Poetry of the Vietnam War

For other poems on the Vietnam War see the Penny Rock page.

Back to Main Index

Soldiers in Vietnam War

Vietnam - Picture supplied by Mike Subritzky

Mike Subritzky - Midnight Movie

Paul Hellweg - Two poems
 

Poems by Curt Bennett, Former US pilot on active service in Vietnam

Poem Titles

VIETNAMESE MORNING

THE SCHOOL

ONE FINE DAY

SPOOKY

PROFANITY

THE STING

ARC LIGHT

LIFE

NIGHT

JET PILOT

ON THE HUMP

YOUNG MEN

THE BEAUTY OF WAR

MEDEVAC

THE PATROL

MORTARS

SOLDIER'S ROLE

WAR TRAUMA

WAR CARGO

AMERICA

Back to Main Index

Paul Hellweg

Paul Hellweg served in Vietnam from May 1968 to April 1969.  He once published
poetry regularly, but stopped writing poems twenty-five years ago – until now.

 

Dance to the Music

Here comes the music,
rotor blades chop-chopping,
red cross blazing high and wide,
and when I'm safe,
            all tucked inside,
the war is over,
            that I know,


I just wish
            the boyish Crew Chief
            with eyes so large
            and face so blanch,


I just wish
            he'd learn to dance.

Paul Hellweg


Progress

Lady Macbeth,
poor soul,
didn't have any Comet Cleanser,
thank god

I have
            a
            big
            supply.

Paul Hellweg


VIETNAMESE MORNING

Before war starts
In early morning
The land is breath taking.
The low, blazing, ruby sun
Melts the night-shadow pools
Creating an ethereal appearance.

Each miniature house and tree
Sprouts its, long, thin shadow
Stretching long on dewy ground.
The countryside is panoramic maze,
Jungle, hamlets, hills and waterways,
Bomb-craters, paddies, broken-backed bridges.

Rice fields glow sky-sheens,
Flat, calm, mirrored lakes
Reflect the morning peace.
The patchwork quilted earth,
Slashed by snaking tree-lines,
Slumbers in dawn's blue light.

Sharp, rugged mountain peaks
Sleep  in a soft rolling blanket
Of clinging, slippery, misty fog.
Effortlessly, languidly, it flows
Shyly spreading wispy tentacles out
To embrace the earth with velvet arms.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

THE SCHOOL

The early morning warmed
As down the dusty road
The big truck wheeled.
If was full of Officers and me
From the bombing squadron
On their way to school.

Through the small Ville of An-Tan
They drove the narrow, crooked streets
Bounding the battered, small shell houses.
Green algae ditches held swarming water,
Bars, Massage, and Dancing, red signs
Proclaiming business as usual.

The village people stared at the truck.
Quietly they stood, old peasant stock
With broken, dark-red stained teeth
And yellow wax in their ears
While white, tiny lice specks
Grazed on the black, oily hair.

Slowly the truck drove the pontoon bridge
Built by the Corps of Engineers.
On the other side on the right
Sat the villager's school
Enclosed by a wire fence,
It sat shadowed under the tall trees.

Whitewashed patched walls,
Cracked faded red roof-tiles,
Staring glassless, black window squares.
A broken, open wooden door,
A tired flagpole
Drooping its weary, red-yellow rag.

No teeter-totters, no monkey bars,
See-saws or jungle gyms,
Swings or rings, or merry-go-rounds.
Only hard packed red earth
Beaten flat and even
By thousands of little bare feet.

The children abruptly stopped
Their rowdy, noisy play
Growing quiet, suddenly still,
Watching the big Americans
Climb down off the green truck
And walk warily through the front gate.

Shyly, the kids huddled behind each other
Peering out with button-bright eyes
Shining their bug-like faces.
The older children stood apart,
Slinging their younger, thumb-sucking brother
Across small, bony child hips.

The children's hair was cut quite short,
The girls wore little pajamas,
The boys, shorts and T-shirts.
All wore shower-tong sandals of rubber.
A few had on their white straw hats,
The rest were bare headed.

The two male schoolteachers were young,
Somewhere in their 20's,
They stood just outside on the stoop
With nervous eyes watching everything,
Holding hands, they smiled widely
Displaying their shiny gold teeth.

Their singsong soft voices
Ordered the children in line
For the ceremony,
"Scholarships" would be awarded,
Worth about ten American dollars
To the most "deserving".

A big, gangling American…
A small Vietnamese child…
Big hands, to little ones…
A grateful bow of thanks,
An awkward bend of acknowledgement,
There were no communication problems.

How strange, how different,
This parody of children here
Compared to those in the States.
These poor kids had NOTHING!
And for most of the,
The bleak future held the same.

These were the innocents,
These, the ones
Who stood to lose the most,
To hurt the most
And with no way
To every change anything.

They would grow up to the sound
Of howling airplanes and rumbling artillery,
Constant, never ending noises of war,
Of stupid ideologies tearing at each other,
Killing, destroying wiping everything away,
And in the end, it is all bullshit!

 
The squadron Flight Surgeon
Moves among the kids,
Some already had lost some teeth,
Some had not teeth at all.
One small boys ears were full of red dirt
Crawling with little, black speckled bugs.

For most of the Americans
This was the first true contact,
Their initial meeting face to face
With the children over here
Who were about the same size and shape
Of little brothers and sisters back home.

The mood grew strangely quiet and awkward
As each pilot slowly realized
That kids just like these were his fleeing targets
Running before his dull, yellow bombsight
The second before he thumbed the button
And released his tumbling napalm.

"Ring around the rosy,
A pocket full of posy.
Ashes…ashes…all fall down…."

