.
It takes a half-hour
to put on his underwear
because of limited use of his left leg.
He has trouble reading
because of vision problems.
He also notices problems with short-term memory.
He needs help every day, and doesn’t know
what cracks he’s going to fall through
if somebody doesn’t help.
How many guys fall through the cracks
all over the United States.
He’s large and speaks with a raspy voice.
He saw a lot of death in Vietnam
Freedom doesn’t come cheap.


40 years later,
his spirit is still recovering.
He emits an aura of strength and serenity
that belies the trauma
that has dogged him throughout his life.
He has suffered from alcohol and drug abuse
and post traumatic stress disorder,
He was not diagnosed with PTSD until
three decades of being in and out of prisons
for armed robbery, larceny and drug dealing
and stints of living on the streets.
PTSD treatment
enabled him to turn his life around.
It was the same government
he had hated for years that saved his life.
The voices of the past are softer now
but still not silent.
They're always clamoring ... to drown out feelings,
to make me remember experiences in Vietnam.

Never Again

It’s the veterans who are fighting the war,
it’s the veterans who are left to deal
with the consequences after the war,
it’s the veterans who are left without a voice.
He unrolls a banner displaying Americans
killed and wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is a Vietnam war veteran.
Of all the people in attendance
to protest the war,
the veterans in the crowd,
had the most enlightened perspectives on the issue.
When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started,
he couldn’t help but recall memories of Vietnam.
He saw the same thing happening.
He was glued to the TV
and wanted to do something to help.
Having dealt with his own PTSD
He didn’t want to see another generation
go through the same difficulties.
The best thing he could do for them
was to help get them out of harm’s way
and get America out of the war.
“I want to make people aware of the true cost of war.”

Time Flies

Vietnam veterans
are becoming museum pieces.
They have been known
to hoist a few down
at the VFW Post.
Eventually the little group broke up.
This isn't the last reunion
for these old soldiers.
It has been 45 years since
They had such a delightful time
in the Mekong River Delta.
Vietnam guys used to be
such wild young fellows.
Time just flies
when you're getting old.

Born To Be Free

He rolls out his motorcycle,
starts the engine, and goes for a ride.
He hopped on his first motorcycle
after the Vietnam War,
and found peace and solace
He found he could get away
from civilization.
A completely different world
out there.
You’ll find
many Vietnam Veterans
on the road.
It’s an escape.
It’s freedom.
‘We went as strangers,
came home as brothers.’
A whole new generation of veterans
understand what it means
to seek escape
on a long highway.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Vietnam Veteran Lost

He’s 60 years old.
The skinny Vietnam vet
displays a Marine Corps tattoo
on his right forearm.
Once a tough guy.
He was 17 when he joined the service.
He should have been graduating
from high school.
He was killing people.
He saw things done no boy his age
should ever see.
He was never right
after he got back from Vietnam.
Wal-Mart let him go
He burned through his unemployment
and all of his savings.
Cancer ate that up.
He's broke.
He applied for help
from the VA.
It never got processed.
It was lost.
Nobody ever told him
how to get help.
When he got out of the VA hospital
they didn't say anything.
All they did was call him a cab.
The only benefit they promised him
was his burial benefit,"
A whole $300.

Welcome Home Again

Some Vietnam veterans are still struggling
with the way they were treated
when they returned home.
The memories are starting to fade.
He is almost 65 but remembers
his homecoming was like "The Twilight Zone."
He went from being on a river boat
during an ambush to being back
in the cold snow in 48 hours.
While the time he spent fighting
is long behind him,
the effect of the war has stayed with him.
He wasn't diagnosed with PTSD
until about four or five years ago.
It's nothing drastic,
like some of the guys have suffered,
but it has affected him through all these years.
He lost some friends
and saw some terrible things.

Another Crazed Vet Incident

The 61-year-old Vietnam veteran
is facing a felony
for striking and threatening
to kill his girlfriend.
He barricaded himself
inside his house.
The woman called police
and said he had grabbed her,
shoved her and threatened to kill her.
The woman fled the home screaming
and told officers that he had guns,
had a history of psychiatric problems
and was threatening to kill himself.
He finally came out unarmed.
Inside the man’s home,
police fund four loaded guns
as well as two drums of jet fuel.
It wasn’t illegal
to possess the jet fuel
but the fuel had the potential
to blow up his house.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What A Way To Go

A 60-year-old homeless man
who used a wheelchair
was found dead behind a convenience store
police think the death was accidental.
Jimmy had a wound on the back of his head
It appears he went behind the Food Mart
to use the bathroom.
Investigators suspect he stood up,
then fell and hit his head,
"We’re not treating it as a homicide
at this time.
It looks accidental
and we’re awaiting medical examiner reports."
So sad. He was a Vietnam veteran.
60, homeless, pissing behind a building.

