Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Saved in the Midst of Saving

This is the longest piece that I have posted here. It is longer than the recommended length for a blog post. However, two friends of mine, Rick and Allan, have asked for copies of this story. I'm posting it for them and others who might be interested. I have shared "Saved in the Midst of Saving" with people I know; however, I have edited parts that took away from the it sequential integrity. Like most of what I post, this story is intense and war related. War hardens people and it, at times, presents circumstances in which people can exercise their grossest fantasies. I remain angry with a country that puts young people in positions where they must make moral decisions that could have long term and life and death consequences.

Saved in the Midst of Saving

It is night in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam sometime in September or October of 1967. Lane’s squad, which has been patrolling along rice paddies, is about to set up a defensive position on the raised area where a family dwelling, a hooch, stands above the rice paddy waters. The men hear an explosion nearby and then the unmistakable “thump” of another round leaving the mortar tube traveling in their direction. Lane hits the ground as rounds exploded. His whole being shakes uncontrollably waiting for the next round to hit. There is no safe place as the VC fire and “walked” rounds toward the squad’s position. Behind him, next to the hooch and in the midst of the attack, Lane hears a commotion and people speaking Vietnamese in a disturbed and anxious way. He looks to see what’s happening and notices a Vietnamese girl not much younger than himself running away from the hooch and the protective earthen bunker that all family dwelling contain. She runs in the darkness between the surrounding trees and looks back in fear toward her house and the gathered American soldiers. Her beauty evens in the dark of that night attack surprises and attracts Lane. He thinks, “What’s she doing out exposing herself to death in a mortar attack?” In minutes, the VC attack stops. From his position, which is away from the house and away from the others, Lane sees the rest of his squad gathered, speaking in low voices. As a sharp fear rises in him, he thinks, “they better spread out. One mortar round or one grenade will wound and kill them all.”

Lane sees one man from the grouped squad turn toward him with an ominous and questioning look and others glance in his direction. Their low talking, that look, and those glances pierce into his psyche and bring about terrible feelings. “They’re gonna rape her” he knows as he looks over at the rest of the squad. Lane’s squad leader has the reputation for atrocities. He’s cut off and preserved ears of dead Viet Cong and he’s pulled gold teeth from Vietnamese bodies. Two other members of the squad, team leaders and the squad leader’s henchmen, have taken on their leader’s macho evil way of soldiering. Lane thinks, “it looks like someone’s done persuading and action’s about to start!”

Lane’s mind begins to race. Instantaneously a number of thoughts flash into his consciousness. They revolve around the decision: “should I join them or should I stop them.” He feels no excitement in the prospect of raping anyone; however, the squad has all of their weapons against Lane and his lone M-16. “If I challenged them, will they kill me on the spot?” “They’re the ones who have my back” in the midst of the constant threat of attack. “Should I go along with them so that they will to protect me?” “What if I do stop the rape, will my squad leader later put me on point and then have someone put a round in my back or blow me away with a grenade?” All of these thoughts conform to this young soldier’s primal instinct for survival and his desire to conform to his peers. All of these thoughts speed through Lane’s mind until two remain: “I have to live with myself” and “she doesn’t deserve to be raped.” At this point, his attraction to this young woman turns to love and his love impels a readiness to act. Lane stands with his rifle at waist level in the assault position pointed in his squad’s direction thinking, “Why am I standing here like this?” Then he hears something deep within say; “keep your weapon there!” And he does.

Another thought enters Lane and another fear rises. He fears that in threatening to stop the rape he’ll certainly need to threaten firing his weapon or fire at the squad possibly killing his own men. Right then, Lane makes the decision to kill if need be to stop that rape. With his weapon pointed in the squad’s direction, he stands feeling devastation and resolve as he imagines his fire rifle’s muzzle ablaze as men fall.

In a few minutes, the quiet talking stops and the rest of the squad disperses to set up for the night. There was no rape and the squad returns to base camp the next morning. In a day or so one of the men from Lane’s squad approaches him and indicates that it was Lane’s presence that stopped the rape. The man says, “we were going to do something, but we were afraid that you would do something.” Lane responds saying with a macho affect, “your damn right I would have!” Then he turns and walks away.