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

ONE FINE DAY


As far as the eye could see
The cloud cover stretched the horizon,
Broken only by tops of tallest mountains,
A soft, gauze mantle protecting the earth,
As to the east, the day star sun
Glowered the horizon in yellow fierceness
Promising to soon burn the thin mantle off
And bake the tropical forests below.

We loitered, skimming the cool, white sky sea,
The shadows of our aircraft ringed in rainbows
Hanging in silence the stillness of the morning
The radios crackled quietly in the background,
From unseen frantic men in crises below,
Running from an enemy closing in to kill them,v
As helicopters swarming the clouds below
Urgently coordinated the rescue.

The first Huey labored up and broke the clouds,
Trailing wispy tendrils of cloud-moisture
Off the ends of frantically whipping white-tipped blades,
Rotors fingers hungrily clawing the thick morning air.
An umbilical rope stretching down dragging behind,
Attached to six desperate men clinging to the cord,
Like fish anchored to a line, they trailed the clouds.

Slowly the Huey gained altitude climbing towards the sun,
Then another and another rose from the clouds,
Each trailing men holding on for life,
Green khaki knots they stretched the wind.
We lazily turned parallel to escort the Hueys
Back to the nearest landing zone
Where they would take aboard the men
They had rescued from certain death.
 
As we turned in orbit behind the choppers,
One of the green blobs lost hold on his lifeline,
Plummeted, arching towards his death.
In helpless, grim fascination, we watched him go
Plunging down through the quiet morning sun.
At the last moment, he spread his arms out wide,
Like Jesus on a cross, he swan dived and seemed to float,
For a brief moment skimming the clouds
Then disappeared.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

SPOOKY

Soft falls the veil of twilight dusk,
The blushing sun has turned to rust
To linger soft above the hills.
A canopy of darkness spills
And creeps in pools of easy gray.
Now sleep sun nods out the day
Yet shouts one final, bursting blaze
That paints the cloud tips honey glaze
Then all…is dark.

                Far down below
The troops align in ragged rows
Along the twisting ridge, as around
The hillside plunges sharply down
To disappear in blackened gloom,
The dank abyss of jungle tomb.
Where all is black, there is no light.
The Enemy controls the night.

Each man has hacked his rocky turf
Into a shallow hole.  The clumpy earth
Fills grungy sandbags spaced around
The slight depressions in the ground.
Here the boys will try to sleep
While others watch the forest deep
To listen for the dreaded sounds
The  "thunk" of incoming mortar rounds.

They gulp their dinner from a can,
The cold grease curdles with the ham
Packed so many years ago.
Briefly blooms a muffled glow
Of shaded cigarette.  The listening post
Sits 90 yards away at most.
Three men with radio hear the night
As ears replace the need for sight.


Now tired bones stretch out to rest
Sore, aching muscles strong protest
The rigors of the hump.  For five long days
They have trudged and fought the jungle maze,
Up one hill then down another,
Each one more brutal then the other
Searching for an elusive enemy
Who has vanished in the jungle sea.

Night slams down.  Through charcoal space
Sail bits of stars in haughty grace.
They hover soft in ageless light,
To dust and sparkle inky night.
Across the far-flung rimless sky
Where unknown distant planets lie,
Where milky rivers flow and sweep
The trackless cosmos of the deep.

The night relaxes, now it drowses..
A man-made night sound now arouses
The listening post!  They strain to hear…
It comes again this time quite near!
The sounds of bodies crawling grass…
Creeping up towards the pass!
Three muffled "clicks!" of radio sound
Alert the camp, they go to ground
And wait!

                It happens fast!
The night is rent by rocket blast!
Claymores "BOOM" and steel balls smash!
Now heavy guns join and muzzles flash
And cough to chug their deadly balls
Of snarling lead!  Frantic calls
For help!  Confusion!  Emotions join the battle
As the tattoo sound of rifle-rattle
Stammers in the din!
 

                From the coast
Drones an ancient, spectral ghost.
It rises from its earth-bound lair
To graze upon the cool night air.
It lumbers straight towards the sight
Of glowing tracers in their flight.
The radios relay the ground situation
As "Spooky" arrives at his battle station.

It lumbers high, this grand old plane
Whose piston engines spit blue flame
While it makes an easy left hand turn
To orbit o're the tracer's burn.
Now Spooky kicks out one big flare
That blossoms in candescent glare
That paints the jungle bluish-white
Where silent bullets snap and bite!

Now sounds the eerie, deadly moan
Of automatic cannons heavy groan.
A red river of fire arches down
To join old Spooky with the ground.
The pilot's gun sight is his wing
That guides the iron bees that sting
So bad!  And like a chef will stir the soups,
The pilot stirs his dripping groups
With easy wave of wing.

                
                                  No lights
Betray his presence on the heights.
A flitting shape that blinks the stars,
Betrayed by ropes of fire that scars
And sears the blackberry night.
If pauses for a moment there,
Once more kicks out a chuting flare
That lazily floats and drifts on down
To march the shadows on the ground.

Its deadly, scarlet fire-broom
Sweeps the crowded jungle gloom
In close-packed death.  Each round
Strikes one meter of the ground,
A greedy hail of swarming rain,
Unbroken streams of iron chain,
That gouges tears, rips and gashes,
Whipping the earth with lethal lashes.

Now flailing up in swift return
A streak of green bolts glow and burn!
As an AK returns his stitching seam,
Green salmon swimming ruby stream!
Spooky pauses in mild curiosity,
Then pisses in impunity
A molten trail of deadly force
That smothers the fire at its source.

Now…all is still, all is done.
No way, the enemy will overrun
Tonight.  Spooky takes a lap or two,
But no new fire shoots into view.
Spooky growls, turns on his lights,
In hopes of drawing green fire-bites,
But nothing stirs along the ground,
And nothing moves..there is no sound.

