Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Survivors Speak: Poetry of Vietnam

I met Gary Jacobson in the phenomenal Yahoo! Group: Combat Vets with PTSD. I love this group. They are a terrific community of vets and significant others all of whom are dedicated to a healing path that nurtures education, connection, comaraderie, compassion, knowledge and proaction. It’s a group of people all over this continent who support each other and work together to figure out how to navigate not only the VA system but also the emotional and physical circuitry of Combat PTSD.

Gary is a Vietnam vet who also happens to be a poet. I asked if I could interview him about the intersection of PTSD, healing and poems. He agreed and has been extremely generous in illuminating the path of a healing vet. Over the next month or two Gary’s interview will appear as a series of posts, each one answering one of my questions.

For today’s post: Gary’s introduction of himself and a brief answer about how he first came to poetry as a medium, followed by his poem, ‘One Tin Soldier.’ And now I give you, Gary Jacobson….

Let me first introduce myself: This is Gary Jacobson. I was sent by my rich uncle to work in his vineyards in a land all white and ready to harvest ~ Vietnam. I served with B Co 2nd/7th 1st Air Cavalry ‘66 - ‘67, as a combat infantryman … we called ourselves “Grunts,” operating out of LZ Betty near beautiful downtown Phan Thiet, Vietnam. Mine was the same unit depicted in the Mel Gibson movie, “We Were Soldiers,” only one year later.

Vietnam changed us all indelibly and forever. I’m now on 100% disability rating with an extra hole in my head, covered by a 3X4 inch plate, shrapnel the size of a quarter currently imbedded three inches into my brain … this all compliments of a trip wire booby trap that triggered a grenade, that in turn detonated an artillery round … and in the process completely ruined my whole day … April, 22, 1967, during combat operation in the boonies near Phan Rang, Vietnam.

What, if any, relation did you have to poetry before using it as a therapeutic method?

I graduated with a BA from Brigham Young University in Communications, Journalism, Advertising, Public Relations, and Broadcasting. I also attended the University of Utah, Oklahoma University, Southern Utah University along the way … my education delayed by serving as a church representative in England for two years, and then by Vietnam.

I toyed with poetry in several classes, but never really took to it, or really never did well in it at that time. It is strange to me, totally shocking even, that when I started to write and reveal myself about Vietnam, I chose the medium of poetry … really, I sincerely feel it chose me. It almost came unbidden, almost like automatic writing.

One Tin Soldier

One tin soldier
American warrior
Left his valley of milk and honey
Abundant life so rich and sunny
To bring peace unto the world
Spread before him in great vastness unfurled.

He wanted naught but mankind to help
This freshborn naïve whelp
Still abiding in carefree callow youth
Drawn unknowing into war’s violence uncouth
Innocent to horrors, life and death on the line
Intrinsic values in spiraling decline.

One tin soldierMarched to be his country’s savior
Taken far, far away
Thrust headlong into battle’s heated fray
Facing men preoccupied with killing, handed a gun
Killing was at first indeed no fun.

Some soon became addicted to the killing
Some could not live without its fever thrilling]
Losing the love once held so essential
To being’s essence now grown dysfunctional
Reborn into a hard corps fighting machine
Most efficient warriors the world’s ever seen.

Lost forever was the young boy’s naiveté
He forgot how to pray
Only living to survive
Fighting so he and buddies might stay alive
To make it back to the world
To find again his lost peace like gold.

Now the man-boy at last comes home
Looking for his soul to atone
The war aching in his belly like a stone.
He had lost himself
In war’s treacherous gulf
His ideals long abandoned on a shelf.

He was to others, himself included, adversarial
Hostile with only one thing in mind antisocial
Humanity a bartered credential
Lost was the boy in shadowy forest lair
Hot home of the Vietcong who dare
Dare these but callow youth to venture there.

Still he sees enemies smirking
Their eyes red coals burning
There waiting to kill in every crowd
Wartime adrenaline talking overly proud, too loud
Finding it hard again to trust
Trust lost in mud, blood and dust.

Beaucoup violence now become a learned way of life
Dinky dau antagonisms gained in the warrior’s strife
Drinking too hard to quell nagging memories
Giving no peace to these wounded in spirit ambulatories
Visited at night by flash-back-stories
Rife with anxious anxieties cruel war’s depositories.

He’s afraid to make friends, because they too will die
He’s lost the connection he once had on high
Now visited nightly by brothers who died
Painfully, bloodily, swept up in war’s tide
Seeing one-by-one grinning faces grown grotesque
Statuesque men he killed in macabre war burlesque
Oceans of tears belie a war once thought humoresque
Bound forever to remember his walk in the park picturesque.

Gary Jacobson is the webmaster of “Vietnam Picture Tour,” pictures with a story of a walk in “the park” grunts called Vietnam, with the 1st Air Cavalry on combat patrol, and welcome your visit there. Experience chilling reality with beaucoup combat action pictures and poignant poetry to leave the sweet and sour taste of “the Nam” pungent on your tongue, the smell of “the Nam” acrid in your nostrils, and textures of “the Nam” imbedded in you as though you walked beside him in combat. His personal pictures are all in this “Vietnam Picture Tour“. His Poignant Poems Index contains combat action pictures, artwork, and stirring music, each portraying an aspect of life in the Vietnam war he feels heavily embedded on his soul, entangled in him, and around he, the average American boy-next-door at war…

‘Survivors Speak’ is a weekly feature written by or interviewing a survivor/PTSD experiencer about some positive aspect of healing. If you would like to participate in the series (anonymously if you prefer), please email thoughts, ideas, and topic suggestions to Michele: parasitesof.themind @ yahoo.com.

(Photo: Gary Jacobson)