John Henningson enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1968. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in August 1969. He went to Vietnam August 1970.
As Henningson writes in Where the Flowers Went In Poetry and Pictures (Mira Digital Publishing, 66 pp., $20, paper) when he shipped out to Vietnam he left “his wife who was 7 months pregnant with their first child behind.” In Vietnam he was assigned to the 3rd/82nd Artillery, which was part of the the Americal Division in I Corps. Most of his time, he writes, was spent with infantry units as an artillery forward observer and later as a battalion artillery liaison officer.
Henningson’s military memoir is entitled A Reluctant Warrior: 1968-1971. He tells us that Where the Flowers Went “builds on the prose” in that book, and that his “intent is to go beyond the direct recitation of events but rather to express how those experiences continue to affect my thinking today.”
Henningson’s poems are concrete and packed with detail about his tour of duty. I’m sure that much of the poetry came right out of his memoir, little changed other than to make some of the lines rhyme.
His poems have titles that let the reader know their subjects. “Baby Killers,” for example, is about his encounters with students when he drove his Jeep to bars near a university campus to drag drunken EMs home after trying to pick up college girls. “Their blame was misdirected not against the politicians who caused to all, but rather against those heroes so had answered their Nation’s call,” Henningson writes.
Other titles include “Night Lager,” “Grunts vs REMFs,” “When Death First Came to Call,” “A Grunt’s Feast,” and “Friendly Fire.”
Henningson can wax mighty poetical occasionally as in: “Suddenly a group of Cong appear and sprint toward a patch of trees/ We all draw down and fire at them but they disappear like a bit of smoke wafting in the breeze.”
“Grunts vs REMFs” is one of the best delineations of the eternal war between those two groups that I have read. It is well worth reading, as is every other poem in this fine collection.
Where the Flowers Went is one of the few poetry books written by a non-poet that I enjoyed reading. Why? Because it is written from direct experience and that direct experience is on the page in a no-nonsense way. I look forward to reading Henningson’s next book.
I also enjoyed the many color paintings in the book. They remind me of the work of the great 18th century English poet and painter William Blake.
The author’s website is www.henningson.net