Whispers in the Woods by Richard Kraft

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Richard (Doc) Kraft served twenty-two years on active military duty—half of it as a Navy Corpsman—and eight years in the Fleet Reserves in Vietnam and elsewhere.  He is a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Whispers in the Woods: A Compilation of Poetry (CreateSpace, 182 pp., $9.99, paper, $3.98, Kindle) is a sizable collection of verse on a variety of subjects.  Kraft divides the book into six sections:  Enlightenment, Love and Family, War and Soldier, Nature, Silly and Lighthearted, and Inspiration. Doc Kraft writes nonspecific rhyming verse of an old-fashioned kind.

Even though there is a section called “War and Soldier,” war images appear elsewhere. In his poem “Now I Lay Down to Sleep’” Kraft goes to  “A place of cordite hell and fret-full fear.”  He goes on to say that “Sleep carries him away to a scary place,/ A place I’ve been before.”  I don’t doubt that place is wartime Vietnam.

I thought I might encounter specific imagery from Kraft’s experience in Vietnam in his poem, “A Firefight in Hell in Vietnam,” but there was more about Hell and Satan than there was about the war. It brought to mind John Milton’s poetry rather than the work of many Vietnam War poets.

To wit: “Satan appeared and with smoke and fire he roared/And showed his ugly face.”  Later in the poem we find out that “Our blood that night was very light,/As God was on our side.” The poem ends: “We faced the devils,/One on one,/And sent them straight/To hell.”

“Two-Nine on the Line—Hell in a Helmet” begins: “Hot and steamy was the day,/When through the jungle,/We found our way./Our mission was simple,/or so they say./But we knew that/Some would die that day.”

And: “In the bush, we forced our push/V.C. we did find./A fire fight ensued the night,/With the corpsman on the line.”

Some of the members of that little group of seven ended up with their names on The Wall. Some were rewarded with “Purple Hearts and Stars of Bronze.” Kraft writes: “I was that corpsman at the rear/And felt the sting of steel.” He “stopped the blood from bleeding/But with death it was a ride./I did my best but will never rest,/With this horror deep inside.”  Kraft dedicates this poem to the Ninth Marines.

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A Navy Corpsman ministering to a wounded Marine in Vietnam

More typical of Kraft’s poems is “The Last Patrol” in which men die after fighting well. “We carried them home where the buffalo roam/And people live without fear.”

I hope I’ve given a strong taste of this book so that those readers who take pleasure in reading verse of this sort can buy it and support a veteran who has worked hard for years to help other veterans and their families. That includes his program, The Ground Pounders, which provides financial help to veterans.

Doc Kraft also creates and sells decorative key fobs, which represent past and current wars. After he retired as a Chief Corpsman he went on to serve twenty-years with the U.S. Postal Service.

—David Willson

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