At the listening post in chewed up mud
The radio sprawls all soaked in blood.
Three bodies cool.  The sacrifice
To "Friendly Fire".  So high this price
To pay.  Cold stars prick eternal space
Their faint lights blush the dead men's face
Who gape the sky with sightless eyes…
And only night birds eulogize…
The loss.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

PROFANITY

When hungry bullets
Chew into soft airplane bodies
Sending dials and gauges
Spinning in whirling circles…

When the little red warning lights
Scream in alarm, "blink-red", "blink-red", "blink-red"!
It is then you discover
The beauty of profanity!
And the need to know all the words!
But in no particular order.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page


 THE STING

Once again the morning crept as silent stood
The clearing.  Slowly breaks the new born day
Of fuzz light in shafts of gray
Now split the trees of black.  A jungle bird
Gives voice to song that few have heard
Save those who watch from thickened wood.

They see the gently rising knoll
Where in the center, tightly bound,
The white-man lay tied to the ground
With heavy ropes to thickened stakes.
How soft the whimper that he makes
As pain and agony take control.

The sweat is drained from thirsty pores,
His shattered clothes in tatters lie.
The bullet holes have crusted dry
In rusty scabs.  While all around
The buzzing flies have swarmed on down
To feast upon the cracking sores.

There is the coolness of the shade
The squatting figures have no care
Or passion for the dying man.  They are there
For bigger prey, he is but the bait.
There is no hurry, they can wait
For the rescue to be made.

And soon the tiny plane flies by
To circle 'round the open site.
What thing has happened in the night
That leaves a man tied in the grass?
What evil things might come to pass?
Perhaps its best to pass him by.

 
He makes a run, a token pass,
Then from the torn and broken ground
The dying man has heard the sound,
So near but still so far.  He struggles to arise
His movements catch the pilot's eyes
….The fateful die has now been cast!

The FAC plane wheels beyond the hill
To radio back his frantic quest
For help.  From the east and from the west,
The iron birds gather circling high,
Not caring if the bullets fly,
Hungrily they wait the chance to kill.

And down they swoop in screaming runs,
Now napalm spews its splashing breath,
And rockets "whoosh" from pods of death,
As cracking bombs flash brilliant light
And scything iron.  The day is night
As rolling black clouds hide the sun.

And then, the stinging silence reigns once more.
The blackened trees and broken ground
Tremble, swaying to the sound
Of eerie silence.  Slowly coming into view
The rescue chipper and its crew
Head down towards the meadow floor.

The rotor blades whack out their beat,
The skids slide inches from the trees,
Whose branches bend like flattened seas
Before the wind.  Then like a falling stone,
The chopper hammers to the zone
Then fares and hovers in the heat.
 

The man below flails wild his head
And strains against the biding ties.
The bobbing helo fills the skies,
Blacking out his sun.  From its door
The crew chief leaps from engines' roar
To cut him from his cruel bed.

Crouching low he makes his run
And slashes free the rope that ties.
Too late! He sees the screaming eyes
And hearts the trigger's muffled snap!
The blinding flash of booby-trap
Engulfs the two as one.

The Huey staggers with the stroke,
Binds and crumples with the heat
And slams to earth.  The burning meat
Is mingled with the scorching fire.
A crackling, tumbling funeral pyre
Mounting with the greasy smoke.

Then sudden stillness softly sighs…
The crackling fire dwindles down
To blend with ashes on the ground.
The rolling smoke has lost its surge,
And now is but a distant dirge
That wanders trackless skies.

In time, the metal turns to rust,
As do the distant memories
In empty homes across the seas.
No monuments, no graveyard stones
Mark the weary warrior's bones
That sleep together in the dust.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

 

Back to top of page

ARC LIGHT

ARC LIGHT

Three ghostly contrails stream the blue,
From fossil giant B-52s.
These armored dragons from their lair
Imprint long tracks through frozen air
And soar the earth on wings so wide
They hold four engines on each side
Providing thrust and thunder-power
To push it on.  And in an hour
They far exceed 500 miles.

                Way down below
The jungle landscape creeps so slow
It seems to hardly move.  Inside the bird
The only sound remotely heard
Is droning jets.  The crew of six
Plot the distant target fix
And guide the ponderous death machines
By radar sweeps of glowing green.

Besieged Khe-Sahn lies straight ahead
Nestled on its plateau bed,
Shell-shocked, pockmarked, bleeding grounds
Where night-mare, moon-scape land surrounds
The cringing camp.  Sandbagged bunkers huddle low,
Razor wire darts jagged rows
That snake the fields of fire.  Around it all
A red-gashed trench where scared men crawl
In cover.
 
Sox thousand men caught in this trap,
The NVA, the stalking cat
That toys in amused impunity.
Now a tantrum rage across the sea
By LBJ, who swears on high
If all these "Amarican" boys should die,
Then hell will pay in spades! Too well he knows
If this might happen, out he goes!

A runway splits the bases' back
Of marston-matting coated black.
Planes that resupply the base
Are caught up in a deadly race.
Land and taxi to the end,
Unload! Reload! Take off again!
During this time and through it all,
Incoming mortars scream and fall
To earth.

        In the trenches dwell the rats,
So big they do not fear the cats…
Or any dog!  They are big and tough and mean,
And during the night meander stream
Outside the base to graze the crops,
To return at dawn, while licking  chops,
As  Marines grow riper by the hour,
Seventy-seven days without a shower!
War…..stinks.

             The NVA dash all around
Indians on their hunting ground
They patrol, they search they take control
Of almost every hill and knoll,
While helos kick out resupply,
Overhead, jet bombers fly
And drop death down on target hills,
"Daisy-Cutters", bombs that rip and kill
The flowers…and the men.

                    
                                       Out of sight,
Away on high the three plane flight
Of tracking, searching, bombers fly.
Ground radar guides them through the sky,
Computers calculate times and speed
And all the data they might need
To find new targets on the ground,
The course corrects…they turn in-bound.

