“Dark Rain’s Gonna Fall”
PBS is currently airing Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War. The film is a long-overdue look at a war that changed all the rules and altered the lives of everyone involved, including the Vietnamese. It not only significantly transformed the United States soldiers who fought there, but it had a profound impact on shaping America as we know it today.
Randall O’Brien was drafted, but decided to enlist before his scheduled induction in late 1969. He was a 20-year-old Southern boy when he left for Vietnam in 1970, but he was a forever-changed U.S. Army Sergeant when he returned in 1971.
Randall has allowed us to print the following three brief, but highly relevant poems that he wrote after his tour with the 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Battalion, Company D, 506th Infantry.
On Coming Home From Nam
He came home from Nam
but never made it back
We celebrated his return
his presence being our only lack
I saw him last
just before he left for the war
Now cheering glasses were raised
We noticed his eyes and long hair were with us
but not his mind
After the party he walked to the Vietnam Memorial
and killed himself real fine.
She cried as he left, clinging to his Saint Christopher
chaining around her neck,
Eyes kissing his as he pressed his face
against the bus window
for one last embrace.
He cried as he read her letter, clinging to their wounded dreams
dying in the important war,
Eyes waterfalling as he pressed his nose
against her perfumed envelope
for one last taste.
She cried when he came home, clinging to her prayers
that the shrapnel had not been hers,
Eyes pleading as the soldiers pressed the flag
against the long box and lowered it
to its resting place.
Mother, mother, mother, he wailed and I cried, too,
What child should lose his legs because
their moral responsibility to solve
Father, father, father of our country, we cursed you.
What protector, moral, caring, wouldn’t
regardless of his enemy’s
deeds and inferences?
Mother’s on her way, I screamed and crawled to
what brother I could cradle that he might
until our bookie presidents could come
to their senses.
Dr. J. Randall O’Brien is president of Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Previously the executive vice president, provost, professor of religion and visiting law professor at Baylor University, the McComb, Mississippi native is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mississippi College. He has also held appointments as a Research Scholar at Yale, and Fellow at Oxford.
For his service in Vietnam, Sergeant O’Brien received, among other decorations, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the United States Air Medal, The Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Bronze Star.
Vietnam Memorial Wall photo from https://greatnonprofits.org/org/vietnam-veterans-memorial-fund-inc
Black and white photo from Wikimedia
Color photo courtesy of Dr. J. Randall O’Brien