No longer clinging to
The chaos of War
Key to the Garden
I release the faint and reassuring pressure
of my fingertip on the trigger there.
I let loose my death grip,
hug my weapon like a teddy bear.
The rain keeps coming, more thick than strong,
washing the chemical hurt from the hill
whose side we huddle on.
I can’t say I feel safe, more embraced
by a subtle act of God.
Surely the most hardened Vietcong will not violate
this night of washing clean.
©Tom Puetz 2010
SOLDIER FOR ALL SEASONS
I must get closer to the bone, cut deep, not stay my hand,
So you can understand the anguish, of the soldier in the sand.
It was my choice, my heart’s desire, so please don’t get me wrong.
When I heard the call to arms, I gladly went along.
Yet I want to blame the ones who sent me, made me feel like damaged goods.
I want them to feel the horror of the soldier in the woods.
I fought my war for freedom, to keep the home fire safe.
I came back from Vietnam, to find I had no place.
I want America to know, combat did not break my will.
In the end it was the sadness, of the soldier on the hill.
When a nation sends it’s best to war, to show the power it can wield,
I want all to know the price that’s paid by the soldier in the field.
A soldier’s family knows too well, the grief that has been sewn.
They stand beside, but cannot touch, their soldier home alone.
When you raise the call to war, no matter what the reasons,
In the end, you break the heart, of the soldier for all seasons.
This rage—I can’t really measure, goes on forever.
Can’t contain it, can’t make it stop, can’t see the end.
This fugitive sample of combat survival
can’t be buried. I am always harried by…
This rage—kept growing when you said “Welcome home”, instead of,
We’re sorry, we didn’t know about the death of tenderness,
the killing, the price paid, and…
This Rage—Is a partition held in place by my lack of contrition;
A division risen on backs turned, eyes averted;
A wall, polished and black, with no shelf to receive retribution.
No portal that understanding passes, only the reflection of…
This Rage—you won’t accept in me, a soldier
you sent to hold your honor in sacred trust,
and so disguised the violence as valor.
You reveled in my bravery now demand I hide my frailty, and…
© Tom Puetz, 2011
Over 47,000 of our nation’s armed forces have been physically wounded during the current military conflicts. Hundreds of thousands more are estimated to be recovering from invisible wounds of war, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). WWP assists injured veterans and their families through a holistic approach to their recovery.
©2013 Wounded Warrior Project, Inc.
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I really didn’t want everyone to endure what I had endured, just so they could understand me. I didn’t even want them to understand me anymore. Well, maybe I did a little but I did not need them to. It’s a leap of faith and love to take someone’s word for what is troubling them. It is a huge healer when someone says, I don’t understand but I’ll take your word for it.
I can remember when I almost demanded that the people close to me knew what I was feeling without me telling them. I acted like I should be the focus of their lives because I really needed them for my survival. Yep, there is that feeling of, it’s a matter of survival. In combat that was true on a moment to moment basis not merely a daily basis. I even tuned in on the animals. I of course paid close attention to the villagers. Hell I would have talked to the grass at the edge of a clearing if I thought it could tell me about any booby-traps in the brush. So yeah, I watched everyone and everything for clues of friend or enemy. One thing I never liked about myself is, after a few months in combat (of guerrilla warfare) I didn’t allow for neutral civilians. Not even friendly civilians. They were expendable also. I didn’t want to risk my life or the lives of any of my men to ensure the safety of civilians. The idea itself was absurd. In World War II the bombing of civilian targets was a given and civilian deaths accepted. Not so easy to dismiss when you have to count the bodies. War of attrition was the official line. Body count was the reality. My country sent me to Vietnam to kill enemy soldiers and VC who were by definition, and in fact, civilian freedom fighters engaged in a civil war. I’m getting tired of writing about this.
I’ve been over this so many times in my head if it wasn’t so intense it would be boring. It’s all been said. I keep hoping I’ll get some insight, some relief from the grief. Some belief that war won’t be so common in the future. I’m hoping that if we are, as a nation, more aware of the cost of war this country won’t be so quick to engage, to send troops. My biggest fear and source of anger is that deep down in the heart of this nation is a black heart of immorality that knows the horrors of war and still sends its young men and women to kill in its name. Sends them to take, by force of arms, the resources we need, the territory we want, in order to feel secure.
Sometimes I wonder if this nation is so fearful of its existence it strikes out just as a warning, just to stay in killing shape. Just to say Make no mistake, we will fucking kill you if you don’t do what we like. Have we stooped so low? Stooped to extortion? Did I go to war because a shouting match got out of hand? Has America sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to keep the Arab nations from controlling their own oil resources?
I suppose this is a diversion from the investigation of my own experience of PTSD. Not a complete diversion though. My point in all this is, it was my choice to serve. The hardship and terror of battle is difficult to bear in an obviously just war but to have lost friends for no reason, to have killed another human being in a war or of questionable morality, unsound strategy, with no clear goal, with no hope of victory, is nearly unthinkable. I was lied to. Plain and simple. I was sent to Vietnam because America feared communism. Enough, enough. What the hell am I talking about? Politics? The way leaders move a nation to keep themselves in power using the concept of a common enemy. Do I have to get past the reality or diversion of being duped into going to war? It was a suckers war. That’s what I’m really pissed at. That’s what gets me. I was promised a hero’s welcome. I was promised the loving gratitude to my country. The trouble is, the people making the promises didn’t represent America. They just needed cannon fodder. I am noticing that’s all external. I’m remembering what the counselor told us at the Veterans Administration. All those feelings are important and valid but the way back from a life dominated by PTSD is not out there. The way back home is in me. I am the solution. It came as a great relief and source of hope to hear that. I don’t need to rely on the VA, or anyone else, to Do anything for me. The VA will provide me with the tools and training I need to rebuild my life.
© Tom Puetz August, 2012