John M. Koelsch served in the Army in the Vietnam War as a infantry Platoon Leader in 1968. He is the author of Mickey 6, a novel based on his combat experiences.
Koelsch describes his book of poetry and short prose pieces, If I Could Find a Way (CreateSpace, 98 pp., $9.99, paper), as “a journey through the Vietnam War, through the aftermath of that war, and hopefully to at least the beginning of healing. These poems present the intensity of combat, and the descent into the darkest of valleys.”
That is a fair description of this book. There are fewer than fifty short poems, but they pack a punch. They are titled to let the reader know what they are about: “Claymore Mines,” “Payback,” “Bugs,” “Bobby-Trap,” “Barber,” “Sniper,” “Ten Thousand Meter Stare,” “Baby-Killers,” etc.
The poem “Barber” embodies one of the most common recurring motifs of the Vietnam War. It also is one of Koelsch’s finest poems, and gives the flavor of the book.
Duke was a fine patriotic fellow,
who gave solid military haircuts
and friendly “G.I. Numbah 1” chatter.
His sweet-faced wife provided laundry service,
while his small son would shine your boots.
A nice group; happy Americans were here.
That morning, none of them showed up for work.
Recon Platoon called in from their ambush.
Seven bodies of hardcore NVA.
A very successful operation.
Wait a minute! Duke is among the dead.
He’s wearing NVA Lieutenant pips.
Our barber guided enemy patrols
through our area using U. S. maps.
Duke, a good barber; a true patriot.
He will be missed, as will his family.
They never did return to work.
I loved this poem and many others in this book. I highly recommend it to lovers of Vietnam War poetry.
Koelsch mentions more than once that the Vietnam War was “the war we weren’t allowed to win.” I’d like to know who exactly who connived not to let us win that war? If I have to guess, I’d say it was Duke, the patriotic barber—and his fellow patriots.