Poetry Man

He started writing poetry
to block out the pain of Vietnam.
He's encouraging other writers
to share their writing and learn from each other.
The 60 year old Vietnam veteran
meets with a group of other veterans
The majority are Vietnam veterans,
but there's one or two from the Iraq War.
A person goes through these things
and doesn’t think anybody else
has ever experienced them,
and you find out they have..
He served in the Army in Vietnam
"It lasted my whole life," he said.
Poetry is therapeutic.
Poetry tends to cut out the clutter.

Welcome Home

A 60-year-old man assaulted
while watering plants in a traffic circle
is a Vietnam veteran who survived the war
only to be critically injured
and left to die in his own hometown.
It's hard to describe.
It's something you wouldn't wish
on your worst enemy,
There's no cause for it.
A man walked up to him
and slugged him during the incident,
described as "roundabout rage."
The punch knocked the veteran
to the pavement, and he landed
flat on the back of his head,
cracking his skull.
The victim took great pride
in maintaining the traffic circle,
next to his home.
He is a former lieutenant
who served in Vietnam,
who now loved gardening
and taking care of his dogs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just An Old Man

A reclusive Vietnam veteran
was found murdered
at his home in the hills.
The 62 year old was killed
by blunt force trauma.
The homicide has people feeling edgy
Neighbors called the crime
“very disturbing”
they couldn’t imagine why anyone
would want to kill an old man
who mostly kept to himself.
He did not have electricity or running water
and often slept in his truck.
He could often be seen riding
his off-road motorcycle
or four-wheeler around the area,
a heavily-wooded hilly spot.
He was a “nice guy”
with no wife or children.
“Nobody bothered him,
and he didn’t bother anybody else.”
“It’s pretty weird,”
“He was just an old man.”
He “had some phobias,”
sometimes thinking
he was being spied on or watched.

A Classic Example

He’s a classic example
of an individual that was never
able to transition back
He died homeless,
alone in the woods on a mattress.
He was buried
with a General present,
an honor guard made
a rifle salute
to the deceased Vietnam veteran.
He died of natural causes from heart failure.
Just another casualty of the Vietnam War.
It just took a few more years
to run its course.
The 64 year old was buried
next to his father.
Both were sergeants in the U.S. Army.
The father in World War II,
His son in the Vietnam.
He graduated in 1967
signed up for the Army,
to fight in Vietnam.
He just wanted to put in
his two years
and get out.
He returned
but he didn't really leave Vietnam.
People expected him to be
the same person that left,
but he was different.
His dad saw the difference.
"You're shell-shocked,"
He was found in a small wooded area
behind a gas station.
A lot of people knew of him.
He was homeless
for at least 25 years.
There's no clear record
of what happened to him
after his tour in Vietnam.
A classic example of an individual
that was never able to transition back.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Wounds

They are graying, balding, and bespectacled.
It took nearly 30 years
before they could bring themselves
to the mental health clinic.
Only recently have they begun
to deal with the psychological wounds
that they sustained in Vietnam.
Many are retiring,
giving them
more time alone
with their memories.
As they age,
many have quit drinking
and using drugs,
which they had used to cope.
Some are dealing with family issues
— like the death of a spouse
or birth of a grandchild
— that prompt them
to re-evaluate their lives.
Others have succumbed
to a barrage of graphic images of war.
mechanisms used over the past 40 years,
aren't working anymore.
You can only drink so much.

The Ghost Of Christmas Present

Hours before his frozen, lifeless body
was found underneath a bridge on Christmas eve,
He told a friend
he was fed up with life
on the streets.
He was cold.
He was tired.
He was ready to change his life.
But, it was to late.
The middle-aged veteran
was found dead,
wearing just a light jacket
no hat or gloves.
It looked like he fell asleep
and froze to death.
He was frozen solid.
He was not
your typical homeless person
who felt society
owed him something.
He was just on hard times
and didn't know
how to deal with things.
He died
a block
from a shelter.


