Curt Bennett

Remembrance of Three Wars

 

Photo by Nick Krug

Curt Bennett was a U.S. pilot on active service in Vietnam.  He served as a captain in the Marines during the war

In Vietnam, you weren’t close to people. You learn not to get close. You kept a distance. That way when something happened to them, it was OK because it wasn’t you,” he says. “And you could go past it quicker. You didn’t dwell on death. ... ‘He was unlucky and I wasn’t’ — that’s the way it works.

  

Harbingers
A poem on written on the occasion of the Normandy landings anniversary

Frail, old men with weathered hands stand, 
Alone, lost on the wide sandy beaches,
Each turning back his rusty mind clock 
Piercing the veil of memories
When they were young, anxious and terrified,
Boy-soldiers in battle fighting for their lives, 
Experiencing the gamut of fear and death
Watching friends died horribly,
Scarring their young minds, forever.

Blue beaches murmur waves
Splashing old, rusted war remnants.
A sea bird flaps wet beaches
Where the sea swells and crashes gently on wet sand,
Retreating back erasing all footprints.
The men stare the distance,
At blurred memories through tears.
Trickling down their cheeks dripping softly,
To merge with the sea like before.

They came to say good-bye to their friends,
To a confused past which has no answers.
The graveyard crosses watch in stony silence, 
Stoically from tree shadows on soft meadows,
In eternal military formation fronted by small, flags,
Wind-shivering in the hush of silence. 
Marching the stillness in quiet precision
Protecting the young soldiers buried there,
Frozen in time and death
The old veterans stand awkward, unsure with the dead.
Experiencing those familiar, dreaded, sick feelings
Of remorse, regret, blame, and fault for what happened
To their generation who gave so much for their country.
They have gathered one final time 
To share history, blame and guilt for all eternity
Banding together as one, they embrace the moment,
Experiencing once more, this terrible place of
memories.

And the same salt sea air, still blows up from the beach 
Once inhaled in panic by all the young fighting men 
Mired in the beach mud conducting the senseless slaughter of children, 
Trapped forever in the obscenity and vulgarity of war,
The pain returns for a moment, overwhelming them,
It hangs suspended, as real as yesterday, then drifts away and mellows away.
Now time, history, and denial blessedly blur the horror and inhumanity
Of what they did; of what was done to them.

The War President from America
Mounts the podiums to prattle the virtues of war,
Attempting to rewrite history, to deny war's reality, 
He exploits the moment for selfish means, 
To justify his war as a noble cause, ignoring its brutality,
Thoughtlessly attempting to validate, substantiate, and authenticate,

War's vicious crimes against civilization
Turning the senseless slaughter of innocents
Into a righteous cause, to be proud of and condone..
Turning war into a sound-bite of empty words
Of praise, blessing, glory, and accomplishment.
Something to be proud of, to revel in,
To relish with sacred, biblical rhetoric
From a shallow, self-centered political opportunist. 
Whose meanings and oratory become quickly lost,
His words floating away with the wind, out of relevance, out of touch
Out of context, drifting, beyond the restive crowds.
To fall useless and disappear, in the cold, impassionate mud.
Falling deaf on the ears of the dead warriors
The ultimate, wasted sacrifice, from another generation

It is at this moment, the old veterans 
Eyes mist up, overflow, and tears flow shamelessly

As they at last comprehend all their sacrifice, all their pain,
All their sorrow, all their suffering, all the death,
Did not change or alter a thing, was not a lesson learned
Nor an experience not to be repeated.. 
Realizing their friend's painful, brutal, ultimate sacrifice
Was only a necessary evil of Mankind's political process
Which has never changed, and never will, 
For each generation brings anew to the world
Its own self-styled madness of universal death, tragedy and suffering,
In wars to be fought by the young, bright-eyed children of the world 
Unknowingly raised as sacrificial lambs of slaughter,
To be killed and gone forever, for nothing. 
That is why, all Veterans cry.

In this hallowed place of the dead
The lonely graves of war's youthful victims
Who died for a thought, 
an idea, for a cause
Promulgated by selfish, insane men in power
These war graves and cemeteries are Harbingers 
Of the eternal, mindless death cycle of war. 
Young men killed by politicians' words and mindless acts,
Their promise and existence forever ended too soon.
Now, forever sleep beneath the green muffled grass
Sharing the earth with the youth and victims of past wars,
Too numerous to count, to numbing to contemplate,
The dead, as powerless and impotent as the now living 
To change or alter, or detour the inexorable course of madmen,
They patiently wait for the next generation to join them.

