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Basic Training at Seventeen

by Tony Whitaker

eagerly enlisting at seventeen
to wield the mighty M-16
showing the world I did belong
famous to kill the Viet Cong

basic training but a game
expert marksman my acclaim
pewter metal made me shine
immortal soldier to quell the crime

one fine morning first weekend pass
walking to the PX lying on the grass
G.I. staring skyward wearing a jacket stamped “Vietnam”
asking him coolly where I could get one

forever this soldier would change my life
turning, his stare cut like a knife
asking my name why I wanted to know
telling him “Tony, to be a part of the show"

his demeanor at once became disgust
face full red feared to bust
abrupt the change turned to dread
began the tales, that haunt this head

“son, burning babies fill my dreams
so simple a people caught between
jets discharging dragons breath
napalm spouting the charring death”

and if it's your day ‘on the point’
scared to death, wanting a joint
knowing the need to keep your wit
protecting your company from getting hit

live that life for just a year
every moment in time in total fear
listen carefully to what I said
you’ll pray to die or lose your head”

this sad soldier shedding a tear
a real man I found haunted by fear
instantly knowing I would never go
to be a part of such a show

changing my status and calling mom
in ’72 you volunteered for Vietnam
wishing today to meet the one
saving my life lying in the Son


Author's Note: A true story that saved my life I am sure. This is also a tribute to those poor souls who still endure the pain of that terrible memory they live each day. God Bless you all!

Posted on 01/06/2007
Copyright © 2021 Tony Whitaker

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by A. Paige White on 01/06/07 at 03:56 PM

Chilling and oh-so-accurate write. My ex was a green beret in Viet Nam. He almost suicided one day (only my very young son knocking at the door when he had the pistol to his head stopped him)after he'd had a constantly recurring dream reenacting a scene he'd lived in VietNam. The stories he told... well, they're his to tell. We did go to Washington DC and he found his best friend's name on that wailing wall. He saw him blown to bits in front of him. Mere words hardly begin to describe the horror of war. This was an awesome write.

Posted by Alisa Js on 07/21/07 at 11:10 PM

Thank you for your service to our country, Tony and for giving us a bird's eye view of what happened... aloha

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