War is hell. You can’t photograph a flying bullet, but you can capture genuine fear. -Horst Faas

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When They Saw God

Small hamlet, Dakota
late in the ’67 offensive.

Tet Offensive, 2 months off
from David gaining victory over Goliath.

Birthday lottery losers, pulling pins.
An American public joins the arena of war.

Svelte GI, sweaty in full uniform.
Stares down young Vietnamese woman & two small children.

Fear, tension, uncertainty: her posture,
his awkward posture as he clutches that gun.

Here is the moment you identify what you’re afraid to lose.
Here is the rice paddy the conscious drowns in.

In the eyes of child, who has never been to school,
the reflection, the knowledge of other American GI’s nearby.

Here are two future generations aware
one will live to see tomorrow; the other will not.

We can’t see the GI’s face. I don’t much care to.
He either lives with the idea of ‘we’re here to kill bad guys.’

Or he sees this woman and children as they are;
A family like his own fighting for their home, their lives.

Wars belong to governments, never people.
The man who sees both sides will never come out alive.

If he has breath left in him,
it will be taken by the ghosts of what he’s seen.

The posturing between the woman and the GI,
knows no one is winning.

Contact sheets from the day reveal,
straw roofs set ablaze, hamlets burned down.

Suspicion stands between the GI and woman.
It’s become the greatest weapon in this war.

Villagers harboring communist guerilla forces by night.
The room for doubt is doused in gasoline.

Play it safe? Stay alive dead with guilt-
you failed to protect your own.

How do you not harbor someone
who is easily your husband in some faraway place.

Both wake up with the wind blowing,
unsure who will meet bullet or flame.

The angle of the photograph, an atypical vertical stare down
between a faceless GI and Vietnamese woman and her children.

Speaking volumes about the cultural divide.
Fire the gun; take this faces home with you.

Do nothing and you may not survive
to hold your own son, face not yet seen.

Here are your dog tags.
Here is the security clearance,
birthday raffle presents from Uncle Sam.
Here is this family much like your own.
Here is this soldier ordered to fight for his country much like your husband.

Here is this enormous moment unlike anything
God or anybody has ever shown either of them.

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