 

AMERICA

"MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE….."
Here I sit in shit and mud
And wipe the dried and caking blood
From my dead friends face.  The littered zone
Is full of young men going home
In dirty ponchos.  Their lives so fast undone
As from their lips, forever dumb
They scream in silent shock and fear
In frozen agony.  Quietly, they lie so near
In sleeping rank and file.  Who might know
What thought flashed at the jolting blow
That ripped the jagged hole?  What sound
Escaped them as they pitched to ground
To bubble out their scarlet life?  What tears,
Welled up to grasp those unsaid fears
Had at last come true!  No tears now,
Just swarming flies fill their vacant, sightless eyes.

"SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY…."
Whose turned into a common whore!
She sends her children off to war,
Then turns her back!  Corrupted by
Her Politicians pimpish lie,
His selfish greed, his quest for power
Inventing conflicts for the dollar
Creating lies to justify
Sending young boys off to die.
That brings a tarnished bitter shame
To what once was the shining name
Of "Liberty".  How besmirched! How profane!
Her people's backs are bent in pain
And tragedy.  Their birthright sold
The elected to the rich, the old,
The power men, select, elite,
Who drag this country to their feet.
Big business marries pentagon,
Mindless whore and bitches son
Whose raging coupling rampant runs.

"OF THEE I SING……"
But sung with broken voice and heart
To Glory which was once a part
Of pride, not shame.  This country
Rich and rising from the sea
Designed for man's integrity
Blessed by Freedom's pure sweet thought,
By countless lives, so costly bought,
So dear the deadly price
Of sweat, blood, toil and sacrifice
Of common men who shared the dream,
Their clear, fresh message brightly beamed
To shine world turmoil and its dark…
Now, 'tis but a battered, weary spark
Deflowered, debauched, depraved, debased,
A blight upon the might race
Of men who kept this country strong.
Their hopes, their dreams, their ringing song
Lie stilled, forevermore.

"LAND WHERE MY FATHERS DIED…."
So quiet they sleep the countryside
Where in the name of country's pride
They fought they fell, they bled, they died
In patriotic genocide.  Every man once was a son
Who as a boy would laugh, would run,
Would warm his mother's loving heart, would play
His little childhood games, at night would lay
In sleepy bed awaiting mother's tender kiss
Goodnight.  Such innocence, such joyous bliss.
Too soon, the lad became the man,
His country called he took its stand
And fell.  For what?  And why?
Was it right that he should die?
So young, so unfilled, such tragic waste,
His youth and promise lived in haste.
Now lost, destroyed, forever gone.
Forever boys they slumber on
Beneath hushed white crosses stark and still
Whose mute r
anks march pastured hill
And keep their lasting peace.

'LAND OF THE PILGRIM'S PRIDE…."
Across the land the unrest spread
As pictures of the young men dead
Fill the nightly news.  Now more and more
Reach eighteen and leave for war,
Brother following brother.  Slow, rising hate
Makes people march and demonstrate,
Rioting in the streets of shame
Where high aloft the burning flame
Of once, sacred flag now fills the air
With shouts of people in despair!
At last, the great lie stands exposed,
THERE IS NO GAME OF DOMINOES!
Yet, fickle Washington fast denies
They ever fabricated lies
And battle the surging angry forces
With riot guns and trampling horses,
Shooting students in the chest
Whose only crime, was to protest!
A right they were taught, WAS GUARANTEED!
Now fast the spreading cance
r seed
Blossoms ugly.  Divided camps hard-split the land
Where Freedom's justice used to stand
It lies in shambles with the dream.
As the next generation is caught in between,
Bewildered, confused, filled with helpless rage!
Bastard children of their age!

"FROM EVERY MOUNTAINSIDE…."
The piercing wail of distant train
Echoes faint through misty rain.
The silent family waits alone.
Their son at last is coming home.
Too young to really understand,
The small child clutches Mother's hand
And tells her, "Ma-ma, please, don't cry!"
Mom dabs her swollen reddened eyes
And tries to smile, but more tears come
And course her tight drawn cheeks.  Now from
The pale gray west the train appears
And brings a flood of wrenching tears
From  the Father who stands alone…apart.
No known words can mend his broken heart
Or fill his loss, those grinding aches
Of anguish, the crushing agony that breaks
And kills the spirit of a man.
Now darkness gathers on the land
As slow the puffing, hissing train
Creeps to i
ts stop.  The driving rain
Softens in the gloom.  A rasping slide
Of box-car doors, and there inside
The shadowed coffin rests alone
As Johnny at last, comes marching home
To sleep his endless dream.

