|Vietnam War Poems
By Greg Lake
Lake, just out of boot camp
Lake, as he is today.
it's like you've been hit with the tip of a cane stick,
that far end at the apex of its swing
that crack right at the end, at the tip, and you are down in the mud
of that rice paddy...damp, wet, heat...
then, those high pitched noises that sound like hornets going by,
so close, so quick, radiating their own heat
Rapid in that sun that causes those light bulb flashes, absorbing your
then you wipe that mud that has been splattered on your face
from those sweet, high pitched hornet noises going by and you realize
I've been hit
Simultaneous with those singing hornets, still closer
again the mud is splattered on your face and you roll over in that heat
and as you get up, all the light bulbs flash as those hornets swarm
impacting your flesh..strobing..intensifying..
A white blinding light, into, and beyond your horizon
That moment and pain, you know the sensation
that pinch in your side, right where the flak-jackets weight has shifted
when you get ready to stand back up, and push, because everything has
it's so Goddamn hot and tiring, plus the cigarette, stale most likely
or damp, smoked too quickly
not really enjoyed
and all the ammo you carry, plus grenades...sweat constantly stinging
in your eyes
nerves that have been stretched beyond the limits of your tolerance
but you have to stand and take the endless Hell that you are living
much lke Sisyphus it goes on in its cycle
wading waist deep in the mud and the endless damp, fucking wet endless
stinking clothes that wrap you like a shroud in the premature burial
ceremony that has become your reality
that reality that you can't explain because it is so far beyond anything
that Mom and Dad
or letters home could ever convey
yet still, you pull yourself up and try to shake and arch your shoulders
to lift that burden
no matter, it still remains and the heat beats down on you like a piece
of road kill
so that you, like many others before can walk endlessly forward into
they usually come in your sleep, but when they come in your waking hours
then they are truly those hideous things not to be dismissed or disregarded
Ghostly they stalk you and waking does not dismiss these specters
both old friends and foes they are with you like your heart beat and
Turning, changing your position, standing up, walking outside, trying
to dismiss them
like an ache in your hip
or turning changing position like an old dog scratching trying to get
rid of fleas and snapping at flies
they are still with you and with you they will stay...
Sounds, or not sounds, sometimes the very absence of these memories
becomes so resonant
that their silence is deafening
like the fading tone of a bell that is beyond your hearing
that resonant tone is still deafening in your ear
the clap of it peals forever in that memory that will always deprive
you of your sleep
they are never absent in your hearing, or in your memory of hearing
Images that are as much a part of your landscape as are your dreams
whether waking or sleeping they are sown upon you as a tattoo upon your
Nightmares are a constant in your world. In your world of memories
that are now more real to you than anything that you can touch
just because they are so far beyond the touching
a paradox that few can understand, in that Gustav Dore black and white
etching that boils
within the inner mind of yours that has become a realm of no escape
That same ghostly white color that is the illumination of a flare in
the dark of night
that floats down upon you and becomes the reality, or non reality, of
that sound PHUT PHUT PHUT and it's encompassing horror is the pillow
I rest my head when these nightmares come
Far and away, far and away I would banish these memories
but they are mine and they will stay with me
Hellish as they may seem
they are constants
A Passing Thought
Seventy-nine degrees….and cold
I can still remember the day, outside, standing by the pool
Santa Ana, Ca. Everyone warm, comfortable, laughing, relaxed
Another beautiful balmy day in Southern Ca., so why are
Goose bumps forming on my arms
Imperceptibly rising, one by one, until my arm, my being my whole body
Just weeks earlier I was in 100-plus degree heat and humidity, sweating
under the load of a heavy pack, combat gear, rifle, helmet, all the equipment
needed and necessary to stay alive in the sweltering jungle, rice paddies,
Excusing myself from my brother John I walked inside and donned a long-sleeve
Pendleton shirt recently purchased in a local Mall. As I moved, unnoticed
by the others frolicking by the pool…I was used to being unnoticed, having
walked the Point position on innumerable Combat patrols in Nam, I couldn't
help the swirl of mixed emotions that were forming inside of me…An intense
and bitter hatred, anger, and wish to disrupt the idyllic existence of
all surrounding me.
Idling by the pool, so innocent, so unaware, so untouched and far removed
from the experiences of my past year.