Forty years later, names have left Lane’s memory; however, the image of men ready to rape are imprinted in this veteran’s mind. In contrast, this older veteran remembers the interaction with his squad member while in basecamp. This man’s demeanor bordered on relief, even gratitude. Lane realizes that this young soldier may have come to thank him for stopping him and the others from actions that they would have regretted, actions that would have scarred them for life.

Recently, in a group of combat veterans with whom he meets, Lane shared parts of this story. The facilitator responded saying, “thank you for saving that woman.” Another member, a vet who admits to having acted “crazy” in Vietnam, looked at her and said, “no, he saved himself.” During that awe-full night in the Mekong, something inside had inspired Andrew Lane to do both.

First published in "Veterans' Voices." Mission, Kansas: Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project, INC. Fall, 2007.

Robert Jost

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Point

The protagonist in the following poem walked point on many night patrols during the last months of his tour in Vietnam. The point position is the lead and most dangerous position in a patrol. In the midst of the danger that war presented and in the midst of the devastating psychological and emotional consequences of war this young man found meaning.

On Point

He walks
Out of a village gate at night
Past the bunkers, looks
Out on the narrow road
And sees the possibility
Of death. And he doesn't care.
For the past months he hasn't
Slept much and he scarcely feels.
He's getting short, but there’s little
At home. He's got few illusions.
“The world”: It’s hard,
There’s little compassion,
And they won’t understand. No,
Life is here. On point he can feel.
Fear and the threat of death
Exhilarate him. He’s been
Scarred and scared and numb
For months. But on point
He can really feel.
There’s people behind him
Who depend on him
And he’s good and he cares,
Though, he doesn’t know
Them well. He guesses it’s
Love and walks
Out on that narrow road and
He’s alive
For one more night.

Robert Jost

Credit: First Published in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, Koa Books, Kihei, Hawai'i

Thursday, April 24, 2008


This poem depicts an incident that happened in November of 1967. In this incident, I was afraid to confront one of my peers and I was afraid of the reaction from my platoon. However, my conscience led me to a right decision.


Our patrol had moved out
into the rice paddies
about a quarter mile from the village gate.
Z was a short distance ahead of me
when he reached
the first hooch in
this area that we called
the “Bowling Alley.”
He walked to the hooch,
took out his lighter, and raised it.
His intention was to
torch the grass dwelling
while the little old man,
whose dwelling it was,
in desperation and anguish
begged him to stop.
Z’s mind was made up
until I raised my weapon,
leveled it at his head and
yelled, “I’ll shoot you if you burn it.”
With little hesitation he
extinguished the lighter,
dropped his arm,
and walked away.

Robert Jost

Monday, April 21, 2008

Springtime in the Rockies

Rick is a friend of mine. We were in the same infantry company in Vietnam and connected after forty years late last year at our company reunion. Rick is a sophisticated country guy. He wrote the following:

Things are good here...It's Springtime in the Rockies! Saw a 2" sprig of asparagus tonight, lilacs are budded, rhubarb has little red nodules poking through the mulch, flower bulbs are sending up leaves...yup...Springtime in the Rockies! 78 degrees yesterday, out in the garden getting plants in and water going...45 today, wind howling like a big dog, back to the greenhouse...yup...Springtime in the Rockies! Went out on the lake Friday (ice is off, took a boat) and caught our trout limit 3 times over...yup...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Truth

My son David and I still get together and go fishing. He's almost thirty now. From the time when he was a baby we have enjoyed each others' company. We had good times camping when he was a small child.


laying in a chaise lounge
drinking a bottle of cheap
beer looking up
at the afternoon light
through the umbrella
of oak leaves
my son playing with his
toy grader in the
dirt of our shaded
day spangled campsite

Robert Jost

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Talk Radio and Truth

One Sunday evening a few years back I listened for a while to a conservative talk radio host. Thomas Aquinas teachings gave rise to the Renaissance idea that “truth is where you find it.”* I heard truth that evening.

Talk Radio and Truth

As I listened on the radio
to the harsh voiced and
War mongering G. Gordon
Liddy a caller, during
A conversation concerning
“real men,” spoke of
His ideal real man.

This man, someone the
Caller knew, was a
Master sergeant with
Years in the military.

