"Purple Hearts: Poetry of the Vietnam War"

What is the story about this collection of poems?

When I was given my orders to go to Vietnam, at the end of the summer of 1966, I began to record how I felt in poems. I saved them all in folders and later on in small boxes that gathered dust for several decades.

I wrote before I left for the war, while in combat in Nam and on R & R, and when I came back home. Some of these poems were even created many years after I was out of the Army and raising my family.

When I started to pull them together for a collection to be published, I decided to add some of those later ones that reflected on how I was dealing with Nam.

The book was published in 2003 and was used by some military organizations as a fund riser with the profits from the sales going to their own causes.

I share some selected poems here. The full and and complete book is available on Amazon.

Purple Hearts Poems

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On Leave Before Going to War

October 1966
San Francisco, California 


Standing alone with others
On Telegraph Hill,
I searched the incoming fog
For answers,
I could find none.
The lights of the city below

Burned through the darkness.
I could hear the muted sounds

Of people around me.
Some may have lovers,
Perhaps having to say good-bye.
Others may have been voices
Of angles chanting prayers for peace
In the foggy mist.

I saw myself
Like that lonely fog
That desperately hugs the city,
Hoping that some
Future wind doesn't blow it away
Before it can fully fully taste life.

This is my city.
My home, My place of birth.
This is where I began my journey.
This is where I begin a new one.

I have felt this city breathe
And I've known her cries
As she bids farewell to countless
Departing warships,
Each filled with young virgin warriors
Venturing of to some distant war stained shore
To meet themselves and their fate
On some battleground graveyard.

I love this damned city
Filled with so many lost souls, suicides, broken dreams,
And lonely poets
Who hate to say good-bye. 

image8

Mike and Donna's Wedding

It was joyful sorrow
With tears and flowers;
I could feel it all
As my buddy said , "I do,"

His time was slipping away.
His 30-day leave had almost expired;
Soon he would leave for Nam.

The only questions that remained
Were never asked.

Would Mike come home again?

Would he ever really be the same?





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I am Off to War, My Gentle Carol

October 1966
Berkeley, California

Gentle Carol,
Your soft voice
Still murmurs within my memories.
Your image
Hangs onto the very corners
Of this young warrior's heart.

I can feel traces of my heart
Leaving wet rivers
Down my manly checks.

Gentle Carol,
Must I go?
Must I be taken away
Like a fallen leaf
In the cold fall wind?

How far

Is a long time?
How many moments
Must pass?
Will tomorrow still
Be waiting for us?


Gentle Carol,
How many leaves must fall?
How many cold winds
Will chill the air?
Will you still be here?
And will I still be
Your young warrior poet? 

image10

I Wanted the World

I wanted to travel
When I was just a child.
I wanted to reach out
Across seas, skies, green valleys,
Climb tall mountains,
Walk crowded city streets
Filled with beautiful young maidens

Who lived only on poetry and oranges.

I wanted to touch

Souls of people

Who were not like me. 

I wanted to see and be in places

That were foreign to my young being.

I wanted to live in places

That I only saw and felt in dreamland.
I wanted to taste foods and life

As it was experienced someplace else. 


I wanted to hold

Snowflakes from Himalayan mountain tops

On my tongue

And dance naked across virgin beaches

On some uncharted island.

I wanted to find

Some enlightened poet

Who could show me 

How to find the rainbow's end.


I wanted to understand why, and how, 

And find that truth

That lay hidden

Under layers of forgotten karma

And lost dreams.


I wanted so much

When I was just a child.

I wanted the world

Back then 

But now, 

All I want is you

And me!

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Secret Sun

October 1966
Santa Cruz, California


Secret sun
Flashing innocent smiles
Across your bare skin
And veiled eyes.

I whisper
In the darkness
And stare quietly
At your modest
warm body
Touching mine.

Tomorrow we'll go
To the beach
And run naked
Across the sand

While the sea
Stares quietly
At your modest
Warm body
Touching mine. 

image12

I have to Say Good-bye, Momma

How do you say good-bye to your mother?
How do you tell her not to worry?
I need to go
But I cannot say good-bye.

