The Map
by John Irving
(ex-CW2), Alpha Troop, 7/17th Cav

© , 1998
                   The Map
                    Time passes,
                    Wounds close,
                    pain dulls,
                    As scars heal.
                    Once again
                    I'm tricked
                    Into believing
                    It's Finally Over.
                    Then my eyes, unbidden,
                    Grasp that 'J' shaped
                    Coastline in Asia,
                    On a map of the world.
                    Where were you
                    when the first man died?
                    Where were you
                    when his family cried?
                    Once again these names
                    Draw me closer, ever closer,
                    So close I can't see them
                    Without my glasses.
                    Once again these places,
                    That time, jump out
                    Clutching my back
                    Thrilling my neck.
                    Whoa !  Stop !  Once again,
                    again the room spins
                    as I flash back anew to that huge airport
                    where I first came to the Nam.
                    Senses assaulted, hot Hot
                    HOT, burned dung smell.
                    Humid as a steam bath,
                    Fetid as a swamp.
                    Where were you,
                    when an 18 year old boy left for Vietnam
                    and returned with eyes 10 years older
                    than his 19 year old body?
                    Can you understand
                    what those eyes reveal
                    about places and things
                    you who are protected
                    never have to know?
                    CRACK ! 'Incoming!'  Sonic boom
                    122 mike mike Katushkas
                    streak inches overhead, 50 pound warheads
                    explode so hard my soul is shaken.
                    Where were you
                    when we began taking rocket fire
                    casualties just 10 minutes
                    after arriving in South Vietnam?
                    Where were you
                    when one of my men
                    on his second day in-country
                    was killed on his 18th Birthday?
                    An Kke, Quin Nhon
                    First fire fight.
                    Top says 'Your buddy's dead !'
                    That can't be right !
                    Where were you
                    when my best friend
                    triggered a landmine
                    then died in my arms,
                    covering me
                    with body parts,
                    and bone fragments?
                    Where were you
                    when I arrived
                    in that war torn land,
                    age just twenty-one?
                    Doing what my government
                    asked me to do
                    and what my fellow Americans
                    expected me to do.
                    Pleiku, Kontum,
                    'Enemy in the Wire !!'
                    Outgoing, incoming,
                    'The Nam's on fire !'
                    There! on the map
                    The A Shau Valley !  GOD!
                    Grunts're dead at A Shau,
                    We fought all week.
                    Where were you those long,
                    dark, and frightening nights
                    when we sat in the mud and the rain
                    waiting for the enemy?
                    Ban Me Thuot, Nha Trang,
                    Got shot down,
                    I flew again that afternoon,
                    Got shot down again !
                    Where were you when our men
                    turned up missing, became P-Oh-Ws?
                    Seventy-nine Prisioners of War
                    have been seen in Asia since 1972.
                    2,096 Americans
                    are still missing, un-account-ed for.
                    Why aren't you there now, searching,
                    while our men are STILL missing?
                    Khe Sanh, Quang Tri,
                    Hue, Phu Bai.
                    Marble Mountain, Da Nang
                    Nui Ba Dinh.
                    Vinh Long, My Tho,
                    'He's shot through the head !'
                    Rach Gia, Chi Lang,
                    So Many Friends Dead !
                    Where were you when we arrived
                    back on American soil?
                    Did you curse and throw
                    rotten eggs at us?
                    Why aren't you at the funerals
                    we go to for our comrades
                    who poisoned, continue to fall
                    to dioxin and Agent Orange?
                    58,229 Americans died in Vietnam.
                    Since the war ended 150,000 vets
                    have committed suicide.
                    Why aren't you howling in pain?
                    Why do starving homeless Vets
                    sleep in cardboard boxes,
                    while criminals get free medical care,
                    wholesome food and shelter?
                    Why do prisioners have huge law libraries
                    and get to sue the government?
                    Why do we spend billions on foreign aid while
                    denying Vets adequate medical care?
                    Where are you as Veterans' rights
                    are threatened every day?
                    Where are you when the V.A. man
                    denies our benefits and claims?
                    I held myself together and kept
                    the wolf so far from your door,
                    that you and others can pretend
                    that the wolf never existed.
                    Where are you now when a sound,
                    or a smell, or a dream
                    touches that part of me buried so deep
                    that I wake up screaming?
                    Whoa !  Stop !
                    They're just names
                    On a stupid map and
                    It was so long ago....
                    Why can't I stop crying?
                    John Irving   ex-CW2,  Alpha Troop, 7/17th Cav