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.