the unknown soldier is pot bellied now, swinging an atrophied leg back
and forth
like a grandfather clock although he never had a wife or children.
young teenagers would make fun of him
from time to time,
calling him a freak, you can get work in a circus they shout,
you don't need a Halloween mask, he chain-smokes 3 packs
of cigarettes a day,
his doctor gave up on his smoking, smokers are hated now-a-days,
thought to be ignorant,
are you trying to kill yourself they ask. you can kill
yourself, just don't kill me
with that second hand smoke.
you have no willpower, no balls, you're weak, disgusting.
why do you get all the marlboros, the grunts in vietnam ask him,
when you have been here as long as i have,
then you will get all the marlboros,
the unknown soldier would answer.
when he was hit, he ran like a deer to lower ground behind a stump,
his 16 aimed at the enemy ready to return fire.
his adrenalin was so high he barely felt
the burning in his body and the blood pouring out.
the others came slowly to him loudly telling him
it's alright, sarge stepped on a mine, you alright?
he peered down at his arm and leg, blood soaking both, he was
still at the ready position,
look, don't shoot, they told the unknown soldier
as they approached, he's hit they shouted.
a medic came running over, made him lean back and started treating
his neck, the unknown soldier didn't know
he'd been hit in the neck too.
they tried to take his 16 away but he clung to it as if it was life.
he asked for a cigarette, they had been in the bush so long
that he had run out of cigarettes. you'll get plenty where
you're going, they replied. all i have is a few of these
stale old ww2 pallmalls, give me a cigarette,
they gave the unknown soldier a cigarette.
he didn't care about life as much as he did back then.
now he was old, a tragedy,
a geek that now thought that people were ugly, not enough evolution
at best or this is just their nature, love it or leave it.
he had to go downtown again,
he hated going downtown, the closest he could get
was on the other side of the park.
after walking like a tightrope act,
his bad leg started twisting and electric spasms
ran up and down his leg like a yoyo. the closest park bench
had a bum on it covered with a grey coat. he sat down
next to his feet and bent up and down,
his face twisted like a whiteface clown
frowning upward through the trees.
some kids came slowly rolling by on their bicycles,
one said, why don't you bums just die,
nobody wants you around, the other kid said,
maybe we should just kill you, nobody would care.
he moaned, pounding on his leg for the pain to stop
and mumbled, i wish i had my 16, i'd waste you little motherfuckers.
the bum rustled the grey coat
off his face and shoulders,
you in 'nam man? yeah me too!
can i bum a cigarette man

written by Dennis Serdel


Dennis Serdel writes: "I was in A Company, 3rd of the 1st, 11th Brigade, Americal Division Combat Infantry, 1967-68, I Corps toward the DMZ. I spent 24 years at UAW Local 488 Kalamazoo Stamping, and they closed it. I then went to Buick City in Flint, UAW 599; they closed it. I then went to Orion Assembly in Pontiac, UAW 5960. I retired from there with 31.2 years in at the age of 53. I am 56 now going on 57. I survived Vietnam and GM."

(Photo is from the U.S. Army Center of Military History website.)


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