"LET FREEDOM RING…."
This mindless war drags on and on,
Too slow the nights, too fast the dawns,
Too cold the rains, too hot the day,
Across wet fields, cruel bullets play. 
Through angry skies swift warplanes shriek,
Through steaming jungles tired men creep,
Patrol…now probe…now full contact!
Air-Strikes!  Artillery Strikes!  Medivac!
A year of wounded, screaming men,
The haunting gape of a dead man's grin 
With that startled look of half-surprise
Eternally mirrored in lifeless eyes.
A booby-traps "snap" and sudden roar!
Instant death and bloody gore!
The slap and whine of bullets singing…
…the haunting sounds of "Freedom Ringing"… 
 UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD

The small bird chirped quietly,
From his barren branch.
He shuffled his feathers
And chirped again,
Proclaiming and establishing
His territorial rights.

Not a breeze
Stirred the empty clearing.
Like ghostly sentinels,
The battle-splintered trees
Stand their lonely vigil
On the silent outskirts.

The men lay still
In the rich, red mud
In awkward configurations.
It was difficult to tell
Which one belonged?
To which nation?

Their stiff arms
Seemed to stretch out
Reaching for each other.
It was almost, as if
Universal brotherhood
Had at last…been realized.

 

 THE SCHOOL

The early morning warmed 
As down the dusty road
The big truck wheeled.
If was full of Officers and me
From the bombing squadron
On their way to school.

Through the small Ville of An-Tan
They drove the narrow, crooked streets
Bounding the battered, small shell houses.
Green algae ditches held swarming water,
Bars, Massage, and Dancing, red signs
Proclaiming business as usual.

The village people stared at the truck.
Quietly they stood, old peasant stock
With broken, dark-red stained teeth
And yellow wax in their ears
While white, tiny lice specks
Grazed on the black, oily hair.

Slowly the truck drove the pontoon bridge
Built by the Corps of Engineers.
On the other side on the right
Sat the villager's school
Enclosed by a wire fence,
It sat shadowed under the tall trees.

Whitewashed patched walls,
Cracked faded red roof-tiles,
Staring glassless, black window squares.
A broken, open wooden door,
A tired flagpole
Drooping its weary, red-yellow rag.

No teeter-totters, no monkey bars,
See-saws or jungle gyms,
Swings or rings, or merry-go-rounds.
Only hard packed red earth
Beaten flat and even
By thousands of little bare feet.

The children abruptly stopped
Their rowdy, noisy play 
Growing quiet, suddenly still,
Watching the big Americans
Climb down off the green truck
And walk warily through the front gate.

Shyly, the kids huddled behind each other
Peering out with button-bright eyes
Shining their bug-like faces.
The older children stood apart,
Slinging their younger, thumb-sucking brother
Across small, bony child hips.

The children's hair was cut quite short,
The girls wore little pajamas,
The boys, shorts and T-shirts.
All wore shower-tong sandals of rubber.
A few had on their white straw hats,
The rest were bare headed.

The two male schoolteachers were young,
Somewhere in their 20's,
They stood just outside on the stoop
With nervous eyes watching everything,
Holding hands, they smiled widely
Displaying their shiny gold teeth.

Their singsong soft voices
Ordered the children in line
For the ceremony,
"Scholarships" would be awarded,
Worth about ten American dollars
To the most "deserving".

A big, gangling American…
A small Vietnamese child…
Big hands, to little ones…
A grateful bow of thanks,
An awkward bend of acknowledgement,
There were no communication problems.

How strange, how different,
This parody of children here
Compared to those in the States.
These poor kids had NOTHING!
And for most of the,
The bleak future held the same.

These were the innocents,
These, the ones
Who stood to lose the most,
To hurt the most
And with no way
To every change anything.

They would grow up to the sound
Of howling airplanes and rumbling artillery,
Constant, never ending noises of war,
Of stupid ideologies tearing at each other,
Killing, destroying wiping everything away,
And in the end, it is all bullshit!

 The squadron Flight Surgeon
Moves among the kids,
Some already had lost some teeth,
Some had not teeth at all.
One small boys ears were full of red dirt
Crawling with little, black speckled bugs.

