Sgt. John A. Johnston

The Guns are Silent

Johnny Has Gone Home ...

by: Patricia Hinz Johnston
(© Copyright 1998)

(Photo: Sgt. John A. Johnston, somewhere near Lang Bain Mountain, Central Highlands South Vietnam 1969)

The Guns Are Silent, Johnny Has Gone Home

"How do you like your birthday gift?"
his Dad asked the little boy.
It had been just what he wanted,
it would be his favorite toy!

At five years old the world
was just what it should be,
candles on a birthday cake,
presents and family.

To bad how time slips by
faster than it should,
when grown up thoughts and attitudes,
rob your childhood.

Put away the toys, pack up all his clothes
and store them the best you can.
Somewhere along in time,
the boy became a man.

"Are you going to burn your draft card, John?"
his best friends asked one day.
He knew of a place called Vietnam,
but he registered anyway.

When you're eighteen, the world
is an ever changing place.
Two years didn't seem like long,
the time was sure to race.

"You're going to Vietnam, my boy."
That's what the C.O. said.
"Yes Sir!" was Johnny's snapped reply,
the words buzzing in his head.

Four months ago in high school,
now on a transport plane.
You weren't supposed to question,
but the whole thing seemed insane!

"I don't want to die here!"
was Johnny's very thought,
as the plane touched down on foriegn ground,
he clutched the rosary that he'd brought.

The voice echoed throught the plane,
for everyone to grab their gear.
"The runway's being shelled!" it screamed,
"Get the hell out of here!"

Johnny never knew
that he could get so low,
or run as fast as he now did,
when the order came to "GO!"

The first thing he learned
that he never knew before,
was once you reached your limit
the Army demanded more.

Days without a shower,
a hot meal or any sleep.
A hurried letter home,
the real news would have to keep.

He used to watch the motor attacks
and think of the 4th of July,
as bursts of deadly firelight
lit the night time sky.

Walking through the paddies,
his rifle held high in hand,
searching for the enemy
in a God forsaken land.

He'd lost count of the number,
he didn't want to know
how many men that he had helped
death take it's final toll.

Two years sure hadn't seemed like long,
Johnny thought he knew,
but twelve months in a place called Vietnam
was at least seven lifetimes through.

At last, Freedom's Bird had come,
Vietnam he'd leave behind.
He was going home,
in search of peace he knew he'd find.

Fifteen more years had etched away,
the erosion of a life.
The boy had gone, the man returned,
he even sought a wife.

But something deep inside him,
burned an eternal fire.
The more he thought of the war he fought,
the more the flames grew higher.
and had come to call his brothers.
He laid awake in bed at night
and was haunted by the others.

The peace he had thought he was sure to find
had eluded him forever.
He knew now that the time for peace,
was surely going to be never.

The park lay deathly quiet,
even the birds were still.
Something was drawing Johnny there,
much stronger than his will.

Early in the morning light,
with Mr. Lincoln sitting close by
at a long black granite monument,
a grown man kneels to cry.

The sun's a little brighter now,
flowers sweeter than he'd known.
The guns are finally silent,
for Johnny has gone home.


Oh how the years have flown by
since that time so long since past.
John's hair has turned silver now,
he doesn't walk quite so fast.

He recalls the memories,
though time has dulled the pain.
Now when he talks of Vietnam,
he would like to see it again.

He tells his grandaughter stories,
of what happened over there.
She doesn't really understand,
but he knows that she cares.

He never shared it with us
(his children or with me)
but there's a special bond of love
between his grandaughter and he.

I watched them walking hand in hand,
along the granite wall
though age has slowed him down,
he still was walking tall.

When they came to the section,
of all the names he knew,
I stood and watched in silence,
to see what he would do.

He knelt down beside the child
and told her of the names
chiseled in the granite
tis somewhat a wall of fame

I thought of the many men
who never had the chance,
to do the things John had done
or hear the music of life's dance.

A wave of sadness struck me,
as I watched the unfolding scene,
of the old man and his grandaughter
in a sacred place serene.

Whatever he was saying,
struck a chord within her heart.
Two little arms reached round his neck,
a kiss she did impart.

Yes, Johnny had come home,
many long years ago,
and life had come full circle
with the kiss she did bestow.

"Come on Pappa, let's go home,"
she whispered in his ear.
John stood up and took her hand,
as he wiped away a tear.

Twas but a game that old men played
with young men's lives, that war.
John looked back at all the names
and wondered what it had been for.

Perhaps he couldn't stand as straight,
as one time he had done,
but he turned back, he raised his hand
and saluted them, every one.

"Goodbye my brothers, we'll meet again."
Is what I heard him say.
He squeezed the child's hand in his
then turned and walked away.

One last time I touched the Wall
and said a special prayer,
"Thank you God for bringing him home
and for his name not being there."

Sgt. John A. Johnston
(Photo: Sgt. John A. Johnston, older and wiser)


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