It became so clear in my head as I returned outside.
Time stopped…Every person was immobile, frozen in an image like stop
motion. Only I was able to move and act freely, without consequence. Straight
up to the pretty boy, jock type, blond, perfect Southern Ca., prototype,
not moving, as I said frozen, like everyone else in this moment of surrealistic
joy, that I have created to allow me to contemplate…Do I slowly slit his
throat with a straight razor or embed my Marine issue K-Bar deep into the
back of his head, right behind his ear so I can then twist it and scramble
his worthless little Surfer brain ? Do I go to the girlfriend next, or
to the loud mouth that shortly before was espousing his reasons why HE
was not in Vietnam because he had a college deferment, and after all everyone
knew that only stupid, low-classed boys were in Vietnam anyway.
Those without money, those without education, those without the means
to enjoy his life of privilege and leisure.
Like a ghost I could choose freely upon which person I would unleash
this rampage of carnage and destruction, of death and mayhem.
I hadn't been this happy for years, and then the beach ball came splashing
up out of the pool, bouncing off the lounge chair next to me knocking over
and disrupting my temporary time warp…Damn !!!!
I could only quietly relish the momentary freedom and bliss that had
existed in my mind moments before.
My brother, puzzled that I had dressed and put on a woolen shirt in
this nice warm weather asked….Are you cold ?
Yes, John, I answered..I’m cold.
He had no idea how really cold I was and I am.
Neither did any of the others around the pool, still laughing, still
playing…Unaware that Death had been beside them that warm and balmy day
in Santa Ana.
Once again, a kaleidoscope of color. The lush green of newly emerging
stalks of rice like thousands of innocent little new born baby fingers
pointing gently upwards, wiggling, welcoming the blue, blue sky above.
Joyous to have been released from the impediment of the muddy paddy
that had held them, waving and mirrored in the flat surface of water laid
across the seemingly endless dikes, almost like a mirage in the distance
of a desert. To the right and to the left the quietness, the loudness,
of the jungle on the edges that surround you, beckoning...Come...Come.
Alone, isolated, separated from the Platoon, the Squad, the Company
of men behind you
Pointman...An insane and dubious position at best...Your fingers, not
gently but tautly wrapped around the stock of hard wood and cold stoic
steel of the long barrel of your only friend and comfort, the M-14 that
you carry has become an extension, a new and welcome body part as you move
forward into this ongoing and surrealistic tableau.
Hearing sound that you have never heard in the quiet and stillness,
Vision as keen and concentrated as a Peregrine Falcon, majestic Eagle
or the Jaguar within the dark blackness of the labyrinthine Amazon jungle
You move forward.
Pure and stark insanity and yet a feeling of exultation, power, curiosity,
terror all at once
Pointman...First to be exposed to enemy fire...first to encounter, discover
and avoid booby traps carefully concealed by your opponent...first to be
shot, wounded, or secretly and hopefully killed to bring an end to this;
the killing would avoid the pain and violation of your flesh...Could I
take that pain ?
The bad dream would be over, the tension, strain, the safe haven would
These images flood your brain as you move forward,
waiting to encounter the next fire fight, the killing, the wounding...the
depravity and the ugliness of bloated, dismembered bodies rotting on the
ground and you hate it.
You want to scream, you want to cry, you want to be away from this horror,
but most of all, you hate.
You hate yourself for being here, you hate those safe, back in the World
as we call it, you hate your government for putting you here. You hate
and you hate and you hate until you ache, like a cancer within you, disemboweling
you, contradicting everything you know.
Not prescient of the 40 plus years of flashbacks, isolation, alcoholism,
broken marriages, anti social behavior that are waiting patiently for you,
you move forward.
