David Connolly

David Connolly served honorably in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He takes pride in having been--and continuing to be--a Vietnam Veteran Against the War. His collection of poems, LOST IN AMERICA, was published by Viet Nam Generation, Inc.& Burning Cities Press in 1994.



For Bill Ehrhart

Can you feel it Bill, come round again? Yeah, you must. It stays with me. I'm just getting there, twenty four todays ago, hustled off the plane and into a truck, whispered orders, unsighted M-16s, helmets and flak jackets hurriedly pulled over wrinkled, dress uniforms bearing only the National Defense Ribbons we were about to earn, out to the perimeter flightline at Bien Hoa, where Air Policemen and Viet Cong are blowing holes in each other for their country, for freedom, for peace.

It was all just starting for me. You had less than a week to go before your Brothers hustled you to safety after some VC grenadier got lucky and you were "knocked cold and full of holes." They hurried you from harm's way, and home again to our grateful nation.

I feel it, still unfolding across the years. I'll turn that corner again tomorrow morning in Bien Hoa, hoping the VC have really pulled out, my heart pounding in my throat, my mouth lined with sandpaper, trying desperately not to lose it, and embarrass myself, my Da and GranDa, South Boston.

See, around that corner, in neat lines along the street, there are beautiful trees in full bloom and American soldiers, dead for days, in full bloat. And I knew right there and then that the war, which we were winning when I left the States, yesterday, was as lost as I was.

But what can I tell you, who sat under the hammering guns at Con Thien, only to be dusted-off from the meatgrinder at Hue City where dead Marines festooned the ancient streets?

I'll tell you to keep talking. I'll tell you that I'm here, ready to stand beside you, to give witness with you, to hold your hand, to guard your back. We can't fill the holes in our bodies, our souls, or our generation with mere words, Billy. But we speak for more than just ourselves. They sent us to see too much, and we lived.

Speak for the dead we didn't have time to stand and weep over, for all the dead on all the trails, in all the paddies, from both sides, for my friends killed or cooked in ACAVs, for your friends atomized by the big guns aimed at Con Thien, but especially for those dead boonierats and grunts whose bodies, looted by our allies, still lie in our minds, looking like so much garbage on the streets of Bien Hoa and Hue.


On his second day there,
they went down into Bien Hoa city
with their brand new guns,
just hours after the VC had left,
and strolled along a wide,
European style boulevard
lined with blossoming trees
and the bloating bodies
of Americans, dead for days.

He puzzled at their leader,
the nineteen year old veteran
with the pale, yellow skin,
bleached, rotting fatigues,
and crazy, crazy eyes,
who hawked brown phlegm
on each dead American saying,
"That don't mean nothin;
y'hear me, meat?"

And everywhere he went,
there were more,
down all the days and nights,
all kinds of bodies,
ours, theirs, his,
until nothin meant nothin.


I had to ask him,
standing there
at the bridge rail
high over the dark water,
"You OK, m'man?"
Not looking, he said,
"Fine, Bro, jus membrin,
talkin wit ma friens."
All I saw were tail lights,
looking like tracer fire,
on the far highway.
He chuckled, dapped at no one,
and said, "I kin handle dat.'
Later, I heard he jumped.


"Two of my friends died in Vietnam," this guy says to me, this virgin my age, and I almost snort in derision. For in the slow-mo of my memory, I again see Ratshit try to collect himself, try to summon up the balls it will take to peek over the dike, to see just how many VC have turned our way. He winks and smiles, big, strong, teeth flashing, then starts up. That dark pucker appears suddenly, next to his eye, and he begins to twirl, arms out, his body pulled by his head. And following that bullet which has skidded around his skull and out, his brains, his smile, all that he was sprays the Weasel and I.

