1.   Cavalry Charge

They were all lined up long-ways
Like horses in days of old
Facing an inconsequential border fence
Separating Vietnam from Cambodia.
    There were M-48 Tanks
        Armored Personnel Carriers
            Jeeps with .50 Cal. machine guns
            Engines revving up,
                Belching smoke and noise ...
            As Tank gunners loaded their guns
        With cannon rounds.
    The Major in command got out his .45
Then fired three shots into the air
He waved them "Forward"
Rolling over that lousy fence, the "official" invasion
Going after the North Vietnamese.

by Contributing Poet:     Ray Whitaker   Copyright 2015
      ( First published in  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam   2015 )

  2.   First Wave into the Ashau

We had our
Collective asses kicked
There before in 1966,
there in the Ashau Valley
Two years and one month before today
The Special Forces
Were nearly over-run there     at this very place.

    We went back in with a vengeance     Operation Delaware
    A combat air assault in March of '68
    At either end of the valley.
    The pre-flight briefing at Can Ranh was
    Comprehensive and detailed.

Our job was "construction"
All three wings of our F-4Cs
Up for this day
Doing LZ "constructions"
With 3,000 pound bombs
Equipped with six foot fuse extenders.
    We were to follow
    The FAC's
    In their O-2s, showing us the way
    With their Willy Petes indicating where
    To place our ton and half bombs
We went up ...
F-4s taking off as a squadron.

We were to precede
The Loaches and Cobras and Hueys, and
All the ground troops
    Only by minutes
    Having done our "construction"
        The ground fire was
        So intense that our
        FACs told us to hold off
        So that F-100 fighters
        Could do flak suppression
        Near our construction sites.

"Come back in, give us 20 mike-mikes."
Our orbit pattern enabled
Us to see
What looked like
A thousand choppers waiting
To move in on Charlie.
    We saw the F-100's
    Moving in from the right
    And the left firing cannon
    And folding fin rockets
The detonations of which
Would grant temporary access
To the FACs
For the Willy Petes markers
It was a very hot few minutes
        For Charlie on the ground,
        And then we came in.

I started my pass
Over the mountains eastward
Somewhere around 15,000 feet
From the base-leg, a 135 degree banking turn
Leaving me pointed towards the target.
    Correcting     correcting up a little
    On the smoke of a white phosphorus marker
    Dropped by our FAC.
        I was glad that
        The 3, 000 pounder
        With six foot fuse extender
        Is a stable bomb ...
        It pretty much goes where you put it
        Dropped from 400 feet
        On impact it's an instantaneous bang
        With lots of potential
        Fragmentation damage to my airplane
        So we didn't tarry --
        Nary a bit!

This was the lead plane's run
And plane two - me ...
From the two plane flight
I followed the FAC's directions:
    "From lead plane's bomb,
    Hit lead plane's bomb."
    Which I did ...
        These blasts would clear
        All the thick jungle
        In that area
        Preparing, constructing
        An LZ for the Grunts, and
        Destroying     slaying
        Any VC that might just be there.

On our way out     Cam Ranh bound
We dodged flak,
Our Hueys     Loaches     and Cobras
Our F-100s     and the FAC's O-2s
And also ... not the least of all

    The rest of our squadron
    In the air
    Flying, it seemed
    Every which way.
        We were flying way too fast
        At 480 IAS
        To watch any single firefight
        On the ground.
    It seemed like the
    Whole valley
    Was in a firefight
    With dozens of columns
    Of smoke from battles
    Rising     it seemed
    From everywhere.
        I saw a helicopter
        Go down     burning
        On my last pass through the valley
        Then we were clear of the battle.

by Contributing Poet:     Ray Whitaker   Copyright 2015
      ( First published in  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam   2015 )

  3.   Families of the Enemy

It was over ...
This bloody firefight had been successful
    For us.
    Another NVA basecamp destroyed
    By our Mike Force     our usual efficient work
    Bodies lay where they had fallen, slain
    By M-60s, M-16s, M-79, and
    Our highly trained unit from Moc Hoa.

        Smoke poured out of their burning ammo bunker
        No one left alive in this ruined basecamp
        The NVA had lost     this day
            We were gathering for Intel:
            Half burnt papers unit correspondence
            Such as there was left undestroyed.
                And some of the officer's bodies were frisked
                Looking for what?
                I really didn't know,
            Just a wallet here on this NVA Captain with
            Several personal photos in it,
            What looked like his classmates in OCS
            Pictures of two men, a bunch of youths, a boy
            One that maybe was his wife and kids, and
            A picture of a medal-pinning ceremony.

It was clear to me now, that
This officer     wasn't     just         the         enemy
He was a man     with a history,
A man with         loved ones
A man with         concerns and loves and ...
    It struck me just then
    That he was much like me
    Risking dying             just like me
    Far from home     just like me.

by Contributing Poet:     Ray Whitaker   Copyright 2015
      ( First published in  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam   2015 )

  4.   Distinguished Flying Cross at Khe Sanh

The GCA warned us,
"Taking fire from Victor Charles,
Better wait, delay your approach, Aircraft 609."
    I did.
"Stay in the area, we need the ammo."
    I flew in a circle at 5,000 feet
    Observing the siege below
    I joined several C-123 Providers     awaiting clearance.

Khe Sanh was what the NVA wanted
It was clearly under siege
No ground roads could be traveled.
    Air support was the life-blood
    To those Marines.

