Six War Poems by Vietnam Vets

by Gary Rafferty

Our medic works on a young soldier, 
tails of battle dressings tangle around him
 like intestines.
On the bulldozers steel track,
 linked like rosary beads, 
a man sits, minus his arm, both legs.
Someone’s hands, 
no–my hands– 
pitch the smoke grenade.
Through a squall of dust and smoke, 
the chopper’s open door
We carry litters, 
all hunched over
like men in a hailstorm.
Gentle cuffs against my thigh.
A leg… 
from knee to boot, dangles
by a strand of flesh. 
It taps to remind me
of my undeserved wholeness.

Gary Rafferty served with A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery, Vietnam 1970-71. His fortcoming memoir is Nothing Left to Drag Home: The Siege at Lao Bao During Operation Dewey Canyon II–Lam Son 719, as Told by an Artilleryman Who Survived It. Email:


by Dave Connolly

Ratshit and the Weasel and I
are behind this dike, see,
and Victor Charlie,
he’s giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head,
just a little, but just enough
for the round
to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ,
out the other.
And he starts thrashing,
and bleeding, and screaming,
and trying to get
the top of his head
to stay on,
but we have to keep shooting.
A B-40 tunnels into the dike
and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn’t get the chance
to decide whether or not
he should give up and die.
Now I’m crying
and I’m screaming, “Medic,”
but I have to keep shooting.
At this point, I always wake,
and big, black Jerome
and little, white William,
my brothers,
are not dying beside me
even though
I can still smell their blood,
even though
I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two,
they’ve been taking turns
dying on me,
again and again and again
for all these long years,
and still people tell me,
“Forget Nam.”

Dave Connolly was a rifleman with the 11th Armored Cavalry in 1968-1969. His book is Lost in America..


Infantry Assault
by Doug Anderson

The way he made that corpse dance
by emptying one magazine after another into it
and the way the corpse’s face began to peel off
like a mask because the skull had been shattered, brains
spilled out, but he couldn’t stop killing that corpse,
wanted to make damn sure, I thought maybe
he was killing all the one’s he’d missed, and
the way they dragged that guy out of the stream,
cut him to pieces, the stream running red
with all the bodies in it, and the way the captain
didn’t try to stop them, his silence saying, No Prisoners and
the way when all the Cong were dead, lined up in rows,
thirty-nine in all, our boys went to work on all the pigs
and chickens in the village until
there was no place that was not red, and
finally, how the thatch was lit, the village burned
and how afterwards we were quiet riding back
on the tracks, watching the ancestral serpent rise
over the village in black coils, and
how our bones knew what we’d done.


Night Ambush
by Doug Anderson

We are still, lips swollen with mosquito bites.
A treeline opens out onto paddies
quartered by dikes, a moon in each,
and in the center, the hedged island of a village
floats in its own time, ribboned with smoke.
Someone is cooking fish.
Whispers move across water.
Children and old people. Anyone between
is a target. It is so quiet
you can hear a safety clicked off
all the way on the other side.
Things live in my hair. I do not bathe.
I have thrown away my underwear.
I have forgotten the why of everything.
I sense an indifference larger than anything
I know. All that will remain of us
is rusting metal disappearing in vines.

Doug Anderson was a Navy corpsman in a Marine rifle company in 1967. He has received awards and fellowships from the the National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Cultural Counsel, Poets & Writers and other funding agencies. His book The Moon Reflected Fire won the Kate Tufts Discovering Award. His most recent book of poems is Horse Medicine, published by Barrow Street Books in 2015. His new book, Undress, She Said, will be published by Four Way Books in 2022. See more of Doug’s work at


Reaching to the Horizon
by Richard Levine

I hated you Legless Billy,
and the way your prairie family
and fiancée looked at me,

that flat stillness of the plains
reaching to the horizon from
every window and across
the dining room table, when
I described how you saved my life.

We all hated you, Billy,
sitting there in your gleaming
wheelchair and spotted bib.

It’s only now, in midnight
calls from mid-life that I hear
in your voice how we are
bound to that screaming red flare
lighting all we will never again own.

Richard Levine served with 3rd Tanks, 3rd Marines, Vietnam ’67-’68. His new book is Now in Contest, forthcoming from Fernwood Press. He the author of Richard Levine: Selected Poems (FullCycle Press, 2019) and Contiguous States (Finishing Line Press, 2018), as well as five chapbooks. He is the 2021 recipient of the Connecticut Poetry Society Award, and contributed“Poetry for a Pandemic” to American Book Review. See more of his work at

We Walk to What’s Left
by Anonymous

All day the snipers teased us with their single fire.
That evening, after the muddy march into the valley
We circle on the small hill, the dripping jungle close by.
We’d started with ten tracks. Six remain.
The rest settled along the path, covering the lone repair.

They’re following us, you know. Everyone on full alert.
Willie and me pass the hours talking of his girl–
Mine. After a time, it never fails, we’re all talked out.

All night the engines mend their batteries,
Exhaust fumes make it hard to breathe,
Mosquitoes, that we slap and slap.
Around 3 A.M. the captain calls in arty
The deafening shells crack Bang! crack Bang!
The whirling sharpnel rips through canopy
A short round shock wave hits my chest.

We walk to what’s left. Jungle and knocked down
Trees and torn up earth. The squad, Willy, Jonesy
Me, we walk to an opening, where Christ, I almost
Trip on a torn up NVA, pieces of him missing.

Look at him: eyes open, moaning, wheezing.
Are you dying? Are you dying? Maybe. Maybe not.
I think of Sweet Pea, Short Arm, Hunt and Junior.
Switch hands with my 79, pull out my 45,
Curse the boy and blow his head off. Willie comes near,
Grabs the blood soaked belt, Jonesy pissed he missed it—
But all his gear is missing. We finish the sweep.

Breakfast. I’m sitting on a log eating beans and franks,
For some reason look behind me.
There’s a dead NVA, his torn out insides covered with flies.
I can’t smell him, but his skin is white—gone gray.

Done with the meal, I toss the empty can
Into the pile of guts; the buzzing flies rise up—settle down.
It’s all just garbage, you know. Might as well add to the pile.
In the distance, the sound of tanks and APCs.
Another day in Vietnam, and I don’t yet know
I’m a broken man, who one day will beg for mercy.

Anonymous served with Bravo  1/10 Cav 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam, 1967-1968. He can be reached via Marc Levy at