Treasure Island

Bri Edwards


[War] Boy In An Envelope..... [War (Vietnam 'conflict') : a parent's loss; condolences; VERY LONG, but worth the time]


The long envelope was addressed to Mr. Robert K. Hess.
One corner was torn away.....and it lacked a return address.
I’d just received it that day, with a batch of others;
it was a light mail-day; some days the volume smothers.

I opened up the envelope, what was left of it, and read.....
“Dear Mr. Hess,
Sorry this comes so late. I know your son is dead.”

I caught my breath. I’d received a similar letter years ago,
but this one contained a photo also, which caused my tears to flow.

The photo, black and white, showed a father with his son.
Each was dressed in camouflage, and each carried.....a deer gun.
On the back was a name and address, the same as envelope.
And written in pencil it said “Me and Dad, hunting antelope.”

There was a date also written: November 12,1963.
Memories of my son now swept rapidly over me.
There were about ten pages, handwritten, staring at me now.
I could not make myself read it yet. My head did slowly bow.

The next day I took it up again, with very mixed feelings indeed.
But my mind and soul both seemed to feel, the letter I might need.

“My name is Hank” the letter said. “I knew your son in NAM.
This photo of you and your son, for years has helped keep me calm.”

I stared at the photo for a while. Did my son look like that long ago?
I scanned the letter and found no return address. The letter, I was about to throw.
But I couldn’t do it! I had to read it someday. Again I set it aside.
Ten years I’ve been without a son, but, for him, I’m still filled with pride.

It took a week before I read some more. I had plenty more to do.
I thought reading the long letter might help, the parent-child bond, renew.

“I’ve enclosed Tom’s dog tags. He gave them to me before he died.
I should have turned them in but I didn’t, and for two days, at night, I cried.
Tom was my buddy for six months; we shared more than you want to know.
It wasn’t ALL bad in The NAM. Once we saw a live comedy show.
He was a bit of a crazy kid, who at crazy times would sing a song.
He spoke highly of you, though he said you didn’t always get along.”

The letter went on and on. I was tempted several times to quit.
Sometimes, due to some torn off page corners, I missed a little bit.
Yes, there’d been corners torn off of pages, and of the envelope too.
Dog tags were missing; through the open envelope corner I suppose they flew.

Hank spoke of a visit to Saigon, and of the oppressive heat,
of villagers who’d had legs blown off, and meals they had to eat.
He did NOT mention drugs, nor the girls I imagine they'd sampled,
nor TOO much of fighting, nor of anything or anybody they may have trampled.

He mentioned seeing a cobra one day and he mentioned the sounds at night.
He said much of their time there was boring. Beer came by helicopter flight.
There were church services held in “the field”. They burned much of their shit.
The few times they had enemy contact, each soldier tried.....to not “get hit”.

“Part of the year has terrible rains. They call them a “wet” monsoon.
One of the few things like in the States, was the stars at night and the moon.
Some of us (just a few) wrote regularly to folks back home.
Some were concerned more with leech removal and having a good lice comb.

“I spent a second tour in The NAM after your son died. Was I nuts?
Partly, your son’s death was why I stayed. I wanted to kick some V.C. butts.
I got my chance in my seventeenth month there. I got two gooks, but they got ME.
I lost an arm and one eye, but my medical care is free.

“I’ve also had flashbacks of being hit, or those I killed, and of your son.
If I could rule the world now.....I’d get rid of every bomb, mortar, and gun.
One good thing, I guess, came out of that mess. I met my dear wife Susie.
She took care of me in Walter Reed. I’ve got a son, Tom; he is a doozy.

“I’ve debated telling you how your son died. Now I guess I will.
It was not drugs or suicide.....as happened to some. It happened on a hill.
I’ve heard Tom’s listed as “Missing In Action”, but I tell you he did die.
But I don’t know if I can say his death was needed. No, I will not lie.

“We were ordered to take a hill overlooking a “strategic valley”.
We were warned not to commit any “atrocities” like was done by Lt. Calley.
Maybe we did, and maybe we didn’t. It was not clear who the enemy was.
When we were ordered to take the hill, we did as a “good soldier” does.

“We were told there were NVA and VC and maybe Chinese on the hill.
We were told to advance cautiously, but to proceed at will.
We kept in touch with the home base until our radio operator was shot.
The radio was “killed” too, so we were a bit “in the dark”; ours was a sorry lot.