We're up on our feet now, snapping caps on rock and roll, ducking at the same time to reload. I see the Weasel flinch, shake his head and exhale as an RPG detonates right on the other side of the dike from him. And I see, or maybe I just think I see, the nose of the next B-40 rocket poke through the softened earth of the twice-struck paddy dike and explode. The Weasel, his fatigues full of bloody holes, propelled by the blast, rushes to embrace me, already dead on his feet.

"Died inVietnam," the virgin said, as if he had any idea what that meant. But he doesn't, he couldn't know, and I am ashamed of my cynicism. For it has made light of his loss and left me with the feeling that I have somehow dishonored both our dead.

But he doesn't, he couldn't know. You see, to him, "Died in Vietnam" means he'll never see them again.

I'll see them forever.


He gives up his favorite bunk in the morning,
his if he's first in line at the shelter,
and he's off in search of the day's first buzz.
He "Brothers" me when he sees my belt buckle,
tells me, "had a job, some college, before;
then I came to in a paddy full of blood.
Now this, this is all I'm good for."

Having seen some shit, but nothing like that,
there's no room for me to judge.
But my two bucks, all I had with me,

means he won't have to remember again, today.


All of a sudden I see him standing there, just like that, like he dropped out of the sky. He's inside the perimeter we threw together when we were ambushed, this stringy, little brown rice-propelled killing machine, floppy hat, black shirt and shorts, his folding stock AK held close to him in his left hand. He's facing away from me aiming at my brothers' backs, so I can't see his face. I notice the cover of his spider hole as he kicks it away; his head swivels. he's lining up his run through our hasty defensive position and his targets on the way out. The brothers are all facing outboard, away from him, intent on the jungle, the fire coming from it and their own outgoing.

I can't shoot him. My Mattie Mattel is gone, blown from my grasp and into little pieces earlier this evening by a B-40 rocket that broke my arm. I can't even get up to find a weapon. The first fusillade of this contact, a flurry of anti-tank rockets, has left me flat on my back twenty feet from the track I was standing on, as it merrily cooks. My guts, poking through the hole in my pants, shine wetly in the Mo gas and magnesium illumination; they sparkle as if they're iced.

I strain to reach the medic to tell him about the little man. He can't hear me. There's too much gunfire around us and he's too busy with the guy he's working on who's really chopped up. The medic's arm, all I can really see of him, shiny and black with blood, filling the fetid air between us with its biting scent, reaches over and pushes me back down.

So I begin to scream, "Get him! Get him, that bastard right there! Jesus, somebody get him!" Across twenty years I scream and no one seems to hear, not the medic, not the brothers who are about to die, not even the little man himself.

I bring myself back to now by screaming, gagging on the choke of cordite and coppery blood, and find my wife has heard. From a chair across the room, she says, "Dave, it's OK."

But you see it will never be OK. That little man will make his run in my head as I helplessly watch and neither time nor her tears will make him stop. It is not my fault I couldn't stop him. I know that. I've always known that.

But now she thinks it's her fault because she can't.


Ratshit and the Weasel and I
are behind this dike, see,
and Victor Charlie,
he's giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head,
just a little, but just enough
for the round
to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ,
out the other.
And he starts thrashing,
and bleeding, and screaming,
and trying to get
the top of his head
to stay on,
but we have to keep shooting.

A B-40 tunnels into the dike
and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn't get the chance
to decide whether or not

he should give up and die.
Now I'm crying
and I'm screaming, "Medic,"
but I have to keep shooting.

At this point, I always wake,
and big, black Jerome
and little, white William,
my brothers,
are not dying beside me
even though
I can still smell their blood,
even though
I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two,
they've been taking turns
dying on me,
again and again and again
for all these long years,
and still people tell me,
"Forget Nam."


Having slapped a machete,
then a rock, from his hand,
I pushed the young boy
at gunpoint
toward the other villagers,
away from the still form
of his father.

Words were the only weapons
he had left.
"Someday, GI, mebbe you die!"

The B-40 shrapnel
that weeks later
tore into me,
hit no harder.