My brother and I - June 1964 - Parris Island, SC
The day he graduated from Marine Boot Camp

We should never forget what happened in Vietnam and more importantly, we should make sure our government officials never forget either.   It is not my intention to glorify those who serve their country...   instead, this is my humble attempt at "humanizing" those who served their country.  

I hope that you will relate to the poems and feelings as I have expressed them on the pages of this site. I want you to care about those who have sacrificed so that you can be free. I want you to look closely at the face of my brother and within his story, you just might recognize someone you know...  Your father, brother, uncle, cousin or perhaps you will see the kid who sat behind you in civics class... Or recognize the boy who lived next door to your grandmother — you remember, you had a big crush on him back in 1965 — or you cruised the main street of Any Town, USA with him - trying to pick up girls... it was the summer before he left for ‘Nam.   Whatever happened to him?   Did he ever come back from Vietnam or is his name one of the more than 58,000 on "the wall" in Washington?   Or is he STILL missing in action - a POW-MIA?

My brother returned from Vietnam in 1966. He has never forgiven himself for having survived. Losing two toes when he stepped on a VC boobie trap, the shrapnel he still carries in his back, the scars left by a bullet they removed from his knee and countless medical complications over the past thirty years due to exposure to Agent Orange... none of these things have eased the guilt that he feels over having survived when so many of his fellow soldiers lost their lives - many of them during one incident in particular in August of 1965 on the Van Tong Peninsula in Operation Starlight.

He wrote about the dedication of the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. - 1982:

"We’ve finally come out, and we brought the dream out with us... Those who died in Viet Nam believed in this dream; the dream was called America. And to its freedoms they gave their most precious gift, their lives. But the dead have no issues. The problems of agent orange, delayed stress syndrome and the recovery of those still missing in action in South East Asia are effects of the war. The issue is really acceptance — ours and yours. Because for the veteran of the war called Vietnam, this is an historic burden. When you strip it away, what remains has become vital, and cruelly sacred."

My brother worked diligently and tirelessly to have a Vietnam Memorial monument erected in our hometown of Warren, Ohio.... and he wrote the motto that appears on it:

"The dreams of peace that for America have grown comfortable with Luzon, Iwo Jima, and the Belleau Woods, now draw back to the sounds of Chu Lai, Van Tong, and Khe Sanh; yet these dreams that created America, created our plight. Droppped into an historic void of a nation’s guilt — we come forth; not as mercenaries for our pay but as sons to our inherent rights. Not demanding sympathy, but desiring empathy; so that the dreams of our fathers shall not pass this generation by... and lay waste to the memories of our still great nation, nor to the memories of those whose dreams were forced by chance and circumstance to lie for all eternity, face-down in paddy mud."

In 1982 I accompanied my brother to the Crile Veterans Hospital in Cleveland. He had been having medical problems from the time he returned from ‘Nam in 1966. They had finally concluded after many years, and endless tests, that it was most likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange - that his system had ingested the toxin and it was seeping from his body in the form of cysts.

I sat in the waiting room right outside of the doctors office while they burned off the cysts from under his arms and on his sides and back. I could hear the crackle-ssst of the hot needle. Smoke drifted from the room out to where I was sitting and I could smell the burning flesh. I heard the nurse apologizing for the pain - but I never heard my brother make a sound. He came from the room looking gaunt and pale. His shirt was draped over his shoulders, sweat dripping from his chin, and I could see the wounds they had inflicted - blood soaked patches of gauze covered some of the larger ones. He didn't say a word, he just walked right past me and headed down the hall. I caught up to him at the elevator and I asked him if he was okay. He didn’t answer. We got on the elevator and he leaned against the wall. There were tears in his eyes and I knew he was hurting.

As we reached the lobby, he walked briskly out the door and towards the car. I hurried after him. As he hit the curb, his knees gave out. He stumbled to a grassy area and sat down. I sat next to him with my arm across his shoulder. Silent. It reminded me of the last time that I had sat next to him like this. It had been at our father’s funeral. He had come straight from Marine bootcamp on emergency leave. He was seventeen years old, six weeks before he was sent to Vietnam. He didn’t talk then, either. He didn’t cry. He remained braced through the whole funeral. Standing at attention. Sitting at attention. "They" had told him that Marines don’t cry. He would later learn in Vietnam that Marines DO cry - but only in solitude.

little brother...

it has been seven weeks
since a plump, scared little boy
(freshly graduated from high school)
left for basic training
on parris island.

now we are standing here
at daddy’s funeral,
confused and disoriented.

my chubby little brother
has been replaced by a man.
looking taller and lean.
a marine.

shock and grief stifle any words.
but i understand...
your uniform won’t let you cry.
here. hold my hand and
i’ll cry for you.

My brother turned to writing poetry to try to purge the memories that haunted him. He never speaks of his experiences in Vietnam but he has written volumes about them and his written words offer an intimate view of the horrors of war and its residual effects.

"I refuse to mourn you,
chosing instead to mourn
the death of my sentient soul.
For your death was swift-sweet,
I have come back from a thousand
wars alive.
Survival is my punishment."

My brother left Vietnam more than thirty years ago...
but Vietnam has never left him.

*"You took the easy way out,
It left me here to think,
To drink.
To forget.
To try to.

You’re still a hero.
I’m still alive.
But it’s lonely without you here
To explain to them,
The wisdom of your dying.
I resent that some.
Because you knew all along
I’d never be able to forget."

*from The Noise Has Stopped Now
by: Richard Floyd Harvey
Veteran - US Marines

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