“Our platoon started with forty men, most as young as Tom and me.
By the time we’d gotten off the hill, I think we were down to twenty-three.
Halfway up Tom got hit in the chest, I think from machine gun fire,
but he could have been hit by a sniper bullet; treetop snipers could get much higher.

'I was ten feet away and I went and cradled his head.
He gave me his tags, which I’m sending to you, but in a few minutes he was dead.”

By now I was choking, and my tears were soaking the page; I stopped.
I wondered if my son died with a buddy, with his head up-propped.
The next day, after a sleepless night, I returned anxiously to the letter.
I thought a day’s rest would prepare me for letter’s end, but I did not do much better.

“I know, sir, some war movies show soldiers carrying their dead away,
but, I hope you’ll believe me, on THAT hill THAT day, there was......NO damn way.
You wouldn’t have gotten your son’s body back; I’d probably have lost mine.
I hope you’ll forgive me, sir. I hope, with my decision, you’ll be fine.”

Once again I hesitated, with page in hand, but I could not stop reading now.
I grabbed more tissues and drank some water, and to the end I did plow.

“Our forces took the hill at last.....after it was mostly destroyed.
To accomplish this, however, it was carpet bombed and napalm was employed.
I don’t really know if they looked for Tom. The hill was “held”......for a few months.
That’s the way things went sometimes......for us U.S. Army grunts.

“I haven’t given you my return address; it was hard enough, as is.....
to write to you at long last, and give you what, for Tom, once were his.
I know he cherished the photo; I took it from him when he died.
The dog tags have been a comfort for me many nights when I have cried.
But I’m on a new med now, from the VA doctor, to calm my nerves at night.
They seem to be working and I thought you should have what was Tom’s. It’s right!

“I hope this envelope reaches you safely. I hope you haven’t moved.
I hope you believe my story, and, that Tom had a NAM buddy, this proved.
With my sincere condolences on the loss of your son.
Sincerely, Hank

p.s. I’ll remember him each time my boy’s little hand, on mine, does yank.”





My eyes were red and tired by now, but all my tears had dried.
I’m sorry I failed to find a return address. My boss will know I tried.
My name is not Mr. Hess. My son’s name was Ron, not Tom.
Ron died, I’m told, in ’68, when his patrol was hit by …..an errant bomb.

I work in a Post Office Dead Letter Office where we get our share of mail.
I know many, hearing of my job, will think “Post Office? ”, and then think “snail”.
Each day I look at mail pieces marked “undeliverable, return to sender”.
Hank’s envelope came here to be opened, as no return address he did tender.

Sometimes we have good luck and the mail finds its way back home.
Today we’ll send, to the waste bin, this heartbreaking, belated ‘tome’.

[My name is Rose Cranston. Ron was 19 when he died. I miss him.]

(March 31,2014)

Submitted: Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Edited: Thursday, April 03, 2014


Topic(s): war

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

it took so long to finish typing this today, that i now am pressed for time to add the 'story'/poet's note. i plan to! i plan to define some of the terms i've used, and to commment on lt. calley (a real army officer who got in trouble in vietnam; but he didn't get killed by his men, as i've heard happened to some u.s. officers) . bri :)

in the 'vietnam war' era, i was in high school, college, and at my first 'real job', from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. in 1970 i was granted a 'conscientious objector' {1-O, i think it was called) deferment by my draft board; this kept me from having to go into the military. i was opposed to the war, and 'all wars' in fact [though i may well have volunteered to be in the military during world war 2, if i'd been alive then]. instead of being drafted or volunteering for the military, i volunteered to work for two years in a hospital, caring for patients.
my father's name was Robert (but i don't think i was thinking of him when i wrote Robert K. Hess) . my younger brother's name is Tom, and he did spend a year in vietnam (NAM) , in the army, but he was not a 'GRUNT' (army infantryman; fighting 'soldier') . he suffered no serious after-effects of his stay there that i am aware of.
i did have a boy in my high school class who died in NAM, and several other men from my small city-hometown also were victims of NAM. (my two older brothers were in the military also. one was in the coast guard before the vietnam 'war'; the other was in the air force during vietnam but never left the u.s.)
i did work many years in the u.s. postal service, but not in one of the few 'dead letter offices'. the names Robert K. Hess, Hank, Ron, Susie, and Rose Cranston just popped into my head as i wrote. they do not refer to people i know/knew. i may have been thinking about my brother, Tom, when i wrote 'Tom' the first time.
the united states, along with support from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Republic of China/Taiwan, and maybe Canada, assisted the South Vietnamese government forces against the North Vietnamese government forces and the Viet Cong forces. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China/The People's Republic of China, and other communists governments.
the 'domino theory' was one reason why the u.s. was in SE Asia fighting. the theory held that communism would spread to other countries in that part of the world if it was not kept out of South Vietnam. it was a theory, and i guess we'll never know if over 50,000 u.s. military deaths was worth the effort. communists did take over South Vietnam (North Vietnam was already controlled by communists) .
there was a 'mixup' which prompted the 'tonkin gulf resolution' which really caused the escalation of u.s. involvement, militarily, in southeast asia, especially in vietnam. war was never officially declared by the u.s.that i know of.
i could say more, but here are some terms with brief 'definitions' to help you understand the poem and my poet's note/story of poem. i found some interesting articles online about Lt. Calley and about dog tags and the origin of the word gook.


