Having lived through the time of our boys being drafted for the undeclared war in Vietnam....the fear and uncertainty that they experienced....I felt moved to write about that time. In the poem, I am a young man from a small town in Montana. I wanted to illustrate emotions, gut responses, flashbacks. I sincerely believe that this accurately portrays my generation.
Half a Century Past
My leg what ain't there was achin' this mornin',so I was up to see the
The skies were worth seein', but, so unexpected, I was back in damn
Those eastern skies on the Montana prairie, lit up with reds, and oranges
Whisked me in a heartbeat to fifty years past, and back relivin' my most
It had been rainin', a drizzly sort, not like an ol' Montana downpour.
Me an' my buddies were hunched in damp lumps, tryin' to sleep some in
that early hour.
Gerry, my friend from the streets of Chicago, lay with his mouth ajar in a
We were just boys, ripped from our homes, thrown in the midst of an
I had been Montana bred, born and raised, out under the dome of that
marvelous Big Sky.
Just like my folk, I grew up unhindered, and, at eighteen years old, just a
We ranched and farmed hay on two thousand acres, rode horses for work
and for fun, and still do.
To sit still in the saddle, lookin' over our cattle grazin' Montana's hills was a
I especially liked brandin', when we brought in the new calfs, them and their
mothers all dusty an' bawlin',
The sounds of a herd of animals movin'.....the whistle of my rope, their
Dust mixed with sweat in my nose and my eyes, my battered straw hat
pushed low on my head,
Whistlin' and shoutin', we herded the cows into the corrals by the big low
My little pony knew his cuttin' job better'n I did, and he'd kinda slide
Slick as a whistle, next to old cow, and so separate her and the calf at her
We'd get all the young 'uns in the smaller corral, and I'd cut a calf out'a
We'd move through about a quarter of the calves and be feelin'
accomplished when mamma served lunch.
Oh those were the days! Just think in' about it, put me back to my years
growin' up on the range.
Nothin' could have been a more wonderful childhood, but it hadn't prepared
me for radical change......
I was a senior in a small little place, had grown up with all the kids in my
I was the 'class c' town's big hero.....in football I seldom fumbled a pass.
We guys all wore letter jackets, announcing jock-status in our little school.
We'd hang out at the drive-in, where our girls were workin', laugin' and
thinkin' we were pretty cool.
Graduation was loomin' and most were not plannin' to have any major kind
of life change....
We were just kids, just average fellows, growin' up with the freedom of the
I remember my dad and kid brother and me drinkin' coffee and plannin' our
Ma brought us the mail, just now delivered, while she topped off each
Dad fingered through it, as always he did, sqintin' at bills and cockin' his
All this as usual, then he sat up straighter, held up a letter, and I remember
"What the hell is this! From the United States Army?" His face went pale
as he glanced at me.
"Son," he said,"you'd better open 'er. I fear the draft, but we gotta see!"
My stomach went hollow. Adrenaline rushed through me. I swallowed,
slack jawed, and reached out.
The "draft" was somebody else's problem! This wasn't what my life was
But, that's what it was.
I got my diploma, then my folks drove me to Great Falls International
And a big ol' silver bird took me to Seattle, then I bussed to Ft. Lewis,
where I would report.
Six weeks basic training, and I still couldn't believe it! My whole being
knew this was all wrong.
It felt like a bad dream I'd soon wake up from, and find myself back where I
But I didn't wake up, and the dream became nightmare, there in the depths
of the jungles from hell;
I was a dispensable pawn in a war game; this was a lesson I learned all
Now here we lay, most of us sleepin' on the moist leaves that covered the
I was huggin' my knees and sittin' there silent, listenin' to countless strange
Then the dark came alight with the colors of a sunrise, brilliant reds lit up
There was no warning, just horrible chaos! All of us plunged into a life or
Death fell from the skies, tore right into us, eighteen young boys, panicked
Bewildered and scared, we'd reported for duty in a strange land, at a
Confusion prevailed! Pain wrapped me in her deadly claws and I fell to my
Looking straight into the dead eyes of Gerry, this boy from Chicago had
My own leg was ripped through and bleeding profusely, but I could not tear
my eyes away...
Gerry looked startled, his whole front was bloody....he hadn't expected to
die on this day!
Then people were pulling me, tied off my bloody leg, the medic put a shot
in my arm.
Then it was a shadow dream, others were draggin' me, two of my buddies,
one under each arm.
Vaguely, lost in the morphine and pain, I remember prayin' to God to come
and take me....
Take me to heaven, out on the prairie, take me home to where I ought to
And so it was. I got home to the prairie. Home to a paradise I hadn't known
A contented kid had been ripped from his home, and in two months
returned, only half of a lad.
After convalescing', I'd been discharged and sent home, fitted with a
prosthetic where my leg had been.
Rage had first filled me, leaving me used up, and then the bitter depression
But I came from good stock! I could conquer this sucker! I would get a'top
it an' ride!
Part of me knew I'd been a bad war's good soldier, and I felt inside
Then I learned to do about all that I had before, only much slower and
careful, of course.
I'd learned to walk, to get around well, and I'd even re-learned how to
mount up my horse.
In time I married that girl from the drive-in, and we built us a house out on
my folk's spread.
But sometimes, at night, I'd wake up screaming, dreaming of Gerry, lyin'
And sometimes the memories get triggered by small things, sneakin' in sly
to give me a turn.....
Like drizzly rain, or the ache in my bones, or a lovely red sunrise on a
This was my era, a time of uncertainty, when young men were given little
voice in their futures. The Draft struck real fear in the hearts of boys and
their friends and family. No matter ones' politics, it was such a gut-wrenching thing to be balanced on a precipice without any thing to hold
onto. Our boys were sent by thousands halfway around the world and
thrown into a culture foreign and hostile to them, indeed, proving deadly for
many. All survivors came home maimed, if not physically, then, certainly
psychologically. Kids who had successfully avoided the mounting drug
culture back home found it an easy escape from the unrelenting
bombardment of the unacceptable. I still mourn for my friends, for those
who never came home, for those who did. They came home deeply
scarred, broken somewhere deep, and, in many cases, home to misplaced
blame, resentment and rejection by their fellow countrymen. I still feel
awed by the wounds inflicted on my generation. May we pray to God to
keep our sons safe. I believe there are wars that need to be fought;
Vietnam may have been one of them, but sloppy political
scheming and profiting, and forcible enrollment in the ranks of young men
made this war-which-wasn't-a-war untenable. May our leaders never fall to
these depths again. God bless America.