Now I Lay Me Down to Weep in the Valleys of My Mind by Richard Kraft

The Vietnam War veterans I admire most served as corpsmen and helicopter crewmen. I rate their duties as the riskiest. Therefore, Richard (Doc) Kraft’s Now I Lay Me Down to Weep in the Valleys of My Mind: The Life of a Navy Corpsman (CreateSpace, 220 pp., $14.95, paper) pleased me.

Kraft’s combat life began as a child abused by a merciless stepfather. Robbed of a boyhood, Kraft ran away from home at fifteen and worked his way through high school. In 1957, at the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Navy and went on to serve twenty-two years on active duty.

Introspection and compassion are Kraft’s strongest attributes—and also his most powerful enemies. He clearly expresses the fear he felt about combat and his nagging concern over providing proper care for the wounded and dying.

The book is a collection of Doc Kraft’s prose and poetry. The poems parallel and re-emphasize the messages in the prose stories. At times, the prose takes on its own cadence and grows more emotion-laden than the accompanying poems.

This style prevails in the Prologue in which Kraft labels his memoir as “a book of fiction” and delivers a grim lesson: “War is without morals, regardless of who is holding the weapon. The dying aspect is all that’s left for clarification. There can be no glory in dying for family and there can be no glory in dying for a war.”

Wounded twice in Vietnam, Kraft developed a front-line knowledge of death with the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marines in Leatherneck Square.

A Navy Corpsman at work with U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War

In wrapping up his Vietnam War experience, Kraft presents one-page explanations of field gear, monsoons, sanitation, alcohol, combat patrols, helicopters, doctors, chaplains, and others. Although much of this can be found in many Vietnam War novels, memoirs, and history books, Kraft includes several short biographies that qualify as priceless reading.

Kraft—a member of Vietnam Veterans of America—retired from the Navy in 1979. He then endured bouts with leukemia (from Agent Orange exposure) and PTSD. The latter initially overwhelmed him in 1998, and he has never rid himself of the fear of not having done enough to keep others from dying or suffering pain. Kraft describes the effects of PTSD to a depth that is as enlightening as anything else I have read on the topic.

People who favor war over diplomacy should be required to read the PTSD portion of this book.

—Henry Zeybel

The Different War by Michael Miller

Michael Miller served as a Marine from 1958-62. He was a young Marine, joining when he was eighteen. The poems in The Different War (Truman State University, 64 pp., $$16.95, paper; $9.99 e book) deal with the Vietnam War, as well as our recent wars in the Middle East. The thrust of these fine literary poems is the butcher’s bill of war. 

Miller’s poems have been published in The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ontario Review, Pinyon Review, The Sewanee Review, Raritan, The Yale Review, and other places. They bear tribute that Miller is one of our finest current war poets. 

Here is one of Miller’s most powerful poems, “Corporal Torres.”

The white rose that was his brain

Had closed, its petals folded

Upon the seams of blood,

After a thorn of shrapnel

Lodged in the frontal lobe

Was delicately removed,

One patch of silver-gray titanium

Perfectly placed.

He awoke from his ten-day coma,

Swollen face recognizable

To his mother alone.

The next surgery was awaiting him.

He would never pronounce

Afghanistan again. 

My advice is for everyone to buy this small book of poetry and read it. Buy it for any young friends who are considering joining the military. Especially the Marine Corps. It is a thought -provoking book.

—David Willson

The Physics of War & Land of Loud Noises and Vacant Stares by Peter M. Bourret

Peter Bourret served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, as an 81 mm mortar man in Vietnam in 1967-68. He is a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America.

His two small books of poetry–The Physics of War: Poems of War and Healing (CreateSpace, 92 pp., $15, paper) and Land of Loud Noises and Vacant Stares (CreateSpace, 106 pp., $15, paper)—revisit many of the same things that many Vietnam War memoirs, poetry books, and novels dwell upon.

PTSD is much in evidence here. Agent Orange gets serious time. We read about Indian Country, the Thousand Yard Stare, John Wayne being AWOL, the light at the end of the tunnel, Walter Cronkite, trigger time, the sins of Dow Chemical, Marine veterans being spat upon, and the Animals’ “Sky Pilot.”  The National Anthem and the rocket’s red glare get needed attention.

Peter Bourret puts his boots back into the red clay of 45 years ago, revisiting the pain that has never left him. I hope that Bourret gives the reader some concrete images and passages dealing with the important job of being an 81 mm mortar man in his next book of poetry. I have a great curiosity about how Bourett would turn his considerable word skills on that job. I spent my time in Vietnam as an Army stenographer, so I could learn a lot from Bourett, and would enjoy the chance to do so.

These are handsome books and would make great reading for those who have grappled with PTSD since their return from Vietnam—or for others working through a traumatic event that left them with PTSD. Buy these books for that person in your life who is brave enough to sit down and read these poems.

The poem “a twenty-first-century Hawthorne character” is a fine example of Peter Bourret’s  best work. There’s pain on the page here:

i wear no Purple Heart upon my chest

but rather

i wear the scarlet letter



hester Prynne will show me

the road

that leads me

away from the shame

that has stained my days


—David Willson


Bruce Lack served honorably in the United States Marines from 2003-07, including two deployments totaling twenty-one months in Fallujah in Iraq.  His book, Service: Poems (Texas Tech University, 128 pp., $18.95, paper), contains dozens of fine poems dealing with Lack’s time in Fallujah. I looked hard for references to the Vietnam War, but failed to find any.