There's a thin line
between despair and hope.
He sleeps on a bare mattress
on the carpeted floor
of a warm room for homeless veterans.
He and three other men share a house.
The walls are almost bare.
On top of the refrigerator
sits an array of pill bottles
which fail to stop the nightmares
he’s suffered since returning home
from Vietnam 30 years ago.
He works to stay sober
attending meetings four times a day.
It has been a 36 year battle with the bottle.
A stable place to live
has altered the pattern of crisis.
He has a place he can call his own
and his feet are grounded.
Hope discovered in the routine of daily life.
There are wicked, wicked, wicked nightmares.
The VA gives him all kinds of pills to forget.

Delayed Death Syndrome

It seems like every month
they are falling like flies.
He was 59
when found dead in the late winter.
Evicted from public housing,
he died of hypothermia.
It was 29 degrees that night.
The body was found in tattered clothes
and his shoes were held together by string.
It took three months to find next of kin
--his mother is in her eighties
She’s in failing health --
her son in cold storage.
She had braced herself for a call
when he was in Vietnam.
She wrote the president
to send her son home before he died.
He lost his mind
and his memory in Vietnam.
No one broke through the walls of his silence
and trauma to help him.
Death was the inevitable result
and it was neither sweet nor proper.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Joe is Dead

Now that Joe is dead
people are rushing to honor him.
He was a Vietnam veteran.
A sergeant in the Army.
They carried his flag-drapped casket
to the national cemetery
where a cluster of strangers in uniform saluted.
A chaplin prayed, a recording of taps was sounded.
A funeral home donated it's services
to keep him out of the pauper's cemetery.
When Joe was in the hospital
and barely breathing,
doctors hovered over him for a week.
No telling how much money
it cost to keep him alive.
His friends wonder
why attention wasn't given to him
as he huddled in the cold,
homeless, psychotic and filthy,
before he was beaten
outside a downtown church.
The former soldier was killed
for a few dollars.
He was on a public street.
The VA hospital declined
to admit him for treatment.
He was not a threat to himself or others.
He was assaulted by thugs
and beaten to death
all alone in the cold.

Warning Sign

He left for war in 1966 a boy
and came back a drunkard,
pill-popper and cocaine addict.
His former boss and former wife
will tell you he came back
an all-around pain in the ass
with a vicious temper
and venomous mouth
he couldn't control.
His mother took him in
when he couldn't afford a place
to live because paying for booze
and dope came first.
He might have ended up homeless.
That's what war does to you.
That's what combat can do.
Behind a haunting blue-eyed stare,
he offered his warning to soldiers fighting
America's new war on terror
and those who will go later.

Land Of The Lost

The closest thing he has to an address
is a mail box inside the Mail Box store.
61 years old, a Vietnam veteran
and retired government employee.
He resents being called an eyesore.
He and his wife have been homeless
for months
and live in the park.
It's a traumatic experience.
He doesn’t know where they will go.
No place to stay.
He can't drive.
No bus pass.
Treated like dirt
because they have no control of their lives.
He’s tried everything.
It's rich against poor.
He served his country in Vietnam
and got decorated.
No one cares that he’s a veteran
or disabled or old.
The couple go to the park each night
and leave at dawn pushing a cart
with their belongings
to the shopping center to their mailbox
hoping to find something in the mail
like a little bit of money.

The Man In 103

He once dodged bullets for his country in Vietnam.
He dodges cockroaches in a flea-bag motel now days.
Stuck in Room 103,
he can't find a place to stay in the city.
Stuck in a rat-infested place,
he’s like hundreds of veterans
living in cars, motels or on the street.
He knows one veteran who lives at a dorm
for employees of the race track.
Another veteran wanders down Broadway.
He knows of some veterans who camp in the woods.
Vets are living with their brothers and sisters
because they can't afford rent.
Too proud to say they are hurting
and at their ropes end
for a warm place with food.
He has practically given up.
Just a cardboard box of possessions
in his motel room.
Troubled by the stress of a long lost war,
he takes a van to the VA hospital
and looks for an apartment.
and tries not to come back to Room 103
until the traffic and shouting
coming through the paper-thin walls
quiets at night.

Dead Friends

A few days ago
he found his friend
dead at the shopping plaza.
The 65 year old homeless Vietnam veteran
was found dead himself
in the same plaza.
He found his friend dead
behind a pet store.
He was found dead
near a supermarket on the plaza.
His last known address
was the Veterans Hospital
Officials say He died of natural causes.
His friend died of heart disease.

