I was Not There . . .

by: Win Norwood
© Copyright 1995



You will note that this is not a war story ... I was not there. However, these words have been lurking in my head, and heart, for a number of years and, until this moment, were unshared. Coming upon your excellent web-site, I thought that, perhaps, you might be the conduit through which I I could express my respect to all who were there. At least from my grateful soul ... to your e-mail ...


I was not there.
I did not board the plane, close-shaved
innocence hurtling ... full metal jacket ... at 30,300 feet
toward oblivion--or manhood.

I did not taste the heat
nor feel the stink against my skin.
Men with sunken chests and kill-haunted eyes
did not greet me sneering "FNG"
draging on cigarettes, so burned down,
when the fire touched they no longer felt the pain.

I did not walk point
and wonder if I would see the wire
stretched taught, stretched thin ...
The wire--and me.

I did not watch the night--shapes reforming
rocks into death, with mouth so dry
I believed I could see my breath--and it was dust.
A droning in my ears of the thousand things wishing
to taste my blood--to shed my blood.

Insertion, Extraction ... I did not hold the collective
nor dance the skids--bungee monkey dancing a jig
with the pig snorting at the treeline. Hose down
the blood ... autorotating.

I did not ride the brown waters, swift at 28 knots.
Cargo in the sampan rice ... or rifles--little boy
with crooked smile and bamboo arms salutes
and tosses shrapnel fruit into our mouths ... and
chests ... and backs.

I did not drive the armor plated trucks
waiting for the road to erupt ...
ammo cooking off mixed with pound cake
and Bud.

I did not try to tape plastic wrappers on boyish
chests ... see the newly legless, armless,
brainless ... lifeless
Until, one last trip--that damned shake 'n bake
who is now staring at parts of himself
he was never meant to see--a round finds me
and I cry "Doc!"--and realize
I am talking to myself.

I did not drop the napalm, pump the defoliants,
load the artillery rounds, patrol the perimeters,
clean the mess, burn the crap cans, bag the dead ...
none of these things ...

Ia Drang, Khe Sahn, Dong Ap Bia, Dak To,
Lang Vei, The Rung Sat ... Da Nang, Hue, Saigon,
Cam Ranh Bay, Cholon, Phuoc Bien, Nha Trang,
Lai Khe ...

I was not there ...

Except through the illumination rounds
fired into black and white nights.
Dinners on a TV tray.
MREs for a teenage girl ... with a boonie rat's heart.

No ... You were there.

Ensign ... Eltee ... Airman ... REMF ... Sarge ... PFC ...

Fought the boredom, Charlie, loneliness, Jodie.
The hits ... the runs ... the errors
Until your scorecard was full and you were
so short you could do hand to hand with an ant ...
and lose ...

And, finally, the freedom bird back to
The World ... chose-shaved discarded innocence ...
hurtling ... full metal jacket ... at 30,000 feet
toward oblivion ... or manhood.

And yet, by grace of some mystery I do not understand ...
walking drag for the lost platoon ...
thirty years gone ...

I was there.

With deepest respect and gratitude to those who served ... I will not
(and cannot) forget!

Win Norwood


Dear Mr. Poss: Thank you more than I can say for your kind words. The poem came pouring forth one very rainy afternoon shortly following my few words with a stranger in a Wal-mart parking lot. This gentleman exited a van whose license plate designated him as "Purple Heart-Combat Wounded." Much greyer, much wider across the middle--he wore an extremely faded and worn "boonie hat" adorned with many pins--and a T-shirt which proclaimed "I Was There."


I grew up during the "war years" secure in the knowledge that, being female, I had no "number" that would ever come up. I had known classmates, who were not as gender-protected as I, who left our small town--only to return to the veterans' ceMETAry ... Danny was only 18 ... and I did not know what to say ....

I went to college in 1969--and was appalled by the daily demonstrations--pictures of "Uncle Ho" replacing "Uncle Sam." Young men with deferrments, 4-Fs, rich Daddies, and/or friendly Congressmen leading various marches and sit-ins, secure in the knowledge that their marches were not going to be through the rice paddies ... and their sit-ins would not be a night watch in a sand-bagged hole. I left college in early 1970 because I could no longer stand what these "halls of higher learning" had become ... and, as I left ... I still did not know what to say ...

That leads to Wal-mart in Ellsworth, Maine more than thirty years later ... when I, finally, walked up to this veteran and said, "Thank you" ... among some other shyly delivered words ... and offered an apology (a generational Act of Contrition) for support not given when it was due. His eyes were teary, as were mine, we hugged ... and, with no more words needing to pass between us, went our separate ways. I finally knew what to say.

On a lighter note, the screen name "RockBtm" is taken from the name of a fan club (Rock Bottom, needless to say) which a friend and I operate for a bass-player friend of ours ... just a fun thing ... and a good way to get to know our word processor.

My name is Winifred G. Norwood--and I live in beautiful coastal Maine--where men are men and the lobsters are nervous!!

Thank you for your kind words, I look forward to "speaking" with you again!


Win Norwood,


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