Two of the C-123s up there with me
Aborted their mission
Claiming: "Low on fuel."
    While in our holding pattern,
Leaving us to deliver
    Critical supplies: ammo, and fresh troops.
    At last, GCA cleared us to land.
    This was our fifth mission here in two days.

On approach, I am impressed
By an F-4 Phantom
He blows by us.         Fast!
    Less than 100 yards away, dropping
    His 750 pound bomb.

As I'm about to touch down
Big concussions buffet my plane ...
A new crater
    Just outside the Marine's perimeter
From the F-4
    Ruin's some NVA's day
    And gives us time
    To get in     and hopefully     out.

It was rough, on that cratered strip
Landing on the pierced steel planking
Never stopping, we taxied
At full land speed
Around to the Loading Zone on the left of the airstrip.

It was like going through
An airplane salvage yard, with
Airplane wings, empionaiges and airplane fuselages
    Blown up, and bulldozed     just off the strip.
Evidence of a pilot's mission that
    Came to a
    Violent, and destructive
    Abrupt end.

There's incoming artillery
Now where we just were ...
I saw the explosions out of the window
    Behind my bird;
I'm glad I'm taxiing ...
    Our movement making it harder for
    The NVA to get range on us,
    And they sure were trying.

I rolled past Marines in foxholes
Filthy, grimy     they waved
Glad to see our C-123 and
    The ammo and supplies
    They needed to survive all this.

I didn't dare stop the plane
Mortar fire was deadly, and
An airplane can be a fragile thing.
    We off-loaded in the Loading Zone while constantly moving
My loadmaster busy pushing crates
    Over the lip
    Of the bottom clamshell door, and
    Trying not to fall out himself.

Time to go!
We rounded the corner
Of the landing zone, onto
    The strip     bouncing     lurching
    On that pierced steel planking.

Engines revving up
We began our take-off
Clamshell doors starting to close,
    Moving faster now down the strip.
A hand suddenly appeared on the door lip
    My Loadmaster helped one frantic Marine aboard
    He'd had enough of the constant firefight
    Wounded, he's going out with us now.

No stopping now,
We lift off
I'm glad the NVA mortars
    Missed us ...
    Airborne at last!

Once clear of the siege below
We were damn glad of it.
And the very next morning
    The Ops tower at Phan Rang
Told us all that the strip
    At Khe Sanh was closed to fixed wing aircraft
    Until the battle lifted some
    Due to the planes lost while on the ground.

by Contributing Poet:     Ray Whitaker   Copyright 2015
      ( First published in  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam   2015 )

  5.   First Sergeant and the Cherries

            On duty in the Orderly Room
            And yet     another drink,
            His fourth today ...
            First SGT. was remembering
            Only all too well ...

Firebase Alpha
Nearly over-run, perimeter all lit up
And Spec.-4 Smith dying at 0300
Two rounds having made hamburger of his gut.
And Charlie's fourth wave onto the wire
On that eerie, deadly night
As ghostly flares illuminated the firefight's noise
While the Helo Gunships rained death on Charlie from above,
Being nearly out of ammo
When the attack was broken.

            First SGT. was quite nearly drunk
            When the two Cherries reported in, wearing
            Starched fatigues     not dirty yet
            With the 'Nam.
        He looked up in a haze
        As they announced their names, and:
        "Ain't goin' to no front."
        "No Sir, ain't goin' to no front!"
        "Might as well find us
        Some job in the rear, Sarge."
        "Ain't goin' to no front line!"

    Well, no telling what went through
    First Sgt.'s mind, and
    Those Cherries had about
    A snowball's chance in Hell
    Of coming out of that hut untouched.
The next thing I know
First SGT. grabbed his shotgun
And let rounds fly
At those Cherries.
BAM     BAM     BAM!
He was drunk, and missed ...

                Lucky for them.
    They came out the door
    The door blew up behind them
    BAM     BAM     BAM!
    Pieces of hut flying,
    Cherries running fast as hell
    Away from what they thought
    Was a madman.
        Someone called the MPs
        And they subdued him.
        First Sgt.'s bellowing, screaming
        "Let me at them ...
        I'll kill those lousy SOBs."
            It took four MPs to hold him.
            Disarm him
            As they dragged him away.

I heard he was
Shipped out stateside
I hope they gave him
For he was a good
Man     Lifer     Regular Army
He'd just had too much,
Crossed the line
Been pushed too far.
Who would have thought
That Cherries could do
What they did
To a good Man
Like him?

by Contributing Poet:     Ray Whitaker   Copyright 2015
      ( First published in  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam   2015 )

Bio:   Ray Whitaker,   with two books of poetry to his credit, ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam (212 pages, 3/2015) and 23, 18 (90 pages, 10/2015), has been writing poetry since he was seventeen. Holding a Bachelor's in Music Education, Ray has been living and writing creatively since college. Recently retired from a thirty-four year career as a clinical Respiratory Therapist, he is putting all his energy into writing and singing bass. He has twice been a 'Writer-In-Residence' at Weymouth Center for the North Carolina Arts and Humanities. He is currently doing readings at the independent bookstores that carry his book around the state. He has two forthcoming books due out spring and summer, 2017. Ray is a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society, as well as the North Carolina Writer's Network.

The five poems that appear here, from his 2015 book, ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Poems From The 'Nam, are representative of the approach he took when writing this book. They are from interviews with fourteen different Vietnam Vets, ranging from enlisted to officers in all branches of service. Many different MOS are also represented, from fixed wing pilots to medics, to grunts to combat photographers.

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PAUL HELLWEG   All rights reserved
Frazier Park, California, USA