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Remembering Vietnam

May 14, 2005

One of those anniversaries just passed that news editors love: The 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the American dream in Vietnam.

Mercifully, no one asked for my thoughts. What I vividly remember is being astounded at how quickly the South Vietnamese government fell, once the props of the U.S. military disappeared, taking with it nearly 20 years of monumental illusions that had caused horrendous death and destruction.

And, I also vividly recall, once the last military helicopter lifted off a roof in Saigon, almost instantly America lost interest in the topic. Only Vietnam veterans remembered Vietnam. We, and, of course, the Vietnamese. We found we couldn’t forget. Few convey that better that W.D. Ehrhart, whose incendiary poems and commentary on soldiering in ‘Nam flare up in numerous books, videos and on the Internet.

Vietnam. Not a day goes by
without that word on my lips.
I hear the rattle of small-arms fire
when I tuck my daughter in,
think of the stillborn dreams of other men
when I make love to my wife…

Ehrhart wrote in “For a Coming Extinction,” which leads off a startling selection of his poetry arrayed with arresting photos by a fellow vet, Don Fox, that appear on www.todayinliterature.com. Go to “guest contributors,” then to Ehrhart, then to “A Sort of Peace: Echoes and Images of the Vietnam War.”

Sometimes I mumble the word to myself
like a bad dream, or a prayer.
Vietnam, Vietnam. Already
it’s become what it never was:
heroic, a noble cause. Opportunity
squandered, chance to learn turned
inside out by cheap politicians
and China Beach. So many so eager
so soon for others to die,
and the time’s fast arriving
when Vietnam means only a distant
spot on the globe, only a name
on a dusty map, when no one alive
will understand what was or is,
what might have been and was lost.

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