The War Poetry of Anthony Pahl
There is a memorial, just a brown stone,
with a bronze plaque inscribed,
“They didn't come home”.
It sits without signs to show where it is
It’s mostly in long grass and it's easy to miss.
It's about the width of a tin billy lid
about as high as my shins; so it's really not big.
No names are inscribed; no theatre of war;
no real or clear signs to tell what it's for.
Not even rating a line in a book,
and very few people know just where to look.
It's a lonely and sad place as I sit all alone
with my back to a tree while I stare at that stone
remembering the reason I put the stone there;
to honour my friends and to show that I care.
The stone’s in my heart; the plaque’s in my mind.
The grass is the growth of the cobwebs of time.
It's the width of my dread and the height of my pain
and I keep it inside me where it will remain.
Nobody but me knows just where it's kept
but oft in my solitude sadly I've wept
recalling my friends who died for our gain
and of those who’ve succumb to life’s grievous pain.
In particular I remember this time every year
to honour my friends and hold memories dear.
©Anthony W. Pahl
24th May 2000
Do you want to know the reason
why I sit alone all day
and watch the sun play hide and seek
with leaves, creating shade?
Do you really want to know why
in solitude I sit
while whispering breezes enter places
I could never fit?
Do you truly want to know my agony
at being so alone
when birds can always soar and find a mate
to call their own?
Do you need to know the reasons
for the vigil that I keep
while the entire world around me rests
in their God’s gift of sleep?
Do you think you’d understand
if the answers I could give?
Do you really think you’d feel the pain
of all that I have lived?
Do you truly want to know
the honest reasons why
I sit alone and watch the world?
It’s so that I don’t die!
For you do not have my eyes or ears,
my memories, or my pain;
and I don’t have the ability
to describe all that I’ve seen.
All I can do is take what’s left
and use it as I may
and wonder at its purpose
as I live another day.
©Anthony W. Pahl
7th February 2001
An Ode for 'Mother'
The day I left for Vietnam? How young I bloody seemed.
(At nineteen, the adventure and the medals that would gleam)
But I didn’t know the reason for the civilian clothes we wore,
even when the Sergeant said, “We stage through Singapore.”
We embarked on our adventure from Sydney with the sun.
The grog was cold, our voices bold - we bloody well had fun.
But deep inside our churning guts, the trepidation sat.
The flight was only twelve short hours from a place called Nui Dat.
The sun was up when we embarked. It was up when we arrived.
(Imagine travelling all this way so some of us could die)
But young of heart and mind as well, we didn’t think of that.
All we thought of was that place that base called Nui Dat.
We landed at an airport; a place called Ton Son Nhut.
We were told it was in Saigon, but we didn’t give a hoot.
We landed to be greeted by the evening sun and dusk.
Three hours we sat and waited for Yankee airborne bus.
It was dark when we finally landed at that base called Nui Dat.
The strip was short and narrow but the plane seemed long and fat.
I don’t know how we made it but the engines roared to stop.
“Paradise…” I cringed with dread, “this place is bloody not.”
But some of us were lucky; we weren’t going to stay.
We had our base in Vung Tau, somewhere down the bay.
Little did I realize that I’d be back there soon,
training with the army learning how to shoot a goon.
Sure enough, two days passed by and I was on the move
with the reinforcement unit until all weapons I could prove.
Two weeks I slogged it out in the sticky dirty mud;
never clean ’cos we lived in clay, clay as red a blood.
“Not for me!” I swore inside. “There’s got to be something better.”
So I applied for chopper gunner as per the CO’s letter.
I figured flying above the war would be easier than the walk.
We’d outrun flying bullets faster ’n the nogs could talk.
But all is never as it seems, as I was soon to learn.
My mate was in a chopper; it was hit and it began to burn.
He died in Saigon hospital; he’d swallowed burning JP4.
Damn this bloody country and the stinking bloody war!
The futility of war rammed home the night we go a call.
A patrol has caught an ambush and was really badly mauled.
One dead - two shot and wounded so a dust-off was required.
We hauled the meat and wounded out a winch job under fire.
The tracer flew around our ship as we hovered overhead.
The thwacks into the chopper skin all added to our dread.
I survived that nightmare dream but just before he died
one digger said to me, “Thanks mate…”.
The clouds burst as I cried.
At nineteen when I went to Nam my mind seemed pure and clean
but at twenty when I came home again the things that I had seen!
Nearly twenty years have passed me by, and I still have those dreams.
The day I returned from Vietnam!
How old I bloody seemed.
©Anthony W. Pahl
15th October 1988
Note written by Anthony Pahl about 'Mother':
I wrote this poem in response to a dare from a friend, Joseph “Chick” Mercieca, and subsequently dedicated it to Duncan “Mother” McNair.
“Mother” was older than most of us; I think he was 23. We called him “Mother” because he was in charge of the gunners and was our mentor, always teaching and talking us through many difficult situations. He died in Saigon hospital as the result of swallowing and breathing burning helicopter fuel (JP4) when his helicopter was shot down. Although we never became close friends, I flew with “Mother” as my crewman on many occasions. Despite the fact that I had been back in the world for a couple of weeks, “safe” on leave, when he died, his death hit me just as hard as if he had died in my arms.
In 1992, at the Dedication of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Canberra, I met “Mother’s” wife, son and daughter and formally presented them with a copy of the poem.
Now, in the year 2001, thirty one years have passed me by, and I STILL have those dreams.
Anthony Pahl's Bio
Born, raised and educated in Mannum, a little river town in South Australia, Anthony Pahl retired after serving over 20 years in the Royal Australian Air Force. His service included a tour of Vietnam as a helicopter gunner (1969 ~ 1970), a tour of Malaysia (1973 ~ 1976)
His writing career began on Anzac Day, April 25, 1988 when, on a dare, he wrote the poem that has become known as "The Ode To Mother" and three other short pieces, "The Stripper", "The Trade", and "Dust-Off". Until chronic PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) debilitated him in late 1992, he wrote very little but during the course of learning how to cope with this illness, his counselor suggested he maintain a diary.
Unable to cope with the stress of such a formal approach to remembering and recollection, he penned a few poems and found that approach enabled him to broach my traumas. The words came to him in a naturally rhythmic manner and in a form that enabled him to become a "third party" while his conscious self incorporated the reality of that which he was writing.
During the period from September 1992 to June 1999, he was hospitalized for an aggregate of over four years learning to cope with and manage his illness. During the last period of hospitalization, he was put in contact with a writers' group that met in the locality in which he lives. The Western Union Writers took him under their wing, with the full knowledge of his illness, and coached and coaxed him to a level that enabled him to have enough confidence to submit some of his works in competitions. Subsequently, although he has not been awarded a place in any competition, he came to accept his poetry as being good. Two of his works, "None For Your Money" and "Fire Eaters", have been published in separate anthologies compiled by The International Library of Poets. Nevertheless, his greatest rewards have been the acceptance of his work by his family and friends, and above all, himself.
Though he still considers himself primarily a poet who writes about war and its consequences, he has recently been experimenting with other subject and forms of writing. The awesome power of poetry is such that a balance between horror, reality, life, love, and laughter must be developed; to deny this correlation is, to Tony, an invitation to stagnate in perception and perspective.
Late in 2000, Anthony Pahl was appointed Senior Vice President of the International War Veterans' Poetry Archives. He subsequently volunteered to become web master for the IWVPA site and moderator for the IWVPA club and is holding those offices at present.
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