Poetry by Bob Lynn
The following narrative and poems were contributed by Bob Lynn who
was stationed first at Panama and later at Peacock as site commander. The
works found on this page are copyrighted by Bob Lynn. Please do not reproduce
without the express permission of Bob Lynn who can be contacted at Bob Lynn [email@example.com]
505th TCG Webmaster
As you know, the viewpoint of a controller is a bit unique. We
see both the "big picture" on a radar scope, but yet we see a lot
because we are the ground in the middle of things, and not a" Saigon Warrior."
Here's what I wrote about my job at the beginning of the journal:
My job is pleasant
I serve my tour
and ask no questions.
I make no waves.
For me it's nothing personal,
Just blips of light on a scope
And distant voices on the radio.
Men don't die in my way
(though I lose a lot of callsigns).
As everyone in the 505th knows, we controlled BUFF raids both in
north and south Vietnam. At Panama we especially blasted Quang Tri. In the 14 October 1972
writing below, "Beret" was a BUFF cell from Thailand, and "Elena" was a
BUFF cell from Clark or Guam, I forget which. I wrote about the raid, as follows:
Blips march in cells of three
Across my scope to Quang Tri,
Beret from land
Elena from the sea.
Bombs are released
Distant voices announce "complete."
Our killing is quite methodical.
Death at fifteen minute intervals.
Pulling guard patrols around top camp at Panama in the fog was frequently scary. The
following is a takeoff on the well-known poem "Fog" by Carl Sandberg, changed to
fit the foggy situation at Panama top camp on 26 October 1972 during guard tours, and
during the unarmed drive (unarmed, by the policy of the Panama commander at that time) up
the jungle bordered mountain road:
This fog doesn't come in on little cat feet.
It marches in on each heartbeat.
The infusion of fog makes my fear complete.
With each heartbeat.
The following was written on 28 October 1972 at Panama top camp, after I pulled perimeter
guard, on a very pretty and very calm evening:
The lights of Danang are a galaxy below
Clouds boil across this mountain,
Stars between the clouds come and go.
Orange flares, like miniature suns, drift down
To make sky and sea glow.
It is beautiful tonight.
Just me, I think, and the night,
I ponder my feelings and this sight,
How can I express how I feel this night?
Later on that same 28 October 1972 evening, Panama went on increased alert, and things got
"NOT so calm," when an intruder was spotted and shot at on the hillside below
And five shots blast out
At a moving shape in the night.
But whatever beyond the fence was about
Into the shadows of jungle has taken flight.
Again, how can I express how I feel this night?
On 7 November 1972, on our radar scopes we could see Typhoon Pamela approaching Panama
from about 100 miles away, but with our eyes outside the darkroom, we could see only fog
drifting across the ocean below Monkey Mountain where our site was located. I tried to put
this in the context of the war:
Radar paints spiral bands and typhoon eye,
Waves spray below,
Fog swirls across night sky,
And again the wind rushes in.
The beach is splashed with white garlands
Boats retreat from windward to lee
Above war hawks continue the fight,
While in the lowlands men flee.
Men flee from the storms of God and of men.
Death is the same
Whether typhoon or war is the name.
Death is the same
Whatever the name.
On 14 November 1972, outside the "Monkey House" officers' quarters at
Panama bottom camp, we could hear distant small arms fire from the Vietnamese dock area,
even though all the talk was about an impending cease-fire:
Rifle shots in the night
Are evidence men still fight.
Peace rumors fly
But men still die.
Today, tomorrow, when?
When will this goddamed war end?
On 17 November 1972, we continued our BUF raids on Quang Tri which, after raid after raid
after raid, was surely demolished with "overkill." I asked about this in the
poem (which includes a "bomb drop of words"):
What is left to kill,
Does anyone care?
Overlapped craters on
Has anyone escaped?
Of those who lived there
Are any living still?
Yes, some life is seen below.
The orders come, and so
Again we bomb Quang Tri
and souls bereft
We kill some men to make men free.