To The Mainstream

So many men have suffered for years in silence.
They don't know why they suffer daily.
It always affects their home life and jobs.
He lives in a new home for veterans.
A place to form a family and start over.
It's a colonial-style house
near a doctor's office and residence.
A home for four.
He’s the only resident.
A disabled Vietnam veteran
who's clean and sober.
He gets 800 dollars a month.
“Where are you going to live on that?”
He wants to rebuild family values
and look at how he got to be where he is.
There's no one to pamper him.
It's a last step in getting out
of the being homeless
and back to the mainstream.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Lesson Never Learned

He’s a veteran of the Vietnam war.
He was in detox last month, then in a halfway house.
He used to wake up drinking and went to bed drinking.
His energy was slowly leaving his body.
He had just enough strength to get out of bed and grab a beer.
One in four homeless Americans are veterans.
More veterans are coming home from war
and things are not likely to get any better.
“This nation has not learned our lesson from Vietnam
and the same thing is happening all over again.”

You Can't Get Money From A Dead Man

He could barely afford food
with the Veteran's benefits he received.
He had no other income.
A diabetic
with high blood pressure,
he could not work.
The 59 year old Vietnam veteran
was living a happy life.
A VA letter demanded repayment
of $43,000.
“He could pay by cash, check or credit card.”
The VA cut off his benefits,
and the letters kept coming.
It was the last straw.
A note was found next to his body.
"(Expletive) you, you can't get money from a dead man," .
"Zero income - thanks a lot, dumb ass."
He took a .22 caliber handgun,
put it to his forehead and fired.
"‘You can pay by check, money order or credit card'?
He hardly had enough money
to put food on the table
and they cut off his benefits.

The Way It Should Be

They won't be sending him
to the university's
body farm, after all.
Instead, the 65, Vietnam War veteran
found dead in the trailer where he lived
will be given a military burial.
They could not find a relative
or anyone to claim his body.
It was discovered
that he was a disabled veteran
living on a VA pension.
He was saved
from going to the body farm.
He had heart trouble
but was getting care.
He served his country and
will have a military burial.
That's the way it should be
It shouldn't be any other way.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

His Mission

Seven days a week,
the 60-year-old Vietnam veteran
takes copies
of the Daily News
over to VA-
the last stop for some veterans.
The newspaper is his calling card,
They don't get a lot of visitors.
If their eyes are too weak to read,
he reads the headlines
and stories to them.
The veterans don't have a lot;
and miss the paper...
After delivering the papers,
he drops in on the veterans
fighting drug and alcohol abuse,
trying to find their way home.
VA doctors told him to take it easy...
living on 35 percent of his heart,
instead of walking his route
he uses a motorized wheelchair
to give his heart a break.

A Futile Battle

He wishes he were younger
so he could fight in the war.
He likes killing,
or so he says.
A Vietnam veteran,
he's pushing 60 but looks 70.
They call him Mad Dog.
He swears he has stopped drinking.
but he's still drinking.
The results of a chest X-ray:
suspicious lesion, probable lung cancer.
He decides it's just a shadow.
He'll get a biopsy.
The truth will surface soon enough.
His mother, father, brother and oldest sister
died of lung cancer.
The odds are not in his favor.
He walks stiffly out of the office,
Mad Dog, out to do battle -
a battle he will lose.

Peace Of Mind

A Vietnam veteran
who tried to numb his pain
with a bottle,
found it led nowhere.
He cannot change the past,
or cannot erase his identity.
He has seen war,
but has found peace
in his art.
It keeps him sober.
He struggles with PTSD
and probably will
for the rest of his life.
He had given up art
because of alcoholism.
He began painting again,
this year,
and has been at it every day since.
For a while, he didn't even know
what was real.
His mind had to clear.
He had to find a way
to help himself.

Return Trip

He just needed to go back
to see what the country was like,
he didn't like the way we left Vietnam.
It always kind of haunted him.
He needed to go back.
Children were not receiving
proper care
amid rampant poverty.
He kept going back to help,
for as long
as he can.
Homeless, blind, HIV-positive,
Agent Orange-affected
and mentally and physically
disabled children
among the victims
he encountered.
Money spent seems small,
but it goes a long way.
He’ll always be glad he went back,
it has made him count his blessings
and appreciate life more then ever.


