Charlie is all we think about, night and day.
There’s just one job over here: kill Charlie.
Hate is a terrible thing, but
it’s better than being deathly afraid.
Doesn’t take long to realize that.
War: kill or be killed, and that’s it.
Not very complicated, really.

The latest batch of boots just landed.
They’re just kids, with
no fuck-ing idea what’s in store for them.
369 days ago, I was a boot.
Seems like an eternity ago.
Stupid me. I enlisted, thinking
it can’t be all that bad.
What was I fuck-ing thinking?

You’re never ready for this hell.
There’s no easing into war with Charlie.
First impressions stick forever.
When I arrived in-country,
we hovered base camp, waiting
for 14 body bags to be loaded onto a Huey;
ironically the same number of boots on our chopper.
This place makes you superstitious.
14 has been permanently erased from my vocabulary.

A week ago, some bug started
working it’s way through the company.
Nothing brings any relief from the puking and shitting.
It just runs its course in 4 to 5 days,
leaving you limp as a rag.
The honey-dippers burn shit all around the clock.

In basic, you learn lots of stuff, but
they don’t tell you how awful this place smells;
how the odor of burned flesh lingers
for days in your mind, and
how you never get accustomed
to the smell of death.

And, they never tell you that you keep seeing things;
things nobody should ever see, even once.
But boys from Wapakoneta, Ohio, Sandy, Texas,
and other places nobody ever heard of, see things,
like what a claymore mine does to a man, or
what it’s like to see a man’s head explode like a ripe pumpkin
when hit dead-on with fire from a VC AK-47.
And, no amount of training prepares you to watch
a buddy hold another in his arms, rock him gently,
pretending to be the dying soldier’s mother.

Oh yeah, add me to the list of BK amputees.
The docs couldn’t salvage my lower right leg.
Tomorrow, they move me to the 29th Evac Hospital in Can Tho.
Fuck-ing Charlie mortar fire.
But I was lucky.
14 of my buddies went home in pine boxes.

Author: Don Iannone, D.Div.

Biography Photographer, poet, teacher, complementary medicine provider, interfaith minister, and former economic developer. Holds a Doctorate in Divinity, Master of Divinity, Master of Mind-Body Medicine, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology. Clinical certifications in Reiki, guided meditation, life purpose coaching, and spiritual counseling.  Author of 12 books, including two new books in the contemporary spirituality field. Learn more here. Contact Information Contact Don Iannone by email:

16 thoughts on “Fourteen”

  1. Yes it definitely made me feel present there. Very sad but necessary I think. Most of us are completely separated from this reality…thanks for this poem. I think it’s one of your better ones (though there are so many 🙂

  2. Andrew: Thanks so much. It is powerful because the “it” in the poem touches all of us, whether we were in Vietnam or not, or whether we fought in any war. But of course, each of us has our own war–the battle we most often fight with ourselves.

  3. Nasra: Thanks so much. Raison d’être is a French expression meaning “a basic, essential purpose; or a reason to exist.” No anger personally. It’s empathy poetry capturing the experience of others ravaged by war.

  4. raison d’être (what does this means) …Very powerful, my first time to read a piece that show an anger (if Im not wrong) …

    After this, the river will run peacefully as when it used to be

  5. Floots: Thanks so much for saying that. It’s more empathy poetry, bringing us closer to realities we seek to understand, or those experiencing realities we seek to help heal.

  6. i haven’t felt this close to the military “reality” since another blogger suggested i read “the things they carried”
    a very powerful and – in this age of jingoism – useful piece don
    thank you

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