Black boxed commands now take control
Airspeed, altitude, pitch and roll
And steers the aircraft straight and true.
Embattled Khe-Shan drifts in view.
The bombers reach "computer mark",,
Bomb-bay doors slide open, now an arc
Of heavy bombs shit into space
To free fall in a lazy race
To ground.

Three long sticks of bombs drift back
With thirty-one tons in every stack.
In streaming banners they drift on down
An iron ladder to the ground.
Below the enemy walks unaware
The Damocles sword that fills the air
Spread high above the countryside,
Two miles long, a half-mile wide.

Thunder-flash explosions strikes
And dance the ground in sparkling lights
To stomp frail earth in thud refrain,
With pounding, smashing, iron rain
That marches down the valley floor,
Goes up the hill and down once more,
Each bomb-step treading on the others,
Overlapping rings of death that smothers
In gruesome gore.

 
Shock waves slam the shell-shocked land
With smoke, debris, steel dust and sand
So thick it dims away the light
And mellows day to dusky night,
The shattered trees are gulped by fire
That rages hot to billow higher
Merging anvil clouds that flare
And mirror reflect the reddish glare
Of hell on earth.

Away up high
The behemoths circle round to fly
Back out to sea, and their island base.
They throttle back to  leisure pace.
The crew kicks back their job well done,
The weaving contrails catch the sun
The evening star glows to the right,
They fly in peace, in perfect flight.
The broken backs of splintered trees
Smoke in the dusk.  A gentle breeze
Stirs the embers…fans the flames.
And acrid smoke drifts from remains
Of what once were men.  Now charred lumps,
They puddle there in awkward clumps
Of black and bloody, steaming meat.
That night, the rats, come out to eat
The dead…and badly wounded.

"as our Khe-Sahns, keep rolling along…."

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

 

Back to top of page

LIFE

The deep black satin of the night
Soft bleeds with stains of spreading gray
Across the  towering, reigning heights
Of massive banks of clouds that lay
So still.  Twinkling stars yawn out their light
The earth crest cracks a gold ray
That splits the legions of the night
And heralds the army of the day.

The airfield lays quiet in the dawn,
Where glows the blue of taxi lights.
The ghosts of flashing beacons spawn
And whip the fading, inky night
From runway's end.  There a jet tilts pale,
With two flat tires and drooping wings.
A gaping hole shot through the tail
Documents the vicious sting
Of hostile guns.

                The pilot sits alone.
His back against a tire still warm,
And like a statue made of stone
His chiseled face belies the storm
Of turmoil deep inside.  An hour ago,
Up north while flying near the ground
Had glimpsed Death's grinning face below,
Reflected by the silent sound
Of lashing guns.
 
                Their deadly spark
Split fast the blackness of the night
Unseen radar guides their arc
To close and rake the streaking flight
With flaming fingers.  The run for home
Was filled with anxious, mounting fear
That penetrates deep down to the bone.
Now panic whispers in your ear..
Its terror!

                You feel the breath,
The putrid creeping waves that sweep
The souring stench of greedy death.
Engulfing heavy arms that creep
And crawl your very being.  A dart
Of rampant, running horror flies
And grips the pounding, beating heart
To bull it with ghoulish lies.

Now warning lights blink amber red,
New ugly sounds clunk deep inside.
As fear sweat beats the spinning head
And wounded planes' uneven ride
Jolts the streaming black.  Logic fights
To overpower these rampant foes
With reigns of reason.  To bite
Down hard upon the bile that grows
And gathers in the throat.

                To overcome
To prevail in this deadly struggle
That strives to strike the senses dumb,
Now reason holds and starts to juggle
The emergencies in turn.  Now save
Once more on welcome ground,
The last visage of panic wafes
And disappears without a sound.
 

Each tingling sense now opens wide
To drink its essence, new life's breath.
Which overcame and cast aside
The specter of the lurking death.
New spirit blooms its finest flower,
And floods its beauty to the sky,
To bask in this precious, hour,
To fill the soul and let it fly,
…and dance its victory.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

NIGHT

Asian moon
Swims fathomless deep.
Star-rivers course
Boundless banks
Of Stygian stream.

Pin-prick flares
Man-made suns,
Spawn brilliant
Glow, sigh, and slowly die
In the black.

Red embers,
Green glows, trace silent
Warplane's
Distant flight.

Death sparkles
Brilliant diamond
Artillery flashes
Dancing, darting,
To distant drums.
 

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

 JET PILOT

The star-splatter dun
Filters hot
Like warm honey, bathing the frigid cockpit
In liquid warmth.

A darkened visor
Reflects sun and sky,
Hiding warrior eyes,
That pierce horizons, ,
Restlessly scanning
Darting, probing
Both earth and sky.

A gray-green worn nomex glove
Gently caresses
The button studded stick,
Tat effortlessly, easily,
Guides the heavy craft
Through the thin rushing air.

From the peaceful earth below,
A silent burst of lightning lead
Arches upward, floating, bending,
White flashing, brown bursting,
Smoke hanging…drifting,
The vaporizing in the blue.

Automatic reflexes kick rudder,
Rolling the iron bird
On its back as the stick,
Firmly pulls the nose through,
Then rolls around and gathers speed,
Closing with the swelling earth.

 
Adrenalin driven blood,
Pounds the body,
Coursing swiftly
With a glowing, tingling feeling
That rushes and swirls
To engulf the total being.

The gun sight tracks steadily,
Through the growing landscape,
Mechanical corrections are computed,
Adjusted, sensed, held, felt, then squeezed off.
A slight bump and lurch is felt,
As the bombs jump free of their racks,
Then greedily nose down  and arch
Gracefully towards their destiny.