How do you say good-bye to your friends?
It will never be the same again.
Off they go to college
And off you go to war;
Doesn't seem really fair.

How do I say good-bye to my childhood days?

Mama, give my toys away, 

I won't be playing much ball when I come home.

One year, or perhaps a lifetime!

Coming home is not a certainty.


Good-bye, Momma,

I love you too. 

Take care of the dog

And send me cookies soon.

Good-bye Momma.

So Long. 

I will be back

When my tour is through.Good-bye, Momma. 



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On Flight to South Vietnam

October 1966

A Young poet
Goes to war
Laughing at the uniform
He Now wears,
And Cries
Because He must.

Not totally aware

Of why,
he goes

Because
it is his duty
And tries to understand

And
cries

Because
He cannot!

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Lonely is a Reservoir

December 28th, 1966
Phu Loi, South Vietnam

Lonely is a reservoir
Of bad times
And people.


I've cried sometimes
Watching the dawn

Break across 

Future graveyards.


It's funny how thoughts

Seem so loud,

Pounding away at our insides

With memories beyond

Obituary dreams

And suicide smiles. 


I look around me

At all the young faces

with thousand-year-old eyes

Reflecting only the mute

Sadness of the morning light. 


And we stand there

Waiting

Fo the battles to begin, 

Not knowing 

Or being able

To taste tomorrow's joys. 


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I learned About War Last Night

January 16, 1967
Hobo Woods, South Vietnam

I learned about war
Last night

And I killed you.

You looked
Through your eyes
Last night

And you saw me.

You and I
Are only
Government pawns
Upon a voyage
That could only be rehearsed In Nightmares.

My breast-fed friend,
By whose design Have we fallen prey?

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Napalmed Village... South Vietnam

April 3, 1967
Unknown LZ, South Vietnam

While some general
Prearranges our collective liquidation
(Like a reverse metamorphosis)
In mosiac bamboo killing fields,
Hidden next to bombed out
Buddhist temples,

I see through the think flames
A pair of
Vacant, paralyzed oriental eyes
Dancing to death,
Accompanied only by
The muttering sounds
Of his boneless, fleshless self
Suffocating in his own
Sewage-dust remains
And red-syrup skies.

Yet somewhere,
Someplace,
Within our very being,
A profile photographic image

Of God
whispers unfocused
and unheard.  

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Entertainment

August 17, 1967
War Zone C, South Vietnam

TV news crews
Film our every move
For the folks back home.

Their cameras held like
Magic wands
While death is transformed
Into nightly entertainment.

They stand there waiting,

Smiling inside

In hopes
Of some suicide assault

Or a blaze of bloody abortions
From boy-men extras
In their war-movie lives,

Where the only reward Is to remain alive

For another day.

"Hey, Son,
Can you move a little to the right,
You are blocking the camera's view,
And can you smile a little

For the folks back home?"

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Eating the Sunshine

My head cradled on a sandbag,
I lie here
Looking up at the sky.
The ground is nothing more than dry mud.
Hard dust covers everything
Like dead skin. 


Thoughts of home-cooked meals,

Cruising 1st Street with my car,

Meeting the guys at the pizza parlor,

And listening to the Beach Boys sing, 


I am here absorbing the rays

Filtering down from the Asian sun. 

It makes me miss

My California sunshine

Even more. 


No one hears my thoughts,

No one really cares. 


I haven't any emotions left.

Nothing but hardened mud. 

It does not flow

And it does not show.


So I lie here

Under Aisan skies

And dream of California sunshine,

Hot showers, 

Flush toilets,

And mom's apple pie. 

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Funeral Fires

August 12, 1967
War Zone C, South Vietnam

Gun fire and fear
Grew bigger
With each moment
We lay there,
Covered by an umbrella of terror

Where not even the blue sky

Could touch us

Or give us courage. 


We lay there

Listening to the rhythmic bombings

Of Elysian Fields

By angels 

flying B-52s

While

We dreamed 

Of voyages beyond

This corpse-filled moment. 


But I also knew

For sure

I was not ready 

For any funeral fires.

I just had too many more

Desires!