A half moon, even at this late hour, 11:30 PM reflects some dappling,
discoloration and reflection
moving out silently, four of us, Faulkner, Lake, Henson and Ferguson
Faulkner, half crazed Jungle Bunny, literally, skinny Black kid / Blood
the shared blood of fallen or wounded Marines in this abysmal nightmare
called night patrol, ambush, insanity, war, VietNam...............Lake,
the Point as always, another skinny, loner from the projects in mid 40's
- 1950's, Oakland, Ca., / Henson, Sgt. Henson, the squad leader, always
willing to come with us on patrol yet relinquishing full control to Lake.
the Point, confident that the movement through the night and darkness of
the jungle will be another period of disbelief and magic
G.K. being as smooth, quiet and confident as a big cat
Ferguson, the white haired, pinkeye Albino, another throw away to VietNam
that nobody knows
Well, I know him and trust him and the others with my life
As always, rain incessant, not a deluge but just enough to shield sound
in this night. An ally in our movements. A return to another nameless Hamlet
that during our day patrol wielded info. concerning VC involvement, so
we come, in the night to monitor any clandestine meetings
The worst part is there is an open area that we must cross, about 35-40
to get close to the hooch showing a glimmer of candlelight
Patience, no rush, wait.......a cloud passes the moon / Ferguson / Faulkner
the rest we move as one
using the dark, momentarily offered
Damn, we're good, silent and together, unspoken, bred by months of combat
and jungle warfare
A hand movement sends Ferguson to the backside, Faulkner takes front
and Henson and I burst in, M-14's in hand
Three men, older, squatting, they do that, in the center
one showing great relief, the other two scowling and angry
One older woman, Grandmother perhaps, sitting in the far corner chewing
betel-nut and showing thankfulness in her eyes. a very direct stare that
I will never forget, approval and relief.............
The two we brought back with us, having discovered that they were responsible
for beheading the previous village chief, were turned over to the ARVN,
and at 4:10 AM we got to get a welcome rest.
The next day.................Another long day patrol / Another night
patrol which was taken by Maas's team / And then again the next day / The
day that Cpl. Jennings was shot and killed and the Golden Guinea was wounded.
My reason for becoming Pointman:
To give you an idea of what the function of a " Pointman " is and the
reason why I chose that to be my job and position while in Vietnam. The
Point leads all patrols and needs to have a full understanding of map reading
to get the unit of Marines involved to their objective. While stationed
in Okinawa , the second year of the three-year cycle that all groundpounders,
or "grunts " as we called ourselves , go through I was chosen from our
battalion to attend a Combat Map Reading and Intelligence School being
held for a group of young lieutenants to hone their skills as leaders of
It was a six-week long course held daily and at the conclusion there
was a final exam, just like in a college course to see how well you had
learned the material that had been presented. The end result of that final,
I finished first place with a higher score than the 31 lieutenants who
had taken the course. This is just to lay the groundwork for the upcoming
chain of events that led to my going to ‘Nam.
After serving the three-year cycle as an infantry Marine — one year
in the States, Camp Pendleton, one year overseas, Okinawa and then a final
year back at Camp Pendleton — if on a four-year enlistment, you got to
finish your last year at a different duty station less rigorous than that
of a grun.
In my case, I was scheduled to be reassigned to Treasure Island here
in the Bay area and serve as a gate guard checking I.D.s, both civilian
and military, for everyone entering that base. Cool, I thought to myself
this will be easy after the previous three years. But that was the time
that President Johnson decided that he needed 50,000 more Marines to be
sent to Vietnam. My orders for my last year of easy duty were rescinded,
I never saw Treasure Island and the easy life, rather I was reassigned
to a Marine company, 220-plus men, and was sent to Vietnam.
I did not know any of these guys who were all relatively new and young,
not like the previous tours where you knew and lived with the guys almost
like a marriage where you were aware of everyone's strengths and weaknesses
. During our trip to Vietnam, we were informed that we would stop for a
month in Okinawa first for a month for two reasons: to get the men accustomed
to the heat of that part of the world and to have a brush- up crash course
of training in field combat operations both at day and at night.
Being one of the older and more seasoned Marines than these new guy,
I decided to become the Point upon our arrival in the ‘Nam, telling my
platoon commander that besides the map reading and intelligence school
training, I had also participated in a jungle warfare and survival training
course in the Philippines in 1963.
I knew my capabilities but did not know how well any of these newer
guys were trained. I did not want someone less qualified than I was to
be the first man out on patrol where combat operations who might lead us
into an ambush or get us lost in the bush because they did not know how
to read a map correctly.
