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Write a poem that describes how you feel about war.

Write a poem that describes how you feel about war.

“On lonely beaches, crosses stand Row after row in glistening sand

And the night birds softly call.

Once life was here, now only death

And we see life’s curtain rise and fall.

We see a young boy start to grow

And into adolescence go

And then become a man.

From cap and gown to uniform,

To training camp from college dorm,

And on to no-man's land.

To jungle beaches, smoke and fire,

To waiting death they steam, then tire

And fall to scarlet earth.

Their glimpse of life has come and gone,

So short and yet so long

From present back to birth.

So on these beaches, crosses stand, Row after row in glistening sand

And the night birds softly call.

Once life was here, now only death

Is found, and in one fleeting breath

We see life’s curtain rise and fall."

William Ellis West, Jr. March 1945

I didn’t write this poem – my uncle Ellis did, a few days before he turned 21. He was killed three weeks later in the Battle of Okinawa. My uncle was opposed to war, didn't want to carry a gun, didn't want to kill anyone, so he became a radio operator with JASCO. Jack Forgy describes JASCO as "special signal units set up to establish and maintain communications of the navy, the marines, and the army during landing operations. One of the missions of the units was to provide forward air controllers on shore, which was the most dangerous assignment." Uncle Ellis was a hero, one of the first on the beach, giving his life to save someone else.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Songs protesting the Vietnam War were a part of my childhood.

Freda Payne sang “Bring Them Back Alive”.

Marvin Gaye sang “What’s Going On?”.

Edwin Starr sang it best. “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”

These were hard times to be a teenager, made even harder for me because my dad was a career Army officer. I loved the soldier but hated the war. During the height of the Vietnam War, Daddy was course director for wheeled-vehicle mechanics at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He watched hundreds come through his course knowing many of them would go off to war and not come back.

He, himself, served two tours in Vietnam, volunteering the first time, trying everything he knew to not go back again……….but he did, kicking and screaming. I’m sure there are still fingernail tracks on the tarmac. War changed him. It broke his spirit. It broke his heart. The night terrors were horrendous. He developed vascular issues that led to his death. Were they caused by Agent Orange? Maybe. We’ll never know.

Society's perception of the military has certainly changed since my dad's service. When he came back from Vietnam, troops were told to change out of their uniforms before they stepped into the US airports to avoid people spitting on them. Now service members receive standing ovations at ballparks and a sincere "thank you for your service."

Daddy was always quiet, but was even more subdued when he came home. He wouldn’t talk about his experience, said nothing happened there I should know. I saw the Bronze Star with the ribbons he wore on his chest and knew it was given for “either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone” but I never knew why. Many years after his death, I requested his file and found it was for saving lives. When he arrived “in country” in March 1972, his unit had the worst maintenance record in the entire division. Within 30 days, it had the best, thanks to my dad’s efforts. Improved maintenance and reliability of vehicles greatly improved a soldier’s chance of getting back to the compound after a mission.

A poem, huh? I'm certainly not the poet my uncle was, but I share his sentiments. Here are my words.

A Kid, A Dad and A War

You took me to school and kissed me goodbye

I turned away quickly and began to cry

Not quick enough to miss your tears

Were they tears of sadness or tears of fear?

Life was tense while you were away

We couldn't help but wonder if this was the day

Men in uniform would come across the lawn

Bearing the bad news that you were gone.

My constant prayer was that you were alright.

I dreamed about jungles every night.

You did come home to us, your body intact

But the bravery you showed was just an act.

You wouldn’t talk about the war, kept it all inside.

But some hurts are too deep to really hide.

There were very few nights without screams

I can only imagine how horrendous those dreams.

You weren’t the only one who came home a shell

Thousands and thousands are still going through hell.

Too many casualties, too many died.

Wasted lives by those in charge who were only concerned with their pride.

There was no victory.

There was no winning score.

as for war? What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

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