PURPLE HEARTS by Steve Gulvezan

I knew three bozos
Who said they served in Vietnam
When they really hadn’t

Each made his claim
Long after the war ended
And hostility towards the real
Vietnam veterans had subsided
And America had grown somewhat sympathetic
To the ordeals of the survivors
Maimed though they may have been
Both mentally and physically

I was walking a nature trail
With bozo number one
When some kids set off a firecracker
From the foliage beside us
We both jumped a mile
But when we heard the kids laughing
And saw them lurking in the bushes
My buddy quickly recovered his equilibrium

“Damn it to hell,
You children—
When I heard that explosion
I had a flashback
To patrol duty
In the jungles of Phnom Penh—
I fought and nearly died
For our nation
And I have a Purple Heart
To prove it—
I want you to know
That what you just did
May have set my recovery
Back by a decade!”

Bozo number two
Enjoyed showing the young women
And old men
At his workplace
The scars on his legs
In the staff breakroom

He pulled up his trousers
Displaying legs disfigured
Many years before
By a pot of boiling coffee
Carelessly mishandled

“See these—
I stepped on a land mine
In ‘Nam in 1970—
Nearly lost both my legs
Fighting for my country
While you mothers—”

Here he gestured to the old men

“— Were lollygagging at home
With your student deferments
Protesting the war
Smoking dope
And banging the girls
That were rightfully mine!”

The third bozo
Almost died for his Purple Heart

He supervised a crew
Of raw company recruits
In the office mailroom
And enjoyed venting
His numerous frustrations
Upon them

He rode one shy and tongue-tied lad
Particularly hard
Though I warned him,
“You’d better take it easy
On that kid—
I heard he used to be
A golden gloves boxer”

“Golden gloves my ass,” he replied, “That punk
Is probably five feet and six inches
And one hundred and forty pounds—
I’m six foot three and two fifty—
Do you truly believe
He would ever dare
To mess with me?”

After work that day
This bozo earned the Purple Heart
Stories he would later tell
The hard way
Bright red blood
Gushing out of his nose, mouth and ears
And paralysis
From a vicious temple punch
As he was going down
Already beginning to set in
On the left side of his body…

One Response to “PURPLE HEARTS by Steve Gulvezan”

  1. Arlin Buyert Says:

    A moving poem for a Viet Nam era Navy veteran. I was a Navy pilot and had orders to go to Westpac flying F-4’s. At the last minute, my orders got changed to be a flight instructor in Meridian,
    Mississippi. I still supported the war of course but I’m thankful that I didn’t personally drop bombs. With respect for all the real veterans of the Viet Nam war, Arlin.

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