I’ve read many books about America’s recent wars in the Middle East: poetry, novels, memoirs, histories, every kind of thing.  Service is one of the finest of all of them. The poems deal with all aspects of a Marine’s time in Fallujah, and many are heartbreaking. Some deal with how Marines build life-saving skills for dealing with the war in Iraq—skills that are not helpful when they return home.

The language of Lack’s poems powerfully evokes the physicality of Marines in Fallujah.  These are not airy-fairy poems. They hit hard. “Assholes from Blackwater:  All These Things Can Kill You” is probably the most powerful sixteen-line poem I’ve ever read—and I was an English major back in the sixties when we were required to read what seemed like millions of great poems.

Bruce Lack

I won’t quote from the poem here. But I recommend you buy this book just for this short poem—and then get knocked back on your haunches by the rest of the book.

Service is not for the faint of heart, but it is a book filled with heart, and love, too. But you have to read the book carefully for that.

I wish that Lack would give classes to Vietnam veterans about writing poetry. Memo to Vietnam veterans thinking about writing and publishing a poetry book: Please read this one before you do, and try to hew to this high standard.

I really loved this book. I’m eager for more books by this fine writer.

—David Willson

If I Could Find a Way by John M. Koelsch

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.

—David Willson

My Brother’s Keeper by Rodwick Padilla

Rodwick Padilla is a Marine Corps veteran who served a 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty. He tells us that his brother, Ronald M. Padilla, came home from Vietnam after six months “in a green Zip up bag.”  Rodwick Padilla,  a member of Vietnam Veterans America, was nineteen when he volunteered to go to Vietnam “to avenge his [brother’s] death.”

My Brother’s Keeper: Poems of the Vietnam War (America Star Books, 84 pp., $17.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is made up of “the raw war poems of Vietnam Marine Cpl. Rod Padilla,” we are told. “They are a spontaneous outpouring of his battlefield experience years after the event. The voice is authentic. The poems are unedited.”

Honesty is the best policy my mother always told me. Given his publisher’s disclaimer, it would be churlish of me to take Padilla to task for his poems not being well-edited or proofread. However, the lack of editing still bothered me. Maybe it’s because I am a guy with a degree in English writing from the University of Washington and I have no experience as a Marine—two things that made it difficult for me to fully appreciate Padilla’s rawness and honesty.

I’ll quote a tiny bit of one of the long poem, “Between the Cracks,” to give a sense of how the poems are written:

I had a feeling that Ski had been shot

If you guest where, you would be right

Yea, where the sun don’t shine

Yes, right up his be-hind

Most of the poems in this short book are in rhyme or verse of a sort, and Padilla keeps them simple. We encounter K-bars, poisonous snakes, punji pits, John Wayne, and baby killers.  Also what he calls “Sea Rations.” Padilla refers to the AR-15 as a little plastic toy. He says we weren’t defeated in this war, if you call it a war.

We are told that the author has spent time in a penitentiary, but no details are given. We are also told that he was abandoned as a baby by his mother. He uses the expression “pineapple” to refer to himself, as he is from Hawaii. He also uses the term “little grass shack,” which I’ve heard in songs.  

The book is a physically beautiful one, with a great illustration of Padilla on the cover, his sweet, innocent Hawaiian face in a half-smile. He looks a little bit Vietnamese. There are lots of tiny black and white photos in the middle of the book showing him in-country.  

Marines “drop like flies” when “the shit hits the fan” in this little book. So if these expressions don’t bother you, and you don’t mind struggling through the un-proofread lines, this book of Marine Corps verse may appeal to you.

 It is a lovely book to look at.  

—David Willson

Who Cares? I Do by Jack Moser

Jack Moser entered the Navy in 1958. He served as an intelligence officer in the Vietnam War, and holds a doctorate in psychology.

A few of the poems in Who Cares? I Do: Poems  (Fithian Press, 128 pp., $14, paper) deal with the Vietnam War:  “Kill Everything That Moves,” “My Queen of Vietnam,” and “The Phu Qui Island Chorus.”  Lots of the poems deal with God and Ireland. I’ll quote from “Kill Everything That Moves” to provide a sense of the book.

It is thirty-eight years since the Vietnam War ended.

The sordid stories of American atrocities

Are just starting to raise their bloody heads.

We now know that U.S. military forces

Killed millions of innocent civilians in cold blood

We were all so obsessed with the “body count”

That everyone we killed was the enemy

From the one-month old baby

To the ninety-year-old man planting rice,

The orders were clear, “Kill everything that moves”

That meant everything:



Water buffalo

Americans “killing millions of innocent civilians in cold blood”? This is not the war that I knew in Vietnam—and it is nothing close to the truth. Even books that claim that Americans committed unending atrocities in the Vietnam War, such as Nick Turse’s deeply flawed Kill Everything That Moves (2013), don’t come close to contending that we killed millions of innocents in cold blood.

This book of poetry is not for me, but perhaps it might be for you.

—David Willson