Again, that same evening of 17 November 1972, Panama continued controlling
"Wagontrain" BUFF raids:
Wagon trains rolling north
Twelve BUFFS in three cells
Into SAM Valley venture forth
For friend and foe alike it is hell.
On Thanksgiving 1972 Panama hosted a Thanksgiving meal at the Mess Hall for the orphan
children of Danang. Many of the orphans were Vietnamese children fathered by American
servicemen. At the Thanksgiving dinner GIs held many of these children and fed them. That
led to the follow observation:
A man takes a stranger for a night
A stranger buys a stranger,
A child within the stranger is conceived.
A woman carries it
Cuts the cord
Thanksgiving is here.
Bring in the orphans
And feed the bastards.
A man holds a lonely child
Bounces it on his knee.
Thanksgiving is here.
Thanks be to God
Our conscience is clear.
Between 1 December and 10 December 1972, peace negotiations were infull swing in Paris,
France, but the war in Vietnam continued without letup. Things never slowed up in the
Operations Room, and that led to the following observation:
Peace rumors and bombers still fly
Talk goes on and men still die.
We bomb and kill
To break the enemy's will.
Talk and life have equal price.
Big men talk
And little men die.
One more day in Paris
One hundred more dead.
It doesn't hurt big men
To shoot with words in Paris
But little men bullets do kill.
By Christmas Eve 1972 I had departed Panama to be Commander of Peacock at the detachment
at Pleiku. During the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I drove to downtown Pleiku for shopping
and to see the sights. That evening, we have a Christmas Eve party at the Club. That 1972
Christmas Eve experience was unforgettable to me, and is recounted in a kind of "free
Christmas Eve in Pleiku. A sunny day
In the Highlands. Clean air brings distant
Mountains close. A day like other days.
Five rockets aimed at the runway rock my quarters.
I drive the jeep to Pleiku City.
Nearby the base, a stream is
Playground and washbasin for Montagnards; happy children and
Bare breasted old women carrying
Straw baskets like backpacks.
Dusty brown men in loincloths keep watch
And smile at me.
In town, kite-like Christmas
Ornaments, and shiny tinsel
Decorate the cathedral. National yellow and red
Flags flank a grotto of
The marketplace is cluttered,
ARVN jeeps smoke the
Air. Hondas, pedicabs,
And Lambretta motor scooters
Dart along dusty streets.
I barter for a native basket
While a group tries to steal
My jeep battery. A crowd gathers.
Hands reach for my camera.
Hands finger my pocket. I
Pay for the basket. My change is stolen. I am
Cheated 100 piaster. My
Life is not worth twenty-five cents.
Our jeep is surrounded, and
I let out the clutch, scattering
My heart races with the jeep
And my Christmas shopping is complete.
I drive "home."
Painted girls standing by a
Manger scene in a whorehouse yard
Wave as I go by. I
Wave and smile.
Merry Christmas to all.
A tape is at home from home.
Voices from the box come
From a week ago
And 12,000 miles away.
The voices are captured
And are with me. But
It's not real.
Letters and tapes and gifts
Cannot change how I feel.
At the Club a plastic
Joseph and Mary are
Plugged in and lit.
Red cross gifts in plastic bags
Surround the base of an artificial tree.
On the wall
Behind the Christmas scene,
Behind the Holy Family,
The Reclining Nude in a painting
Smiles down at our merry group.
Pizza and drinks are free.
Anything we want.
Christmas music blares from
The tape player. We drink and drink
And make jokes together.
A church has sent gifts through
the Red Cross. We open them;
One for each of us. I gave
The names today. Combs,
Cigarettes, toothpastes, and
Toothbrushes. A child's name
On a card,
"Have a Merry Christmas
Cindy, age 11, born 1961
Died?? A lieutenant stares,
"This kids a weirdo.
I don't want this gift."