Both hands now pull the heavy stick back,
The "G" suit swells on your legs and gut,
In swift, surprise hard pressure.
The "G" forces close vision to a small circle,
Gradually closing your consciousness
Until it becomes a tight narrow circle
Focused on nothing!
The heavy, reluctant nose
Grunts and strains upward
Through the land and back to the sky,
The stick pressure slowly eases,
The "g" suit decompresses
The blackness fades to gray
Then to a brilliant blue
As the hammering blood
Releases to flow again.

 
Nothing in the world
Can ever compare
To the desperate, hollow feeling,
Of seeing death's hungry eyes
Staring through to very soul!
And then to escape unscathed,
To dance alone in the high, morning sun.
To flip off death….and the whole fucking world!

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

"There is nothing quite so exhilarating as being shot at and missed". Winston Churchill  

Back to top of page

ON THE HUMP


The men slowly move
With the least exertion.
Adjusting the heavy packs,
They slip through the brush
The easiest way they can
Conserving all the energy possible.

Weary young legs
That last year ran footballs,
Jumped basketballs,
And dashed cinder tracks
Before the cheering crowds
Now strain with each step,
Every muscle aching in protest.

Straps chafe raw shoulders,
Boots carry the lead mud
As heat sucks
The sweat from bodies
Until there is no more,
Only white-salt-stain-rings
Remain to glaze the dirty green shirts.

The exhausted me
Cannot contemplate
Political ideologies
Or questions of morality
Nor do they give a shit
About freedom and democracy,
Communism or any other crap!

They can only think
One step at a time,
One second of the time,
That is all.
Timeless drudgery, endless pressure,
Confusion, misery and apprehension
The feel and smell of war.

If he gets through today,
He is on step closer to "wake-up"
If he doesn't, who gives a damn?
It does not matter,
Why worry, why care"
Nobody else does,
And on they plod.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

YOUNG MEN
In quiet dignity they trudge
With only the slurping sounds
Of jungle boots sucking mud
As they carry their burden
Of expendable youth at war.
There is a poise about them,
A quality not found in peers,
A bearing common only
To young men in combat.

There is a stoic resignation,
A façade of wary acceptance,
A weariness in their movements
As they slowly walk the war.
Struggling with all its elements,
And inside, struggling with themselves,
For just below the surface,
They keep the well-known secret,
The haunting cowardice common to all.

Twenty-four hours a day they walk the line,
Living up to the reputation,
Assuming the swagger, the hard line,
Their casual indifference to death
That masks that deep seeded fear of dying,
The overwhelming urge to break and run,
The paralyzing instinct to freeze or hide!
Praying silently in secret
That whatever happens they won't look bad.

And that is why they are at war,
Where they would rather be
Then face the shame of not going,
Of being accused of not having "it",
To uphold that fragile concept of honor,
With their reputations on the line.
And they proudly carry their reputations,
For that is all that remains of their dignity,
Even if it means they must die for it.
GOOD MORNING


They shuffled down in noiseless file,
Gaunt apparitions whose hollow eyes
Stare blankly out from sunken sockets,
Whose swollen tongues crack scaled lips,
Scab sores ooze pus and swarming flies,
Through dirty, soiled flak jackets.

Assholes flame dysentery, brown fluid trickles
The crouchless trousers where jungle rot
Reddens, chafes and burns with each step.
Ripped jungle boots ring-bleached salt-sweat
Through rotting socks encasing fungus feet
They endlessly plod, gray ghosts of dawn.

Silently they pass, eternal warriors
Towards their unknown, to their death and hell.
Whispering shadows blending with the foggy light
In the ancient ritual of men marching to battle,
Quietly they slide away merging in the bush,
Disappearing into the mist of time.

Curt Bennett

Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003

Back to top of page

        THE BEAUTY OF WAR


War at night
Has a special beauty,
There is nothing anywhere,
That can quite compare.

Perimeter flares slice/arc the black,
Then bob and slowly weave to earth
Causing shadows to dance and weave
And stretch your world's reality.

Spectacular firefights
As streaming red fifties tattoo,
Clashing with sporadic VC green,
Harmonizes with 81mm quick-flashes.

Distant artillery white blinks
Splits the nearby tree line shadows,
As it cracking thunder
Streaks screaming through the sky.

High on his sky-throne
Spooky pisses his tracers in a gentle flow,
Moaned from multi barreled Gattling guns
That disappear and melt into the blackness below.

Nape at night is out of sight!
It splashes in yellowish, red syrupy splash,
That laboriously floats up, out then down
Smothering the earth and licking it clean.

Bombs are quick and ruthless,
Fast silver-white flashes in the black,
But cutting iron, not flash, kills,
And their mission is grim.

 

Rockets flash like zipping gangbusters,
Streaking a fiery sparkling tail
That skims into the black void to disappear,
Then resurrect again in detonation.

The sounds of war are different from others,
Not too unpleasant, but distinct,
The eternal crackle and chatter of radios,
 Filling the air like white, background noise.

The sights and sounds of war at night,
Are unseen and impersonal,
Without authorship or responsibility,
Somehow removed, to be viewed from afar.

One unpleasant reality of war
Is the smell, the cordite burn,
The acrid sweet smell of sweet pork,
From burning, human meat.

Somehow that and the screams
Of the unseen dying somewhere
Out there, tends to diminish
The beauty and fun of it all.

 

Back to top of page

MEDEVAC

Through the rain and mist
Came the sounds of the helicopter.
Its tired blades
Heavily stoking through
The thick solid clouds,
Which had covered the land for days.

It drifted easily from the overcast,
Banked into a half circle,
Swept around the camp
And into the landing zone.
There it settled gently
On top of the red spitting smoke grenade.

Grabbing one end of the stretcher,
I hustled out with a wounded.
Willing hands helped him aboard
And I followed him up
For the quick, free trip to nearby Danang.

