Deeply felt impressions of another liftetime expressed in verse.,
This review is from: Shadows of Combat: Poetry about the Vietnam Era (Paperback)
It is hard to believe that it has been over 40 years since Richard C. Geschke and Robert A. Toto, the authors of this book, served as young American infantry officers in Vietnam. Yet it has indeed been that long, even longer since the two of them met, went through training at Fort Benning and Fort Bliss, were stationed in Germany, trained in Panama to then deploy to Viet Nam. Encouraged by Richard's son, Scott, they first wrote and had published their epic book In Our Duffel Bags: Surviving The Vietnam Erabut felt they needed to go one step further and as Robert Toto stated help themselves uncover suppressed emotions from their time in the military. As Toto further elaborates "Some of it was soul searching, some of it was surreal, some of it was therapy." He admitted he found it indeed enjoyable to "condense" his thoughts into poetry and that "It became my palette for painting my innermost feelings." Indeed this impressive book does just that and in a most heartfelt fashion.
Anyone who reads this book will, of course, have their favorite poems. Having served as a United States Department of Army social worker in Germany I admit that,like everyone else, I too have my own preference. Born the daughter of Lithuanian refugees whose parents fled their native country while the Communists invaded and sent over a hundred thousand people to their deaths in forced labor camps in Siberia, I am also influenced most profoundly by that experience. My people, for instance, do not look with as much disdain on the German Nazis as they do on the Russian Communists or, as the authors of this book, call "Ivan" who were actually the greater threat and caused much more death and destruction then the Nazis EVER did and yet have not to date been held accountable for their crimes as the Nazi war criminals were at Nuremberg. I particularly liked Geschke's poem "Life at the Kaserne" which he wrote in late winter 1970: "We lived where the Wehrmacht lived, fine solid Gothic-looking buildings. Hitler's army trained here! We were there to save democracy for Europe. Those Germans in the Zone tolerated us, but just barely. They were forgetting their life under Hitler, and were seeking their own German heritage without American interference. We were the intruders, but in reality we were the protectors, which in the end would be victorious against the Russian Ber. Sometimes one must endure swallowing one's pride in order to rid oneself of the threatening Bear."
"In Transition" a poem written by Geschke in Wurzburg, Germany during the summer of 1971 is particularly timeless especially in the second and third stanzas where he writes: "Times may be troubled but stay the course. That too will change. Times may be good but stay the course. As that also will change. Take nothing for granted:live life to the fullest each and every day. Extra effort and due diligence will pay you back manyfold. Self-pity and complaining are tools of a loser. When in transition, think good thoughts. For if one wallows in the bad thoughts of injustice and unfairness, one may transition into failure. When things change, think positive and life will reward you!" What a profound poen about the power of faith!
For the long returned Vietnam combat veteran, survivor of a war whose walking wounded received their recognition and country's gratitude far too late, might I recommend Geschke's poem written just three years ago (November 2010) in Bristol, Connecticut "Tattoo". Herein he addresses the senselessness of war, particularly of a war where those sending servicemembers to fight never themselves wore the uniform of the United States of America or risked their lives in its defense "Most of them never served, but had no problem sending millions to serve in a long and senseless war. A war without a clear mission, and lacking a good purpose. In the end they were wrong, and the consequences are still with us. We as veterans have to bear the load still....Maybe, just maybe they will start to care, start to understand what we did. Maybe, just maybe we will be welcomed home in a different light of true concern and thanked for that service long ago."
As you can see the poems oontained in this book are no ordinarly examples of poetry. They are powerful and intense and awaken feelings of a long ago time when these veterans of an unpopular war risked their lives to serve a country they dearly loved. I am amazed at the extent of their recall, the depth of emotion and the intensity of care with which they wrote then and now. I would truly recommend this book especially to military veterans of any era (even those of us who served during periods of time when this country was not engaged in war--I served 1979 to 1982--can relate). As a clinical social worker I can even suggest the use of such poety during group therapy sessions where combat veterans can discuss their experiences in a deeply healing way. Overall I felt this is a GREAT book and I would highly recommend it to one and all.