That first day in Vietnam they snag a batch of us young imbeciles
Herd us into one of those mandatory oh-rientating lectures war hygiene security
There are ninety-nine kind of snake in Veet Nawm
Ninety-eight are p’ison and t’other one eat you whole
There’s a island in the South China Sea where all the guys
Got the incurable clap have to live in secret forever no shit on and on
They shoo us into crude bleachers
Though who the hell would have thought to boltboardbuild bleachers
In the open under a sulky sun slight breeze stirring the fragrant air
Flies humming every so often some jerk will doze off dipperduck and fall
Out of his seat hit the ground with a thud
To the ineffable amusement of his buddies

Paratrooper captain struts up front
101st Airborne patch black white yellow One Oh One never wore
Subdued insignia subdued for pussies even in combat pride tradition airborne
Hundred-degree heat yet the captain has on starched fatigues and spit-shined boots
Pistol belt holster mag pouch regulation speaks quietlymorequietly than I would have expected
Paratrooper captain should be noisy arrogant this one speaks quietly

Speaks quietly I say the required subjects
Safety security discipline teamwork airborne we nod
I hear the tell-tale voluptuous abandoned breathing of a sleeping soldier we
Listen strain to stay awake in the searing heat glance around sandbags antenna masts
Pee oh ell drums track crew flaked out in her shade stickribbed mongrel dog tied to a tentstake
Just beyond captain’s makeshift lectern

Captain drones on flies humming dog snoozing sun sulking
Water purification challenge and authentication Geneva Con vention accent on that first syllable
He’s taken out his sidearm fingers it absently as he talks running
Clearly down a prepared list of obligatory Material To Be Covered
Flies humming dog yawning listless horizon floating on wispy waves of corrugation
Captain cocks his piece BA-WOOM shoots that dog bigger’n shit

Dead shoots that dog dead four guys fall off the bleachers
The rest bolt upright now wide-eyed horror now shoot a dog
In front of Americans shoot a dog Norman Rockwell Lassie Rin
Tin Tin Fala Asta Rex Fluffy Spot Rover Sparkie Pooch Ol Yeller
Dog of Flanders Pluto Punky Spunky Bunky Captain
Peering at us expressionless immobile indifferent savoring our outrage our astonishment

Then he speaks again quietlystillquietly
Listen you idiots when I talk to you about war and death you listen you
Listen to everything you don’t sift and choose you don’t edit you don’t tune out you
Don’t forget you listen to the man who has been here six months longer than you you listen
To the man who has been here three months longer than you you listen
To the man who has been here ten minutes longer than you you listen

You listen to the jungle you listen to overflying aircraft you listen to the dinks chatter
You listen to incoming fire you listen to outgoing fire you listen to your buddy
Die because he made a mistake that cost him his life or you made a mistake that cost him his life
You listen this place is about death that worthless dog just died to remind you I
Just made him a monument a martyr just sacrificed him
You make sure no one does that to you

With that my captain holsters his piece gracile gesture
Spins on his heel and stalks off leaves
Us nineteen-year-old imbeciles sitting speechless
Gapemouthed nonplussed sun
Stabbing flies humming dog lying lifeless in the dust widening
Puddle of its blood one foot cocked up into the air sun dust dog sun

Even through the tunnel of time that picture burns in my mind’s eye
Magnificent captain magnificent dog magnificent glowing afternoon mortal
Haled me healed me wholed me pricked my
Consciousness steeled my being I do not forget the lesson I do come home
Where unsettled I find I cannot forget the lesson for like that place
This place too is about death.

Alan Farrell

Sergeant Major Alan F. Farrell, USA, Ret., served in Vietnam from 1968 till 1970 with the Fifth Special Forces Group, was wounded in action, decorated for heroism. He is a longtime professor who taught French and English at Hampden Sydney College for nearly 25 years before serving as the Dean of Faculty at the Virginia Military Institute. He holds a B.A.—Cum Laude—from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, a master’s in German and another in French from Tufts University in Boston, and a doctorate from Tufts in French. He has been designated by the Governor of Virginia a Distinguished Foreign Language Professor and has earned the Virginia Association of Foreign Language Teachers’ Distinguished Service Award.


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