With a roar of power
The land dropped away
Where symmetrical square rice paddies
Flashed the gray like shiny mirrors
As the buildings and roads,
Dwindled to miniatures.

A young crew chief with underfed moustache
Motioned me to his seat, he moved aside,
And sat on a full body-bay instead.
I strapped in and looked away,
Staring back, were my fellow passengers
As the helo shuddered and shook.

 
A shirtless Marine lay across from me
Staring down at the ground below.
His young chin bore a blond-whiskered stubble,
His arm decorated by a scratching black panther,
His back was covered with a heavy body-bandage,
Taped tightly over a crushed and useless spine.

A young black Marine sat in the far corner,
His eyes rolling white with shock,
His blood, was just as red and bled just as much
As any white man anywhere,
And it seeped through the tight white bandages
That banded his dark ebony skin.

Another heavily bandaged Marine lay on the floor,
Staring quietly away at the ceiling and beyond.
He slowly turned his head and looked righ6 at me
With the bluest eyes I have ever seen.
He smiled weakly, I grinned back,
Giving him a "thumb's up", for luck.

Hanging from a cargo hook
A glucose bottle fed his elbow
And steadily drained down fluid.
The crew chief broke out his lunch
Methodically chewing the dry meat and hard bread
Sitting on the body bag.

The roar of the engine settled down
Putting us all away to private worlds
My distant thoughts were interrupted
By a loud, barking, rattle and cough
As the kid with the clear blue eyes
Spasmed, trembled, wet his pants and died.

The crew chief glanced down at him,
The Marine by the window just stared away.
The black kid leaned back and covered his eyes,
While the countryside reeled off  below.
Danang was but 10 clicks away,…It took a forever to get there.
FIREFIGHT
It is out there, another dimension of unreality around a bend,
Wavering, out of focus, ghost dancing the hairs of your neck, it silently laughs
Through the heat you feel its familiar coldness and putrid, foul stench in your gut
As the stillness screams in silence, and time slows down in curiosity.

Reflex sends you sinking down to earth in the tall sharp grasses and soft clay,
You feel the heat of mother earth as you embrace her with your body of dust
To hold her close, as if somehow she might shield you from harm, keep you safe,
That she might remember where you came from, and where you would one day return.

Frozen in time, the fear sweat starts a trickling path from your forehead down,
Meandering around the brow, it slants in and salts the eye, and is joined by tears,
To amble down the cheek, over to the flaring nostril, that drips snot into the river.
Down past the mouth to be joined by the drool that drips into beard stubble.

Battle senses warn they are watching, that they can see through the grass,
They know where you are, and are getting ready to kill you: you hate them for that,
But you cannot see back, you only see earth, but you can feel now the angry eyes
Waving over the fields like a wand brushing back the heavy grasses where you hid.

The moment freezes into eternity and now time has stood perfectly still and watches,
Tension cuts air like an iron cloud paralyzing all with its dangerous shadow.
Cautiously you raise your head and stare through the tall, waving grass
That is so still, you can hear it growing through the mounting tension.

The wait is unbearable, you dear not move, you hardly breathe, your guts twist,
And you have an overwhelming urge to bolt and runaway, and also to pee…
You let it run down your leg into the dirt.  You hold, you hold, you do not move,
You do not scratch; you cannot, because you too are frozen in the moment.

A single, sharp shot!  A pause…a pause…. Then the world explodes!
An abrupt hard fusillade of fire hammers the silence as the big guns start.
Slashing wickedly, recklessly, mindlessly, fireballs gallop and rip across the ground
Chasing each other fast into the tree line, groping the bush for human flesh!

Like fog, the cordite smoke hovers the ground in bitter smog and biting haze,
A soft blue whitish gray streaked by tracers from both ways that move so fast!
In the distance comes the grumble of artillery and really big rounds
That comes sighing in on descending tin whistles and overhead groans.

Erupting to life in miniature lightning rapidly dancing sparking and darting, ,
Obliterating the tree line just to the front, hedging trees, plowing ground
Sending huge clouds of smoke and debris tumbling skywards in small pieces
That flutter and twist and spin about then sail into the distance.

Then with no warning they slash down from the sky, small specks that grow,
Flashing downhill in silent, streaming flight, looming larger, ever faster
Then roar overhead and detach tumbling, glinting canisters
That float and waggle like silver fish, then spin plummeting to earth.

The fire splashes oranges and reds and blacks and purples in waves
Of heat and fiercely burning kerosene ignited by blazing phosphorous
Whose curling fire tongues slap and lick the earth and puke it up to the sky
In a steep, spinning smoke cloud that rushes and blocks the sun.

And then it stops, as a tardy piece of jagged iron belatedly from the trees,
Whirls overhead like a berserk knife fiercely spinning out of control,
Burying itself in the smoking dirt.  Now silence rings and echoes ears,
Through the smoke roils a shaft of sunlight, so strangely out of place.

Now the only sounds are the crackling fires that burn and smoke the earth.
The fields are covered with litter, refuse, debris, broken parts of things and men.
There is a sweet smell of human flesh burned, the smell like fireworks all around,
Chaos, disarray, disorder and confusion, and a sense of giddy survivorship rule.

It is over, another battlefield in a war that will  be all but forgotten in a week.
So why did men die hear, were political goals achieved, what was it about?
Was it necessary, was it a waste?

 Back to top of page
 
               THE PATROL

How hushed the jungle's stillness sleeps
As slow the point man softly creeps
In stealthy walk and careful eyes
He searches for that dread surprise
That lurks and waits his tired patrol.
Now up the gently climbing knoll,
A flash of Khaki!  Winks the gloom,
That halts the toiling, lone platoon
In weary tracks.