For most of the Americans
This was the first true contact,
Their initial meeting face to face
With the children over here
Who were about the same size and shape
Of little brothers and sisters back home.

The mood grew strangely quiet and awkward
As each pilot slowly realized
That kids just like these were his fleeing targets
Running before his dull, yellow bombsight
The second before he thumbed the button
And released his tumbling napalm.

"Ring around the rosy,
A pocket full of posy.
Ashes…ashes…all fall down…."

 

Abu Ghraib

The photos were painfully clear,
In color, and graphically detailed,
In multi-pixel format
From across the world.
From another faraway land
In another place, and time.
They were undeniable, uncompromising,
Painful to look at, hard to accept.

Some photos showed naked men
Wearing black hoods over their heads,
Clustered in a pile on the floor,
As an American girl grinned and pointed at their genitalia,
As if she found it somewhat lacking.
Manacled hands embracing each other
Bare skin on bare skins
In a mangled group of bodies
Lying together in a jangled, confusing heap.
They lay helpless before the Americans.

One showed a prisoner like a giant moth-man
Standing on boxes with electrodes,
Attached to his fingers.
Still another terrified man,
Backed away, handcuffed,
Cringing against the wall
In total terror as excited dogs,
Eagerly strained and barked for the prize.

Most disturbing in that sinister jail
Known in Iraq as Abu Ghraib
A smiling American soldier,
Looks down at a prisoner,
Laying on the ground like a dog,
She held a leash to his neck
She stood there stoically watching
Her captured prize of Iraqi manhood
Cowering on the cold cement.
Helpless, powerless to resist,
Unable to act, unable to move,
Unable to think, defenseless
Totally submissive and subservient,
Totally at the mercy of the war.
These photos are a metaphor,
Of what America considers Iraq,
What we think of the Iraqi people,
Of our dominance, or our authority,
Of our cruelty, and our brutality,
Our inhumanity and callousness,
With total disregard for other peoples
Except ourselves and our selfish priorities,
Where the Military abuse their power,
Where the strong abuse the weak,
Where Leaders are beyond the law,
Beyond authority, beyond reproach
To unfortunate prisoners of war,
They appear to believe
They are answerable to no one.

A parallel metaphor emerges,
Of guards and prisoners,
Of leashes and hoods
Of the calloused indifference
The brutal treatment to Prisoners of War.
It is Cheney holding the Leash
Of a feckless, hooded naked Congress,
Secretary Rumsfeld dragging the leash
Of the military stumbling blindly behind,

President Bush leads the trio
Down his yellow brick road,
Paved with lies and misrepresentations,
False Fear, terror, deceit,
And fanciful, imagined enemies,
Dragging behind him the hooded,
Unseeing naked American masses
Down his deadly road
Of war and destruction,
All of us, unwilling participants in his War,
All of us -- in America
Prisoners of War.


Coming Home

Inside the gray, steel womb of cargo space.
Flag covered caskets quietly lie
In rank and file, line on line in silence.
Bound together in final military formation
Flags of blood reds, cloud whites and ocean blues,
Drape and caress the dull, pewter boxes
Encasing the broken, ashen, hallowed remains
Of dead young boys and girls,
Forced to pay the ultimate price
In this foreign land with strange people,
Where brutal Death forever lurks,
Beneath the surface, around the corner
Watching with cold eyes that never sleep.

Outside, hot desert night winds
Sweep down from the northern mountains
In biting, stinging clouds of dust
Blowing and swirling the tarmac, ruffling flags.
Steel, hydraulic doors whine and close tight

Sealing the precious cargo inside.
Engines come to life and rumble the air,
The huge cargo transport trundles away
Disappearing in the darkness of the taxiway.
Moments later, re-emerging, a roaring shadow
That races and climbs sharply up and away
Into the night air to seek the stars.

Floating suspended between earth and sky
The westbound plane heads for the full moon.
Carrying its sleeping, youthful cargo home.
To the land that gave them birth,
To the parents who loved and raised then
To the government who sent them to fight,
And the politicians who killed them.
In the early morning hours, it touches down
On glistening tarmac of the sleeping base.
To taxi off and away towards the dark distant hanger
Where black hearses wait under tight security.

Once again hydraulics hum the cargo doors open.
The setting moon softly illuminates the caskets.
So quietly they lie, so well they sleep,
With no more promises to keep,
No more miles to go.