He lives life in the fast lane,
and works the busy corner
"Homeless Hungry Vet"
on a Budweiser carton.
A woman pulls alongside
and offers a candy bar
and a box of breakfast food.
A smile, then she's gone.
Most 60-year-old men
might be eyeing retirement,
he just keeps working his corner,
relying on strangers for everything
spare change to a cold pizza.
His home is beneath a highway overpass.
He served
in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He admits to a beer,
now and then, but
he’s not an alcoholic.
Most of the time,
folks will share a pocketful of change,
or the occasional dollar bill.
On a typical afternoon,
he'll take in $2 to $20...
Most cars pass him by.
"Get a job, you bum.”
He's embarrassed
to stand on a corner,
showing need.
And humbled.

The Homeless

The veterans gather
in the park.
A Veterans’ Memorial is nearby...
In clusters of three or four,
sitting in the shade, passing the hours...
part of the landscape.
They talk loudly, with references
to which unit they served in,
or something about “when I was in….
Some wear camouflage jackets,
perhaps to remind them
of a time when they had firmer identity.
Listen to their stories,
they offer a clue
to how the nation ended up
with so many homeless veterans.
Stories in how people slip toward instability --
drug and alcohol addiction,
lack of mental health treatment,
lack of job skills,
their own failings.
that slipped them away from society.
But they are still a part of it.

His Death

He died aged just 59
from alcohol and smoking.
He battled emphysema
and was on oxygen tanks
for up to 16 hours a day
towards the end of his life.
He was a very heavy smoker
and liked the brown fluid.
It took its toll on him,
As with a lot of Vietnam veterans,
he picked up the habits
in the military
and brought it back home.
He served as a regular soldier
in the Vietnam War
and was “very proud” of his medals.
His death hit home to his fellow veterans
when they wrote a death notice.
They got a little bit emotional,
They pride themselves on being tough bastards
but started getting misty eyed.
They can't forget 40 years of friendship.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Proper Burial

He spent the past few years
of his life alone inside
his one-bedroom apartment.
Television kept him company.
His wife’s
remains sat in a urn
atop the refrigerator.
Diabetes had ravaged
the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran's feet.
He had few visitors.
When he died inside his apartment,
few knew who he was
or that he had received a Purple Heart
as a medic in Vietnam.
He suffered from PTSD.
A funeral home donated
the casket in which he was buried.
The urn containing his wife's ashes
buried inside the casket with him.
A graveside service
with full military honors
A man
who served his country.
Buried with dignity and respect.
That's the least he deserved.


She stepped forward on her 85th birthday
to ensure the voice of her late son,
had not been stilled.
He was 62 when he joined
the swollen ranks
of Vietnam veterans
who have chosen to die
by their own hand.
He died
at a VA office.
His case at the VA
had been poisoned
by misinformation and lies.
"For that reason alone
I ended it where and as I did.”
His experiences in and after Vietnam
left him feeling at times
like he was engulfed by a big black hole.
His mother sat with photos of him
at her hands
as she delivered his message.
"Look after the other Vietnam vets
and do more for them,"
She read aloud
the last lines of the funeral message:
"Remember the good and fun times we had together.
Be there for each other until your pain goes away."
Then, with misted eyes,
she added her own footnote.
"It never does."

PTSD Ain't Easy

PTSD never goes away...
veterans can learn
how to live with it.
Recovery is a long process...
Many veterans still
have a lot of problems.
It’s a day-to-day thing...
some have to be heavily medicated.
Frustrated and tired of dealing with it,
some vets consider suicide,
it’s a really bad place.
The more one isolates
the more likely PTSD,
Treatment gives tools to help.
But recognizing when the mind
reaches a danger zone
and when to pick up
available coping tools
is up to the individual.
Like everything else,
it takes practice and discipline,
You’ve got to motivate yourself
to pick up the tools.
It’s really hard.

Old And In The Way

The 61-year-old veteran says,
The VA is soliciting the young vets
while on the other hand
the VA is telling him to go home.
Isn't that strange?
Older veterans pushed out
to make room for young vets.
He’s convinced
the government is abandoning him.
It's like a slap in the face.
If you flip out again, call 911.
The VA’s mantra continues to be --
There is no policy on cutting back
on services for Vietnam vets.
Veterans suspect a sinister motive.
It’s the only thing that keeps him alive.
“It helps a lot.”
Some might wonder
how, 40 years after returning from Vietnam,
how veterans can be so dependent
upon group counseling.
He had been suffering since Vietnam,
and didn't get diagnosed until three years ago.
The aging Vietnam veteran feels,
just when he’s getting some help,
the rug is being pulled out from under him.
That makes it pretty hard,
“You have to fight for everything."

