Friday, June 17, 2011

Alice's Poem for Louise

Louise's sister Alice wrote several poems over the years trying to make sense of her sister's experience in Vietnam.  She sent me this one with permission to print it.  It was written some 30 years after the fact, from the viewpoint of her sister or any other nurse like her. Her comments on the poem are below.

Reality Show
I came back to The World in 1971---
A year had gone by.
From Saigon to San Francisco on a transport
then on to Chicago Midway by commercial.
25 hours of flight-and-wait time
only to arrive to the taunts of unkempt homies.
They wore filthy fatigues and long strands of Love beads,
bodies bouncing around
unencumbered by clean or dirty underwear.
Some sat on the ground, wrapped in dirty Old Glories.
They carried placards with the peace symbol
demanding PEACE NOW!
Their version and mine of reality.....
One guy protested by spitting on me.
I stopped in an airport gift shop, bought a sweatshirt.
Ducked into a ladies' to peel off the dress greens,
switching to wheat-jeans and sandals from my carry-on
to go with the new shirt. Stuffed the pantyhose
in the trash.
My feet were cold, but blending in,
I sat at the Ozark gate,
waiting for the final leg of the journey,
my flight to Waterloo.
I had been off saving babies for a year.
From newborns of mixed-racial parentage
left by their abandoned mothers with the nuns
at the orphanage down the road from the unit,
to American boy-babes
a couple-three years younger than I,
drafted from cities and towns and farms
back in The World---
They were carried into our Med-Evac
asking for Mom
and I shush-shushed them, saying, "It's OK......"
and the ones we didn't save
couldn't save
are forever twenty in my mind.
                        ---AMW 8/28/03
This was a previous effort that I had polished up & used for a poetry course, and the instructor, who was a student at the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, was probably a lot younger & didn't understand it. He didn't know a military transport plane from a commercial flight. BIG difference in comfort of the ride & how much room there was for feet and legs. This guy opined that hippie demonstrators were a myth, that this did not REALLY happen......that they would spit on returning military people in uniform. 
But it did happen, and it happened to Louise in Chicago.  Ozark was a midwest airline company, now long defunct.  And that orphanage was real, too. Louise wrote home about the conditions there, and she got our mother to do a baby clothing drive. Mom got ALL the church women in town going on that, Reformed, Methodist, and Roman Catholic, and gathered several boxes of baby things to ship to VietNam. 
It was an interesting time!  I suppose all times are interesting........if you think about it. :-)  Lots to pray about.


  1. I think that time was much more interesting. Regardless, yeah I never spit on anyone or talked bad to their face, but I did indeed talk bad about them. We didn't understand why people would go there, but came to understand the more Vet's told their stories, and then learned how the Vet's needed help and didn't often get it.
    The poem is beautiful!

  2. My husband was spit upon the minute he landed. I'm not getting around to visiting blogs lately, but I made it here!

  3. I doubt the returning vets were treated any worse than the dissenters were treated in redneck country. As I recall the country was extremely polarized. Neither side really understood the other as the old order gave way to new or as Dylan wrote "the times they are a changing".
    Some of Canada's best citizens came across our border to dodge the draft. Now that we have Harper, that won't happen again. With no draft in America now at least Canadians wouldn't have to watch helplessly as Harper sent draft dodgers back across the border. If he's been in power then, we'd have been fighting in Vietnam.

  4. I left Siagon on Brantiff airlines - flew into California - The first young American girl I saw as I entered the terminal asked me how many babies I had killed.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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