I lost my legs at Bien Hoi,
a place only a half-wit could find on a map
(or the *** who gave it its name!)
and when I went home in a wheelchair
I got off the plane and was welcomed
with a barrage of fresh hate and rotten food
and to an hostile crowd of fellow Americans
shouting expletives no dictionary should define.
And although they hurried me down the ramp
and sped me home through the back way,
I knew it was not because
they feared the harm that might come to me,
but from the irritation I was causing the crowd.
So I went home to meet my parents
but they were too disgraced to bend down
to embrace the ignominy of my wheelchair.
And I went home to find my sweetheart,
but she had hastily already given her love
to some local limbful hero of university riots.
And I went out to get a job
but they were only offering equal opportunity
to cripples who were victims of native violence.
And I went to crawl in line for unemployment
but was told they weren’t giving charity
to the cast-off veterans of unpopular wars.
So I drank all night and watched t.v.
and commiserated with strangers like God
and maligned heroes like John Wayne.
I drank all night and prayed for death
and shared my nightmares with a film star
whom God had left as Patriarch of America.
I had gone home to the country I fought for
to only find that I had gone home to Hanoi.
I had gone home without my soul or my legs
to only find a host of belligerent Americans
(who I did not know and had done no harm to)
whose noblest ambitions were to find my legs
so they could ram them down my throat!
But I left my legs in a foreign graveyard
and I leave them now as a memorial to John Wayne.
He is the only American who would have saluted me
as I was rolled unceremoniously down that ramp.
He is the only American who would have given his life
so I could have stood on those legs one second longer.
But John Wayne is dead...and so is America,
with thousands of others who died and die unsaluted.
Yet if I ever had another pair of legs to give
or even one or a thousand lives ever worth giving,
I swear I would give them to have had John Wayne
the only American to greet me at the bottom of that ramp.
By: Patrick P. Stafford