A rocket impacts and cracks
We jump, we start to run,
We take another drink, sit back down
"That kids a weirdo," the lieutenant repeats.
We nod our heads wisely,
The drinks warm our heads, our feelings.
But there is a knot in my stomach.
"Merry Christmas," we
Toast each other, again and again.
Men begin to drift into the night.
A sergeant passes out hymnals.
"Turn to page 189 and sing,"
He mock orders. Drunken
Voices sing of the Christ Child.
I want to leave but I don't want to leave
The crowd and be alone.
I think about going to Midnight Mass.
This morning Father repeated the old saw that
Midnight Mass will be at midnight
And we laughed politely. To
Get to Midnight Mass I have to drive the jeep
Off base on a dark road
For three miles. I don't want to do that.
Outgoing artillery is Whumping,
Flares light the perimeter fence,
A star flare lights the southern night
Sky as if blaspheming the Christmas Star.
I have drunk too much but not enough.
The road belongs to Charlie and the Bad Guys
At night. I think about arming myself
And going anyway, maybe like running a gauntlet.
But I'm too scared. I'm an ashamed drunk.
I have never before been
Scared on Christmas Eve.
I'll go to Mass tomorrow morning
I return to my room.
It's a mess like me.
I shut the door on Vietnam
And lock it. I turn on the radio
Jingle Bells fill the room.
I take an Alka Seltzer and lie
Down before midnight.
Christmas arrives an hour later
But I don't know it.
Now it's three fifty-seven a.m.
On Christmas Morn. It's three fifty-seven p.m.
On Christmas Eve at
Home in the world.
I sit on the edge of my bed and
Write all of this about Christmas Eve in
On Wednesday, 24 January 1973, AFVN radio announced that President
Nixon would address the nation and the troops in Vietnam. I thought that was the
"stuff of poetry," and therefore wrote,
There will be an announcement at eleven.
The war may end With the stroke of a pen.
But what about those who die
Between now and eleven;
And for hearts rended evermore
For those who died before?
There will be an announcement
But for those who cheer
Are tens of thousands
Who can't hear.
The hooker in Nixon's speech was that it would be four long days
until the actual ceasefire. I asked my staff, not too jokingly, "Should we move our
quarters into the bunker (now) or in 30 seconds? I immediately put the site on yellow
alert, and later wrote:
Politicians, proud of themselves
Have initialed paper, shook hands
And smiled into cameras.
For them it's over
Except for allocades.
And I suppose it's fair to say
It's practically over over here
Because now through Sunday isn't long
(unless you're bleeding to death).
Sure enough, the next day 25 January 1973, we had our scariest rocket attack. VNAF planes
were still flying, but the VNAF radar crew ran in total pandemonium to the bunkers,
leaving the Americans to control the VNAF aircraft. I was totally "pissed." I
sent the Americans to the bunkers, except myself and two others, to maintain some
semblance of aircraft control. It was truly foolish. All of us Americans should have all
left the control room. Five Vietnamese were killed nearby and shrapnel was all over the
place. Here's what I wrote about it:
The Sergeant, Lieutenant, and the Major
Each trying to impress the other
Stayed at their posts like three
Wondering what the other would do.
We could hear the rockets coming
First the silence then the thundering.
The VNAF, not afraid to hide
Made no pretense of having to stay inside,
Ran amuck to the bunker - fast
At the crash of the first rocket blast.
But the three goddamned American fools
Each wondering what the other would do
Just sat there in Hell
While Death fell.
Three goddamned American fools.
So concerned their fear to hide
They captured themselves,
Three prisoners of Pride.
That same evening at Peacock, 25 January 1973, we suffered yet another rocket barrage.
This time the attack occurred while I was in our quarters compound, and we all of us there
took off to the nearest ditch. Thinking about how Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State,
had foolishly arranged for the four day delay until the ceasefire, I wrote later:
I wish that Kissinger, that son of a bitch
Were here with us in this ditch.
