I knew of two Vietnam Vets who had written poignant poems. After getting the ok to use them, I asked a friend and musician to read one and I would read the other. Before then, I did not know he, too, was a Vietnam Vet. There was something on my mind to use as a little speech to lead up to the award portion of the ceremony, so I wrote that up and ran it by a couple of friends to be sure it was all right. What follows here is a list of the songs performed, the text of the poems, and my speech. We had upwards of thirty people attend, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I personally feel it was a job well done.
Caisson Song (both recipients were in the U.S. Army)
Make America Proud of You
There’s Something About a Soldier
The Pledge of Allegiance
The following poem by Clint G. Majors was read by myself after I stated how, over time, Clint used poetry to sort out his emotions and depression.
In raging silence, all I had was lost
My friends, myself, my youthful pride.
In silent screams my search began.
"Awake!" I cried, but no one heard.
Sunless rivers stealthily forged thoughts
Sometimes only in my mind.
I hear their names and see their faces
In jungles past and interlaced in my
Mind’s eye - with silent screams.
My search begins again, "Awake! Awake!"
I cry out to solemn silhouettes
Silently passing me by with body bags
Of olive drab that hide,
That hold my friends inside.
What was lost - What was gained
On lifeless jungle nights?
Here again the screams began
And only I - only I, hear their names
I scream in vain through tears
Then pause and hesitantly call their names
Frank Willis - Harold - Jim - & - Michael
And, then, quietly, gently call the rest.
I cried and no one heard me scream
In silent desperation
Now with bugles blown
Mothers tears all shed
Nightmares fill a widow’s dream
And little girls know their Daddy's dead.
Little boys play at games of war
With plastic helmets and toy guns
Move to Navy Blues with golden Tridents
Upon their chests.
Those little boys will never know
The weighty price they'll pay.
For loud and proud does Freedom ring
But with it comes
Some little girls
With their Daddy dead.
Again I hear their names
Frank Willis - Harold - Jim - & - Michael
And then quietly, gently call the rest.
No one heard me scream
In silent desperation.
By Clint G. Majors, Seal Team One, US Navy
“Some Gave Some, Some Gave All” sung by Cheryl Devivo
This poem by Smokey Culver, an accomplished cowboy poet and all around great guy was read by Glenn Murray.
Orders in his hand, he stepped up in that Greyhound bus
He looked back and he wondered to himself
“Is Vietnam a one-way trip; will I be coming home?
I’ll have to play the hand that I’ve been dealt.”
They came from farms and cities, from all backgrounds rich and poor
No common bonds, from different worlds, and yet
Those friendships, though unlikely, would be all that they would have.
He’d give his life for someone he’d just met.
He saw a world he never once imagined he would see
As bullets passed, he felt each brush with death.
He clutched her picture in his hand and said a prayer of thanks
Each time he lived to take another breath.
For some, the letters came from home and kept their hope alive.
They had someone who waited patiently.
Yet others were alone in life and had no one at all.
Their wartime buddies were their family.
And there were those who met their fate, their lives were gone so soon,
Their names are now inscribed upon “The Wall.”
They stepped up and they did their part; they didn’t hesitate
When they were called upon, they gave it all.
It seems it’s been a lifetime, yet those days he still recalls.
He sits and has his coffee all alone
Reflecting on the nights when fire lit up the blood-red sky
And, if he slept, he dreamed of being home.
You would not know to look at him the visions he endures
The tortured screams, the blasting of the bombs.
Yet there’s a part of him that’s lost, it never will return
The part of him he left in Vietnam.
At that point, I dried my tears and stepped up to say my part. This is what I had prepared.
In 1970, my 8th grade history class held a debate. Three people prepared the “Pro” argument supporting the war in Vietnam. Three other people were to present the “Con” point of view arguing against it. The Pro people had very valid arguments and even statistics that validated fighting against communism threatening the people of South Vietnam. But the popular opinion of the time was that the US military should not be involved. The Con group used dramatic speech and capitalized on the high emotion of the time and the whole class was swept into the anti-war feeling.
I voted for the Con group, though that wasn’t actually how I felt. Only recently I learned another classmate had the opposite experience, his class voted unanimously for the Pro group. This just goes to show you, emotion can sway opinion. Years afterward, I realized what had happened to me, being swept up in emotion and peer pressure, likely happened to a lot of people. And, even at the time, it was something of an epiphany for me.
When that early teenaged class failed to do what was obviously right, it affected the shy girl that I was. Somewhere inside me, the regret of not supporting the better argument molded a resolve to always stand up for what is right. It might scare me, my hands might shake, but I will say what needs to be said. People who know me can attest to that.
Both of my parents served in World War II. I am a patriot at heart and so was very pleased to be able to become the area representative for the Quilts of Valor. The Quilt of Valor Foundation was established in 2003 by a mother of a deployed soldier in Iraq; knowing the comfort a quilt can bring and the importance of supporting the veteran of war. Since then the program has grown nationwide and has awarded over 280,000 quilts. That creates an emotion I’m proud to share.
Today we are here to award quilts to two Vietnam veterans. Craig Washam, Jr. served as a Howitzer gunner with the 1st Infantry Division. Mark Hall was a Green Beret with the 7th Ranger Battalion. We thank you for your service, gentlemen. And, yes, that was a long time ago, but what we experience in life creates who we are. These men deserve to be recognized and we are honored to present them with these homemade quilts.
We then called up the recipients and, each in his turn, wrapped him in a quilt with his name on it to, as the QOV people say, “Wrap them in love and comfort.” I cracked a joke that it was like crowning a king and draping the fur trimmed cape over the crowned prince. We laughed about it and the men were very good and willing participants. Each said he was very honored to have received such a meaningful award. Then we had some cookies and water. The ceremony was a big success. I can only imagine what the next one will be like!