                The first fire team
Melts down into the speckled green
Of high ground to the right,
The remaining men fan out of sight
To wait.  

        Now faintly sounds a drumming,
Sandaled feet on soft ground running
Down the broken trail.  The little men
Burst the stillness of the glen.
The fire-team crouched upon hill's crest
Take the lead man in the chest
With raking blinking, fire that moves
On up the line in fluted grooves
Of flashing, smashing death.

                        The sound
Of small arms fill the air, a round
Cracks overhead, another flashes by
To take the Sergeant in the eyes.
A flat, wet "smack" is soundly heard,
The man whacked dead without a word.
The raging bullets snarl and streak,
The chorused sounds of falling meat
And screams of dying pain.

                
A cordite haze
Thickens with the killing craze
And jungle heat.  A strangled cry
A muffled curse, the bullets fly
And tear through fragile flesh and bone,
A gurgling sob, a wrenching moan,
A screaming howl of rage and wrath,
A frenzied man bolts up the bath
Blind-firing, sweeping bursts of lead,
Then takes a round right through the head.
Then…all is silent…all is still..
Save for the thrashing down the hill
Of frantic running men.         

        How soft,
How sweet the quiet lay, a bubbling cough
Of wounded enemy crawling off
Is halted by a single shot.
The hurt and dying get first air,
The dead are dragged into the shade
And covered up.  So still….they lay
Whilst comrades tensely laugh and joke,
Shaking hands group to share a smoke,
And wait, desperate for the choppers drone
To pick them up, and take them home.


                                                            Back to top of page
        MORTARS

The Scout on point has raised his hand
And flashed the signal to his band
ENEMY IN SIGHT GET DOWN!
But in the distance, sickening sounds,
The deadened "thunk" of mortar rounds
Leaving hollow tubes.

The men melt to the ground,
Scrambling, crabbing leaving the trail
High, thin-screamed, louder, whistling wail
Of incoming!
                The men cower, cringing low
The clench their necks, await the blow
That erupts with such a smashing "crack",
That rings the ears and slams the back
That bleeds the nose, that aches the head,
That takes the breath, and kills them dead.


 

SOLDIER'S ROLE

The sun burns down with scorching breath
As trudging men seek out their death
Which lies ahead.  In single file
They hump the jungle, mile on mile
In halting, cautious tread.
The fuzz-cheeked leader up ahead
Guides them on.

                The heavy packs]
Rub and chafe their aching backs
The wet boots suck from clinging mud
And rub great blisters full of blood
On swollen feet.  The thrill is gone!

THERE IS NO GLORY IN A PAWN!
 
        WAR TRAUMA

War drags men to the very edge,
Where they must shut completely down
All emotion, all caring, all feeling
Just to survive the experience.
Impervious to pain, suffering and death,
They blankly assimilate war's horror
And continue on as human shells
Who have experienced too much death,
Who have seen too much destruction,
Old men in young boys bodies
Who will never…be quite the same,

For they can never, ever
Come all the way back…
Some do not even try,
War has destroyed their known world,
Replacing it with the unknown.
Where they have bottled up
Reserved, suppressed, depressed
Their survival secrets
A whacked world stilted, tilted,
That has completely turned over,
It so hard just to hang on to.

Others, simply topple over the edge
To  remain there forever.

 
        WAR CARGO

The old yellow forklift
Slides its heavy steel fangs
Under the awkward load.
A hum of hydraulics,
Lifts, levels, grinds and drones,
Struggling under the silver pool
From harsh, naked floodlights.

Untiring, tirelessly it labors
Through the night
As it shifts its load
Of matching, aluminum caskets
From warehouse pallet to plane.

The Vietnamese drive
Smiles to himself as he works,
He hums and he tightly
Packs then in rows
Until there is no more room left.
He whistles as he drives away.
As long as the Americans are here,
He has job security

.
                                                            Back to top of page
                AMERICA

"MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE….."
Here I sit in shit and mud
And wipe the dried and caking blood
From my dead friends face.  The littered zone
Is full of young men going home
In dirty ponchos.  Their lives so fast undone
As from their lips, forever dumb
They scream in silent shock and fear
In frozen agony.  Quietly, they lie so near
In sleeping rank and file.  Who might know
What thought flashed at the jolting blow
That ripped the jagged hole?  What sound
Escaped them as they pitched to ground
To bubble out their scarlet life?  What tears,
Welled up to grasp those unsaid fears
Had at last come true!  No tears now,
Just swarming flies fill their vacant, sightless eyes.

"SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY…."
Whose turned into a common whore!
She sends her children off to war,
Then turns her back!  Corrupted by
Her Politicians pimpish lie,
His selfish greed, his quest for power
Inventing conflicts for the dollar
Creating lies to justify
Sending young boys off to die.
That brings a tarnished bitter shame
To what once was the shining name
Of "Liberty".  How besmirched! How profane!
Her people's backs are bent in pain
And tragedy.  Their birthright sold
The elected to the rich, the old,
The power men, select, elite,
Who drag this country to their feet.
Big business marries pentagon,
Mindless whore and bitches son
Whose raging coupling rampant runs.

"OF THEE I SING……"
But sung with broken voice and heart
To Glory which was once a part
Of pride, not shame.  This country
Rich and rising from the sea
Designed for man's integrity
Blessed by Freedom's pure sweet thought,
By countless lives, so costly bought,
So dear the deadly price
Of sweat, blood, toil and sacrifice
Of common men who shared the dream,
Their clear, fresh message brightly beamed
To shine world turmoil and its dark…
Now, 'tis but a battered, weary spark
Deflowered, debauched, depraved, debased,
A blight upon the might race
Of men who kept this country strong.
Their hopes, their dreams, their ringing song
Lie stilled, forevermore.

