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Here is the letter I will be delivering to The Wall this Memorial Day

To Those Who Did Not Make It Home

Doug Rawlings, Special to Evergreene Digest, 2018 | Yeah, I’m talking to you. It’s been close to fifty years since most of you got “wasted” in Viet Nam. I’m not saying that I’d trade places with you, but I have to say for some veterans of that horrific war maybe a quick death would have been better than the lives they tried to put together after getting out.

Many came back and immediately quit. They committed suicide. Many came back and couldn’t fit into the mold of modern America. They had lost hold of something profound and couldn’t figure out how to get it back. Drugs and alcohol helped some but kicked the shit out of others. Others fell victim to Agent Orange and watched their bodies implode. Some of us were fortunate enough to find life-mates that made living a compartmentalized existence possible — we could bury twisted memories most of the time and not let them control our lives. Some of us are here with you on this Memorial Day, 2018.

I try to write at least one poem a year that I will leave at this Wall. So here’s what I wrote this year. I dedicate it to a friend of mine who got wounded in the war, came home and put together a decent life teaching at the local university that I worked at for almost 30 years. He’s a good guy. But he got me to thinking about how we, now over 70 years old, have come to terms with that shattering year we spent in that war that claimed your lives. And left us to survive. In one sense, we never have really come to terms with it. Hence, the idea of trying to figure it out through the use of zen koans — questions that defy “rational” responses … .

Namvet Zen Koans

For Jon Oplinger

 When does a house stop being a tomb and become a home again?
 When does a memory stop riding you and give you hold of the reins?
 When does morning birdsong stop piercing to the quick and begin to soothe?
 What, for that matter, could possibly be the sound and smell of truth?

 When do you get to sing along with the choir? 
When do you get to come back in through the wire?
When do you get to leave your nightmares for the night?
 What, for that matter, is the need of all this light?

 When do the years finally come out of their spin? 
When do you start letting your lovers take a win?
When do you stop lying to all our children’s children?
 What, for that matter, is the good of letting anyone, anyone in?

Doug Rawlings
, 7/15th Artillery, 
II Corps Central Highlands
, July, 1969 — August, 1970

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