Everyone agreed that would be my position and quite frankly were relieved
that I had chosen that job for myself because in actual fact it was extremely
dangerous . The guys all thought I was quite insane for volunteering as
Point but I had my reasons. I had full confidence that I was the most qualified
for that position plus my line of thought went even further concluding
that the enemy would not fire upon the first man, because that would be
an alert to the rest of the Marines that a firefight was imminent.
We would go on patrols pretty much on a daily basis. Then there were
the big combined combat operations with larger units. There was a time
in the early, mid-’60s, for search and destroy. We would go out almost
like a shooting gallery, hoping that the VC would shoot at us so that we
could react and then go and you know kill some of them. That was our job.
Later, I was informed at a 40-year reunion in Florida that I had led
226 combat patrols and operations, both day and night while in ‘Nam. So
there you have it .
If history were to repeat itself, I would do it again and have never
regretted my choice as Pointman. I would not, however, have gone to Vietnam
if I had known the real truth surrounding our involvement there. See the
series "Vietnam: A Television History " (1983) to get the facts, rather
than the lies we were given by our government .
Marines are tended for their wounds during Operation Starlite, also known
as the battle of Van Tuong. It was the first major offensive regimental
size action conducted by a purely U.S. military unit during the Vietnam
War. Greg Lake was taller of the two men on the right center of the photo.
courtesy of Greg Lake
Greg Lake is a combat veteran (965-1966) serving with Delta Co., 1st
Battalion, 7th Marines, stationed at Chu Lai in the Quang Ngai province.
Thirty-plus years after the war, his brother suggested that he write down
of his experiences. Lake indicated there was a bit of the Gael in him somewhere.
He joined the Marine Corps at age 17, following his brother. There was
also another reason. "I figured if I joined the Marines, I may gain some
weight. Plus, I can say after my time in the service, I was in the Marines.
Not the Army, not the Air Force, not the Navy, the Marines. If you're gonna
do it, do it full blown and be part of the best," he said.
"And I'm still very proud of that. I'm not proud of what we had done
during the war. But they can never take the title. There's an expression,
once a Marine always a marine. And I'm very proud of that," Lake asserted.
As he explained, a Point man is the lead soldier in a unit cutting a
path through dense vegetation if needed and constantly exposed to the danger
of tripping booby traps or being the first in contact with the enemy.
For one of my most remarkable experiences in Vietnam, we were going
on one of our patrols into a village that usually we would get quite a
bit of incoming fire. Rifle fire and firefights. I'm walking on the clear
of this trail. Maybe 15 or 20 feet in front of me was a Vietnamese man.
Not in uniform, with a rifle. And we stopped. Locked eyes for a moment.
All the military and marine training and government bullshit, shoot him.
All my, this is difficult. All my moral upbringing and this was in just
a flash. It was— I have nothing against this guy. And I'm not gonna shoot
And evidently he had the same thought. We backed up, and didn't shoot
each other. If there was one person on this planet that I could sit down
and have a conversation with, it would be him. I don't now what went through
his mind. But thankfully, he must have had a similar experience.
We were both so young. God, I was 21. And it's hard to say with Vietnamese
or Asians their age. But he was also very young. It was like, when you
hit the moment of truth, now if you're firing at someone from a distance
of a couple hundred of yards, and they're faceless enemy, that's one thing.
But 15 feet apart, I did not pull the trigger. Neither did he. And surprisingly
enough, after that, going into that village, we were no longer fired on.
And I don't know if he told them, ‘hey, leave these guys alone.’ I don't
know what happened. But that was, God, I get short of breath just thinking
about it. Very extraordinary experience.
I had not even ever even mentioned this to anyone for almost 40 years.
It was something it was like well I'll just keep that one to myself. If
I had mentioned it, you know what I would have gotten? ‘Greg, you should
have shot him. You should have you should have.’ All my inside told me
don't shoot him. I never met him. I have absolutely nothing against him.
I had been put in his country in his backyard, burning his— if someone
had come to my neighborhood, in the middle of the country, and was burning
my house, shooting my livestock and raping my women, I would be just like
him. I'd be out there with the rifle, shooting at them. So there was a
paradox, like yeah, I'm kind of on this guy's side. We're the bad guys
is what was going through my head. We don't belong here and I'm not going
to shoot him.
Lake indicated that the writing of these pieces has been cathartic and
he is is moved and proud to share them with other veterans and their families.