"LAND WHERE MY FATHERS DIED…."
So quiet they sleep the countryside
Where in the name of country's pride
They fought they fell, they bled, they died
In patriotic genocide.  Every man once was a son
Who as a boy would laugh, would run,
Would warm his mother's loving heart, would play
His little childhood games, at night would lay
In sleepy bed awaiting mother's tender kiss
Goodnight.  Such innocence, such joyous bliss.
Too soon, the lad became the man,
His country called he took its stand
And fell.  For what?  And why?
Was it right that he should die?
So young, so unfilled, such tragic waste,
His youth and promise lived in haste.
Now lost, destroyed, forever gone.
Forever boys they slumber on
Beneath hushed white crosses stark and still
Whose mute r

anks march pastured hill
And keep their lasting peace.

        'LAND OF THE PILGRIM'S PRIDE…."
Across the land the unrest spread
As pictures of the young men dead
Fill the nightly news.  Now more and more
Reach eighteen and leave for war,
Brother following brother.  Slow, rising hate
Makes people march and demonstrate,
Rioting in the streets of shame
Where high aloft the burning flame
Of once, sacred flag now fills the air
With shouts of people in despair!
At last, the great lie stands exposed,
THERE IS NO GAME OF DOMINOES!
Yet, fickle Washington fast denies
They ever fabricated lies
And battle the surging angry forces
With riot guns and trampling horses,
Shooting students in the chest
Whose only crime, was to protest!
A right they were taught, WAS GUARANTEED!
Now fast the spreading cance

r seed
Blossoms ugly.  Divided camps hard-split the land
Where Freedom's justice used to stand
It lies in shambles with the dream.
As the next generation is caught in between,
Bewildered, confused, filled with helpless rage!
Bastard children of their age!

"FROM EVERY MOUNTAINSIDE…."
The piercing wail of distant train
Echoes faint through misty rain.
The silent family waits alone.
Their son at last is coming home.
Too young to really understand,
The small child clutches Mother's hand
And tells her, "Ma-ma, please, don't cry!"
Mom dabs her swollen reddened eyes
And tries to smile, but more tears come
And course her tight drawn cheeks.  Now from
The pale gray west the train appears
And brings a flood of wrenching tears
From  the Father who stands alone…apart.
No known words can mend his broken heart
Or fill his loss, those grinding aches
Of anguish, the crushing agony that breaks
And kills the spirit of a man.
Now darkness gathers on the land
As slow the puffing, hissing train
Creeps to i

ts stop.  The driving rain
Softens in the gloom.  A rasping slide
Of box-car doors, and there inside
The shadowed coffin rests alone
As Johnny at last, comes marching home
To sleep his endless dream.

"LET FREEDOM RING…."
This mindless war drags on and on,
Too slow the nights, too fast the dawns,
Too cold the rains, too hot the day,
Across wet fields, cruel bullets play.
Through angry skies swift warplanes shriek,
Through steaming jungles tired men creep,
Patrol…now probe…now full contact!
Air-Strikes!  Artillery Strikes!  Medivac!
A year of wounded, screaming men,
The haunting gape of a dead man's grin
With that startled look of half-surprise
Eternally mirrored in lifeless eyes.
A booby-traps "snap" and sudden roar!
Instant death and bloody gore!
The slap and whine of bullets singing…
…the haunting sounds of "Freedom Ringing"…
        UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD

The small bird chirped quietly,
From his barren branch.
He shuffled his feathers
And chirped again,
Proclaiming and establishing
His territorial rights.

Not a breeze
Stirred the empty clearing.
Like ghostly sentinels,
The battle-splintered trees
Stand their lonely vigil
On the silent outskirts.

The men lay still
In the rich, red mud
In awkward configurations.
It was difficult to tell
Which one belonged?
To which nation?

Their stiff arms
Seemed to stretch out
Reaching for each other.
It was almost, as if
Universal brotherhood
Had at last…been realized.

Curt Bennett


Midnight Movie by Mike Subritzky

"To Jimmy B from Huntly - I hope you find Peace mate."

(Casino Barracks, 1974)

MIDNIGHT MOVIE

A quiet night in the barracks,

around midnight he starts it again,

he's yelling about some damned ambush,

and calling some Viet woman's name.

 

He always yells out he's sorry,

so sorry for all of the pain,

but every night around midnight;

he kills her all over again.

 

His life's in a kind of a freeze frame,

he can't move on from the war,

and every night just after twelve,

he's back in the Nam once more.

 

Back with the old 'Victor' Company,

back in that same Free-Fire-Zone,

and no bastard told those young Kiwi Grunts;

they patrolled near a woodcutter's home.

 

When the Lead Scout signals it's Charlie,

the Platoon melts quietly away,

the 'Immediate Ambush' signs given,

and the Safety Catch slips onto 'play'.

 

There's five in the group in pyjamas,

as black as a midnight in May,

and the Killing Ground moves into picture;

then the Gun Group opens the way.

 

Black figures are falling around him,

now he's up on his feet running through,

and they're sweeping the ground where they dropped them,

as he 'double taps' a screaming torso.

 

At the Re-Org his fingers are trembling,

the Platoon Sergeant gives him a smoke,

then it's back to the bodies to check them;

and his round hit a woman in the throat.

 

There are blood trails leading behind them,

and entrails are spilled on the track,

but the woman who screamed once is silent,

two rounds exit right through her back.

 

The jungle seems silent and empty,

as they dig down and bury the mess,

then it's check ammunition and weapons;

and don't dwell on the past just forget.

 

Another night in the barracks,

and Jimmy is yelling again,

it's that same old Vietnam movie,

that's spinning around in his brain.

 

He always yells out he's sorry,

so sorry for all of the pain,

but every night around midnight;

he kills her all over again.

Mike Subritzky 
©Copyright 2001

Soldier Vietnam

 Back to top of page

 

Back to Main Index