NAM: VIETNAM/VIET NAM; A SMALL COUNTRY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

VC/V.C.: VIET CONG; A LOOSE GROUP OF 'GUERRILLA' FIGHTERS THAT THE U.S. FOUGHT IN NAM

NVA: NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY; ANOTHER FORCE AGAINST U.S. IN NAM

GOOKS: A DEROGATORY NAME FOR ASIANS, USED BY MANY AMERICAN FORCES AND SOME CIVILIANS 'AT HOME' I SUPPOSE

GRUNTS: U.S. ARMY INFANTRYMEN; 'SOLDIERS'

MORTARS: SMALL CANNONS WHICH FIRE MORTAR SHELLS (SMALL BOMBS)

LT. CALLEY: A 2ND LIEUTENANT (A LOW-RANKING MILITARY OFFICER) ACCUSED OF KILLING (ALONG WITH THE MEN UNDER HIS COMMAND) MANY VIETNAMESE VILLAGERS ONE DAY IN 1969 OR 1968.

WALTER REED: BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THE VIETNAM ERA, A MILITARY HOSPITAL IN WASHINGTON, D.C., THE CAPITOL OF THE U.S.A.

'BURNED MUCH OF THEIR SHIT': JUST WHAT IT SAYS. I SAW THIS PORTRAYED ANYWAY, IN A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE, 'FORREST GUMP', WITH TOM HANKS. I GUESS IT WAS TO PASS SOME TIME FOR SOLDIERS WHO HAD TIME ON THEIR HANDS, AND TO GET RID OF THE SHIT (HUMAN EXCREMENT) .

'IN THE FIELD': WHEREVER THE MEN COULD GATHER SAFELY AND A RELIGIOUS 'LEADER' WAS AVAILABLE (OR NOT, I SUPPOSE): not in a church building

'DRAFT BOARD': A GROUP OF U.S. CITIZENS WHO DECIDED, IN THEIR LOCALITIES, WHICH BOYS/MEN WOULD BE CHOSEN TO BE INDUCTED INTO THE MILITARY FORCES OF THE U.S.A.; I'M NOT SURE IF THE DRAFTEES WERE ALWAYS DRAFTED INTO THE ARMY, RATHER THAN INTO ANOTHER BRANCH OF THE MILITARY, LIKE NAVY, AIR FORCE, MARINES, OR COAST GUARD.

*****NOTE WELL: I don't vouch for complete accuracy in this poem, or in my poet's notes. if i have made any errors worth mentioning, feel free to send me a message.

*****ALSO: even though i was opposed to the war, i harbor no ill feelings for those who participated, at least not 'just because' they participated. i'm sure many of them were doing what they felt was 'right' in being part of the military, and others were 'forced', by being drafted, to be part of the military and follow military orders or face possible punishment by the u.s. military.

bri :)



dog tag...........a metal tag worn around the neck by soldiers, identifying them (in case of injury or death, etc)

Comments about this poem ([War] Boy In An Envelope..... [War (Vietnam 'conflict') : a parent's loss; condolences; VERY LONG, but worth the time] by Bri Edwards )

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  • John Westlake (4/10/2014 12:01:00 PM)

    Sad but also a little humorous. (Maybe it's just me.) Worth the read. Also if you did make any errors, just plead poetic license! (Report) Reply

  • Bri Edwards (4/2/2014 11:41:00 PM)

    well, dog tag was not meant to be in smaller print at the end of my note, but that's what happened. arf. arf. :) bri (Report) Reply

  • Douglas Scotney (4/2/2014 8:42:00 PM)

    worth it, Bri. The occasional humorous rhyme interested me in the sense that it made me think of the place of humour in the serious business that is life.
    I suppose someone took those dog tags thinking they were coins. (Report) Reply

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