Poetry?  My mind is fraught
With angst that all my pithy thoughts
Once inked upon the pulpy page
Will line some critter's wiry cage.

But even if in book form, bound,
Will those same thoughts still lie around
Unread and lost upon the shelf?
Why do I do this to myself?


"Prevent malaria! Dump the hysteria! Take those damn pills!" the commandant cried.
"Chloroquine-primaquine kills all those germs within
Take the pills Tuesdays, and take them with pride!"

"But the pills make us sicker than gallons of liquor! We won't do it!" the staff shot back.
The CO was not undone.  "I'll punish anyone
Getting malaria.  I want no flack!"

Haltingly, grudgingly, once every Tuesday, staffers reached into the baskets of pills
Grumbling, fumbling, 'neath their breaths mumbling,
"We'd rather just have the fever and chills."

A single day later, nothing was greater than odors wafting up from the latrines.
Amidst all the gagging our spirits were flagging,
"And we complained about guys eating beans!"

Chloroquine-primaquine, much to our deep chagrin, put our intestines into a skid.
The dreaded prevention, although well intentioned,
Frightened us more than malaria did.


We left Cu Chi behind at last,
The time was gone, cloaked in the past,
And when the get-together came
We thought that we'd all look the same.

I gasp in awe! Is time deranged?
They look so old!  I haven't changed.
But could they think, perhaps with glee,
That they don't look as old as me?


1. I learned that you will quickly discover who you really are when you're in a war zone.  There's an old saying that people are like onions  you just keep going through layer after layer.  In war you will learn what you're really made of  how you deal with things, what you can tolerate, what your limits are, where you are strong and where you are weak.  I learned that you will also find out what other people are made of when all of their defining factors are stripped away, they are under stress, and they can't rely on such things as social standing, bank accounts, fancy clothes, families, or powerful friends.  You'll probably be surprised by who can function well and who can't.

2. I learned that rank does not necessarily equate with intelligence or competence.  The things that truly define an individual are attitude, judgment and accomplishment.

3. I learned that some people will do fine in a war zone and others will come back with severe emotional problems.  Chances are, the seeds of such problems existed before those people ever went into a combat zone.  The military would be wise to try to identify potential problems before subjecting those individuals to situations they can't possibly tolerate.
4. I learned that war changes your priorities.  I remember coming home one night after almost 72 hours straight in the operating room.  We'd had so many casualties and deaths it was absolutely staggering.  The mail had come, which was great because we hadn't had any deliveries in almost a week.  I had received a letter from a friend.  "There's a dance at the country club on Saturday night," she wrote, "and I can't find a dress I like.  I'm so upset I feel like committing suicide."

5. I learned that we tend to think of our enemies in any war as evil entities, and they look at us in the same way.  However, people on both sides of a conflict look exactly the same under their skins when they are opened up in the operating room.  They're trying to get through life one day at a time just as the rest of us are.  They listen to their own propaganda just as we listen to ours. We live together on this same small planet, and we really need to figure out ways to get along for our mutual benefit.

6. I learned that war is basically a big chess game, with those at the top using strategies to win that invariably sacrifice the pawns on the front lines.  It's called calculated risk, and it may or may not be based on good information.  In any case, it takes away the right of some people on both sides of the conflict to live happy, peaceful lives.  War changes those lives forever. 

7. I learned that people on both sides of a conflict rarely empathize with their adversaries or look at reality from the other country's perspective.  I think of Vietnam and I remember all the villages we destroyed and the vast tracts of land pocked with bomb craters.  Did you know that 3,400,000 Vietnamese died during the war?  That equates to 27 million people in this country.  I'm just now learning that while we thought we were "fighting the spread of communism" and trying to help Vietnam, the Vietnamese leaders thought we were simply trying to extend our own colonialism.  They were fighting for their independence from everyone, including us (information provided by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the documentary, "The Fog of War").   We really need to look at the bigger picture and try to understand the other country's views. 