Anyone who from announcement to ceasefire
Would allow four days
Should have an opportunity to join us
On our bellies to pray.
The war has been "won."
"Peace with Honor" we declare.
So why the hell are those rockets
Whistling through the goddamned air?
In Vietnam, as well as later on in Thailand, I became increasingly
irritated at the euphemisms we used in our radar controlling to make the horror of the war
sound so nice and antiseptic. The thought was, "Dress a pig in a tuxedo, and it's
still a pig." I could just imagine the President of the US holding a news conference
and stating in a "holy holy" voice about "our side":
Gentlemen of the Press, in response
to your questions . . .
"Our Side" never bombs
We only have "events."
Our "birds" are "priority traffic"
They are not bombers.
And certainly we do not schedule
Killing (only "Bad Guys" ever kill).
But to "Get our Show on the road"
We must plan "critical actions"
(That's simply "good management" isn't it?).
So now that I've made this "perfectly clear."
And you can see the "big picture."
I'm convinced you'll agree
That "war is war"
And a little hypocrisy
Will make "our" world
"Safe for Democracy."
Since there are no more questions,
Thank you for your kind attention.
My last "poetic effort" was a "thank you" for
what I had learned in Vietnam. I called the piece:
THANKS SO MUCH
Just wanted you to know
It was a nice little war
(so glad I was invited)
I didn't directly kill anyone
And no one killed me.
I didn't understand it all
(reasons are a little deep for me)
But I was there and had a ball.
And a wonderful time was had by all.
I loved the camaraderie
(pushing paper for awards)
It's how gentlemen fight a war.
Quite frankly, I wanted that Bronze Star.
I'm proud to be a veteran
(I'm proud I went to war)
Thanks SO much for the invitation
I just loved the education.
Just wanted you to know.
I had originally started to write just a journal (without attempt at
poetry), which I did (all 213 pages of it). I started writing the poetry (if it deserves
that exalted title) merely as a joke on a lieutenant. 19 September 1972 was another foggy
night at Panama top camp, and I had to schedule every officer to a two hour "roving
guard" to check on security, and keep the VNAF perimeter guards awake (a never ending
task). I had just returned from roving guard myself, and an hour later a very frightened
young lieutenant was assigned to take his "turn in the barrel." Just to
"get him in the mood," I hurriedly wrote of my own roving guard experience that
night, as a joke, and gave it to the lieutenant to read just before he went outside. I
thought it was funny. He didn't:
Fog shapes in the night.
A paper scrap clatters along the pavement. The
Wind pushes it in front of me.
Perimeter flood lights paint frosted glass arcs.
My footsteps in gravel are like coarse sandpaper.
I see a black object . . .
A post, a box, a tarp . . .
A sleeping dog moves as I inch by.
A friendly guard hears me.
I sense his new alertness.
He turns. Does he know me?
I stalk. I still hunt.
I turn left, right,
And double back.
Instinctively I look beyond the bright lighted areas
Beyond the coils of concertina wire.
I make myself look instead
Where there is no light.
The tall grass undulates, rustles in the wind.
The mountain falls away behind the grass
Beyond my line of sight.
My helmet is heavy
And the flak vest steams my chest and back.
Is someone watching me?
No, I tell myself.
Am I hunter or hunted?
Trite phrase but a worry tonight.
I don't know, except that
Tonight, thank God,
Either Charlie or I or both of us
At the end of my journal "My Only War, " after I had returned stateside and
started editing my journal, I wrote a little poem about my Vietnam experience, to sort of
sum things up. I called it
Thanks so Much
Many times 'round the sun
his good earth has spun
since our forces were withdrawn
From the fields of Vietnam.
The dead lie dead and medals hang on walls.
I know they're glad they gave their all
For the tenants of democracy.
Why, they changed headlines to history!
But oh the living love their memory
Of the distant so-called tragedy.
So now we search from sea to shining sea ...
To find another war to watch on our TV.
Peacock 1and Panama (number I don't remember!)