Valley Forge

Being here reminds me of the war. It's a strained feeling, tense like muscles drawn taut and held past their limits. Dark days and mistrust, that much is identical no matter how many differences there may be. I've never been an avid reader, though I like a good book now and then. Most don't stick with me, they didn't when I was younger and they sure don't as I get older each day. Still, some sections catch and take hold, and I'm grateful for it. In particular, 'Valley Forge', a book about one lost base of Marines, not so much about Vietnam as the people it touched, both soldiers and their families. I don't trust my memory for accuracy of this sort often, but here it's solid as bedrock.

"It's at twilight, or early in the morning, that I remember Stevie best. The times he loved. The scent of transmutation on the breeze. I watch the sky perform its ordinary miracle, and breathe the air so ripe with chance, and say my magic words. Just two, twice over:

Valley Forge, Valley Forge.
Valley Forge, are you receiving, over?
I say again, do you read, over?
Valley Forge, we lost you, how do you read, over?

Valley Forge--
This is America.

Can you hear us now?
Our lost one hundred ninety-two.
Our cold, dead sixty thousand.

On your firebases, your hills,
in paddy fields and rainforests,
sprinting through the streets of ruined Hue;

Dozing on the decks of Hueys,
tapping magazines to settle bullets,
lighting Marlboros off precious Zippos,
smiling, scared;

Captured in the whirr of Nikons, Leicas,
in the muddy footage where the colors seem to swell and run.

By our words, could we conjure you?

Could we conjure you up,
and raise you from that rich red soil,
and bring you back?

To lovers. Sons and daughters. Kin.

To friends grown old without you, puzzled by the youths beside them in the pictures.

To the porches and stoops where you belong.

Or will you always be that endless line of figures clad in green:
receding single file between the sun-drenched trees,
swallowed by gloom and glare in equal measure.

The steady lope of men weighed down by packs.
Ammunition for the sixties X-ed across the gunners backs in bandoliers.
Canteens clumsy at your hips.

Humping the boonies forever.

Valley Forge, Valley Forge.
Standing by to receive you.


In the end, the war in Vietnam was much like any other. There were those who profited. Those it devoured. And then there were those for whom there are no words."