8. I learned that all countries promote war as being patriotic, often in the name of some deity.  "My god can beat your god."   Those of us who do our jobs where the rubber hits the road generally have no clue about the real driving issues.  In reality, war is often far more about human ego, power, money, and other motivators for the people who stand to gain from it.  Although most people who serve in combat come back saying we should never go to war again, every generation seems to have the need to do it.  We have short memories, and we never seem to learn.

9. I learned that nations are often their own worst enemies in terms of their ideologies and policies.  They, of course, unfailingly believe they are right.  In actuality, we live on a planet that is nothing more than a big terrarium.  It is self-supporting if we don't screw it up.  We need to look beyond our collective noses and work together so our descendents, hundreds or thousands or even millions of year from now, can survive and thrive.  As I see it, and as Pogo used to say in the old comic strip, "We have met the enemy, and they is us."

10. I learned that patriotism and nationalism are very different things.  George Orwell described patriotism as "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world" (and here's the kicker) "but has no wish to force on other people."  Patriotism is by its very nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.  Nationalism, on the other hand, seeks to secure more power and more prestige for the nation or unit with which individuals have chosen to sink their individuality.  True patriots do not blindly support a politician or a group of politicians.  They are devoted not to government, but to good government.

Hmm .........................                         


The world is often led by those
Whose lusts for power predispose
Them to incite the rest of us
To fight for what's not best for us.

Could they, the ones who call to war,
Perhaps be rotten to the Corps?
And might we ask their plans be cursed
Unless they send their own kids first?


A few hardy souls will remember
How it was when the base camp was new.
Our officers' club was just a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme,
A place where we might blow off some steam
And savor a cocktail or two.

With resources tricky to come by
And more critical structures to build
Our officers' club was but a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme,
A place where we could blow off some steam
Or guzzle before we got killed.

The adjutant then was a good guy
When he spoke, this is how he began,
"Your officers' club may be a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme;
But you need a place to blow off steam,
So we'll build you the best we can."

He sent us two soldiers with lumber,
And a hammer, a saw and some nails.
"Your officers' club's not just a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme."
So we built us a place to blow off steam.
And amuse each other with tales.

"Less than small," that's how you'd describe it.
Maybe four folks could enter, if thin.
Our officers' club had been a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme;
We now had our place to blow off steam.
We called it "The Cu Chi Cu Inn."

The Cu Chi Cu Inn was a nightmare,
When the blistering heat scorched our lungs.
Our officers' club had been a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme;
We sweated far more than blew off steam.
Obscenities rolled off our tongues.

Then one night the mortars soared over
And a rocket went right through the floor
Our officers' club, again a dream,
A simple vision, a crazy scheme;
We'd lost our one place to blow off steam
The Cu Chi Cu Inn was no more.

But new folks arrived with a vision
A lot grander than we had, for sure
An officers' club, once more a dream,
A complex vision, a crazy scheme;
They built us a place to blow off steam
That lasted the rest of our tour.

They named the new club, lined with 'chute silk,
"Crash & Burn," with a wink and a grin.
The officers' club, no more a dream,
A complex vision, a crazy scheme,
But when I recall that year so extreme,
I still miss the Cu Chi Cu Inn.


The pilots saw them from the skies 'tween Saigon and Tay Ninh:
Thick plumes of black and oily smoke.  We viewed them with chagrin.
The remnants of our excrement in drums pulled from latrines,
Were torched and burned with diesel fuel or other petrol means.

The pilots sang a song those days, and often so did we,
About those oily plumes of smoke, the shit fires of Cu Chi.
The pilots never needed maps to find our base camp fair
'Cause charred remains of what we pooped were drifting in the air.

The lyrics of the song were lost, 'though someone, somewhere knows
How once we laughed with raucous wit; those clever words we chose.
We sang with spirits strong and fresh, envisioning the day
When, home again, we'd tug a chain and flush it all away.


Weapons sounding much like thunder
Blew my body parts asunder.
The doc who worked to save my life
Excised wrecked parts with steely knife.

When people call and ask, "That you?"
I'm thankful I'm concealed from view.
They don't know, 'cause they can't see
They're talking to what's left of me.


Beth Parks, Ed.D., served as an operating room nurse at the 7th Surgical Hospital (MASH) and the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, RVN, October 1966-October 1967.