Chi Man

His eyes sparkle behind thick glasses
and his silver beard is almost
to his belt.
The veterans follow
the little man’s fluid moves.
He was a medic in Vietnam.
Drafted into the Army at age 18.
He was good at grabbing people
and putting them back together.
But that’s also how he got PTSD.
Tai chi helped save him.
War bothers him.
He can’t stop war --
he knows that --
but helping veterans
calm down
so they don’t waste years
like he did
trying to get his head
screwed back on straight.
Breathing is the key.
Breathing is pill-free.
It works.
He used to be angry about Vietnam,
but he’s glad he lived through hell.
As an older man with that experience,
is like someone who’s thankful
for the experience of cancer.
It’s hard to understand
unless you’ve been through it.

37 Years Later

He died
at the age of 56,
combat injuries
caused lifelong pain
and premature death.
The war is not over.
People die every day
from wounds
received in Vietnam.
A casualty of war,
37 years later.
He plugged away living
on borrowed time.
Wounds and exposure to Agent Orange
caught up with him.
He knew the time had come,
laid to rest, as he wished,
among fellow veterans.
Vietnam veterans were short-changed
They went as teenagers
and were forced to become men.
Along with that came
incredible emotional scars.
Nobody will ever convince the family
he wasn’t a casualty of war.
It’s all there in his medical records.
He gave his life the day he was wounded,
and his soul was taken 37 years later.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day 2009 Part III

War is relegated to history.
for most people.
For others
war becomes
part of their daily lives.
It infects
their dreams,
their families,
their jobs
their relation
to the world.
Forever stranded
place and time,
spirit and body
wounded and defiled.
Returning from war,
they are proud
not because
they are happy
to have gone to war --
the human part of man
should be ashamed
he went to war --
that part of him
which feels pride
is the vain part of man,
the empty part of man.
The human part has the shame.
Who better represents
the preciousness of life,
the need for peace
the human cost of making war.

Memorial Day 2009 Part II

He sat on a bench
by the corner store.
His face weathered
and clothes worn
A cart of cans next to him.
As a young man,
he went to war.
Devoted to duty
and service,
love of country
and respect
for it’s leaders.
Today, on the street
cast aside,
like the junk
he collects.
Has his country
served him as well,
as he served it?

Memorial Day 2009

The somber sounds of a bagpiper...
Friends and family call out the names
of loved ones
who had returned
from the Vietnam War
only to die a premature death.
Her father died of cancer,
attributed to Agent Orange.
Many post-service deaths were attributed
to post-traumatic stress disorder.
She hopes the memorial will bring
some measure of comfort
to the families and friends
of those who died.
It will remind them their loved ones
are not forgotten

Old Vets Social Club

It's a quiet night
in a community veterans' hall
men who served in Vietnam
gather for a support group
with no mental health expert.
it can take months,
to see a psychiatrist
at the VA clinic, .
The veterans complain
they're hurried in and out.
The VA deny long waiting times
for psychiatrist appointments.
They call on each other at all hours.
With no psychiatrist
the only emergency services they have
are each other,
After years of suppressing rage
and drinking away memories of Vietnam,
emotions are erupting more regularly
provoked by the latest war.
It didn't used to be this bad.

Whatever It Takes

She buried her husband
the man she loved
but really he
died years earlier.
after a year in Vietnam.
the war began once he returned home.
It ended when he was shot
and killed by police
holding granddaughter at knifepoint,
refusing to let her go.
He knew he was done.
There was no doubt in his mind,
and there was no doubt in her mine.
It was just a matter of when.
He returned a different person.
Life was not normal in their world.
Still, she stuck by him for 38 years,
Until this fall.
It was over.
He began drugs.
Within a few months,
he was dead.
"They program these guys to kill
without a conscience.
You can't send them home
to families like that,
that's when the war begins."

Rage Erupts

Depression engulfed him.
He was shot in Vietnam.
He would rage.
always drunk.
not right in his head...
when he was drinking,
it got worse.
He was on the couch, naked,
his wife in the bedroom,
stabbed to death.
It was sad, but not surprising.
He was slowly going downhill.
She was in a living hell.
worn down by abuse.
so sweet,
she just didn't talk
became a recluse.
Police gathered around the home.
Neighbors gazed from behind yellow tape.