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Because I Was There This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.


   My father once warnedme

Son, in life you will learn

That you have not lived
Until you have almost died
You will not value life until you have stared intothe black eyes of death
And beat the demon that lives inside all ofus

You tell me to smile
I ask you how
Even smiles look like sadnessto me now

When I was a child, they always told me
To honor andrespect all men
Because all men are equal
And I live in America
AndAmerica respects men of all races
Ten years later, they ship me off to'Nam
To eradicate the Vietnamese
Now I ask you
How is thatequality?

You tell me to laugh
I ask you how
Even laughter soundslike gunshots to me now

People admire me, or so they tell me
Because Iam a veteran
I am not a veteran
Veterans are men experienced in greatart
I do not want to be experienced in murder
I am only nineteen yearsold
I am just a boy
... And a killer

You tell me to see
I askyou how
Even the sunrise casts shadows for me now

I cannot stand andsalute the flag anymore
Because I know better than to pledge allegiance
To a country that sacrificed my innocence
And my self-respect
To thegod of war
I wanted them to teach me physics
And calculus
Andgrammar
But instead they taught me how to fight and kill

You tell meto love
I ask you how
Even love is just a pretense to me now

Whenthe captain of my brigade
First spoke to us boys
He told us
Men, Ialready have respect for you
Because you are here
And by being here
You are willing to die for your brothers
And your country

And I hada great pride then
But now ...
Now I realize
That I have pride inbeing willing to die
But not to kill

You tell me to sing
I ask youhow
Even music holds no solace for me now

When I was a child
Myonly worries were how I was going to convince my mother
To let me play ballafter dinner
I look back now
And I ache for the simple days
When warwas just a movie
Death just a story
And hate just a myth
When thefuture held promises
Of a life well-lived
But those promises werebroken
The day my heart was shattered
When I heard the first cries ofagony
On the battlefield
And when I broke my promise to God
Thepromise they told me to make when I was a child
Learning the TenCommandments
And I stepped onto the field
And fired my gun

You tellme to dream
I ask you how
Even sleep has no peace for me now

The dayI saw the demons
Was a day I will never forget
And the words of myfather
Who had fought in WWII
Echoed in my subconscious
The day I sawthe demons
Was the day I saw my best friend
Drag an innocent woman andher two children
Into a pit
And shoot them
And the day I saw thedemons
Was the day I watched him massacre them
As I stood at his side
And smoked a cigarette
And spoke not a word
In their defense
Thatsame day
I looked in the mirror
At my reflection
And I saw thedemons dancing across the glass
And I could not look even myself in theface

You tell me to live
I ask you how
Even life is a burden on menow

I remember
The day we landed on the moon
And that guyArmstrong said
One small step for man
One giant leap formankind

I laughed that day
Out of frustration
Because it was soclear to me
Yet not to the rest
We were not moving forward
Butmoving back
Because when we know no other way to solve

ourproblems
Than war
Then we have not reached advancement
Butprimitivism
All the great minds of our time
Could not come up with abetter solution than death
And the people all cheered Armstrong
In awe ofwhat he'd done
But I tell you
He did nothing
I would have given myright arm
To go up in that space shuttle
And have it as easy as hedid
But none are amazed at what we do
Do they realize how hard it is tokill a man
To be starving
And hungry
And cold
In a placefar, far from home
To live in fear constantly
And live only in thememories
And when the time comes for history
To remember the past
Theywill remember his name
But not mine

You tell me to hope
I ask youhow
Even faith is gone from me now

As we fled from the place
Wedestroyed in an hour
They all told me
Because I was shaking with confusionand fear
Whatever was left, nothing remains

And it is true
Thatnothing remains
Not just in 'Nam
But in my life
My dreams
My future
And my past
And my heart
So how do you move on
Ifyou have nothing left to move from
Or to

You tell me to dance
I askyou how
Even dancing holds no glory for me now

My buddy John confidedin me
A few months ago, after we returned to America
With no wounds
But not unscathed
Bill, he said,
I went to 'Nam when I wasseventeen
When I returned I was forty-one
Funny, though, I was only therefifteen months
I used to think wisdom was worth the price you
paid toget it
But now that I have it
I don't want it

You tell me tospeak
I ask you how
Even words have no meaning for me now

My lastbattle
Holds crystal clear in my memory
I was at Hanoi
And withbullets flying all around me
I stood my ground
And fired mygun
And I saw them fall
And with each man who fell
I saw alife fall with him
I saw a family being destroyed
I saw a futuredisappear
And I saw one more man
Who might have been great
And who might have saved the world
One day
Fall
It was then that Ilived my last day
But you will never find me on the walls
OfD.C.
Or in any book
Because I am still here
But I am a deadman
The next day
They told us we could go home
I had been there for oneyear
But it felt like a lifetime
And although the war is still goingon
I am not there
But I feel like I am
Because I relive it everyday
And when we boarded that chopper the day we left
I turned around forthe last time
And looked, once more, at the place that took my childhoodfrom me
And I wondered
How could I be so selfish
When I had taken somany lives myself
I never took one more order from my superiors

afterthat day
Because I realized
That my only superior
WasGod
America had told me to take lives
And not to save them
Andblindly I followed
But it was not worth it
Friend, you ask me if I cansee
Because when I look at you I stare right past you
Friend, I've seentoo much

You tell me to remember
I ask you how
I could never doanything but remember
... Before now ...




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the December 2001 Teen Ink Poetry Contest.






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dianepoon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 29, 2012 at 6:57 am
I cried when I was reading this
 
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