The image portrayed was
Of a man who was tough.
He’d fought in
Korea and Vietnam and
Now drank a quart of Jack
Daniels while smoking three
Pack of Camels a day.
He didn’t sleep much.

Even Liddy fell
To silence
At the image of this
Profoundly war-scared
Veteran who was dying
Trying to smoke and
Drink into oblivion
The blood,
The bodies,
The death
That his memory contained.


Sunday, April 13, 2008


The facilitator of our veterans art group gave all of us a copy of this. She mentioned the author’s name. I can’t remember it, although I remember that the author is a woman. If I could give her credit, I would. Although considering what she wrote, I doubt that she would mind me posting her words. They speak for themselves.


Takes place in our natural rhythm.

We are creatures of nature. Nature moves: MEDIUM TO SLOW.

Stay in the natural rhythm. Danger: the fast lane!!! Stay out of it. It can be dangerous.
Only go in the fast lane for brief moments.

Longings: what is calling me? There are many longings at various junctures in our life.

Longing=belonging. What new experience do I long for?

Ask these questions of yourself every day.

1.What made me happy today?

2.Where did I experience comfort, peace, deep satisfaction, and contentment?

3.Who or what inspired me today?

If I track my happiness I will find “fire.” I will identify what I need—what I long for.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Scene at Point Reyes

I have been posting poems and thoughts concerning war and veterans issues since I began this blog. And I am now writing a memoir concerning my year in Vietnam. This stuff is intense and I need a break from that kind of intensity. Those who read this blog might also want a break. I wrote this poem after taking a walk with a friend who worked at Point Reyes National Seashore last year. Point Reyes is located a few miles north of San Francisco. I was a beautiful sunny and foggy day.

Rocks, a Ridge, and Waters
(Dedicated to Lana Schide, the young woman friend with whom I shared the scene.)

Below its saddle, a narrow
brief ridge that
connects two coastline rock masses
separates the ocean and the cove.

The wild, powerful,
even tumultuous beauty of
vast waters
buffeting jagged rocks
and the sands of the shore
juxtaposed with
the tranquil beauty of
the calm, and sheltered,
and deep
other waters.

Standing above on the south rock
in the fog, in the midst of
the mist, I peer into
the wild, the powerful,
the tumultuous, the vast,
the calm, the sheltered, and
the deep.

The scene, the awful, disturbs
and challenges my spirit;
It resonates with
my soul.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


The incident that this poem describes I believe happened a few weeks after the first and largest battle our battalion experienced. We had lost many men. For me, war was a complex experience.


Each end of our quarter
Circle perimeter touched
The banks of two streams
Slightly above where their
Waters’ converged.
Orders were to kill
Whoever moved inside.

The sun set.
Hours later, when the
Celestial lights
Shown through the
Tenebrous clouds,
There came the sound
Of movement. From the
Brush at water’s edge,
At the point of the streams’
Meeting, he emerged.
After a few seconds,
it became clear that
he carried no weapon.

Holding a farming tool or
The navigating pole of his boat
He walked toward
My position—toward me.
“Should I fire?”
“Is he VC or a farmer with a
Family—or both—caught
Out after curfew?”

He kept striding while
I sat with my
M-16. As he walked
By we shared an un-
Comfortable look. Then
I peered as his figure
Faded into the night
And into my memory.

Robert Jost

Saturday, April 5, 2008


“Tenderness” was the second poem I wrote. It was twenty-seven years after the fact. I hadn’t thought of this incident until the fall of 1995. The memories that forms “Tenderness” came to me in parts. I wrote a first draft, however, I knew something was missing. A few days later, while I lay on my bed relaxing the most intense memories that make up this poem slowly appeared in my mind.


I remember a few days or
A week or two before the night we
Had a couple of good conversations—
The ones that touch to the depth.
We talked of combat, of your being
Wounded twice and, I’m sure,
Of the simple things that moved us.

That night in Anu Tan, on
December the 10th, in the midst
Of the battle, while I was on
The chopper pad ready to
Send more wounded out on
Dust-offs*, I saw you coming
Toward me, helping—bringing
A wounded brother in. When
I looked I saw that you were
Wounded, but you said,
“Only slightly,” “There are more
Wounded on the perimeter,” you said.
Then you turned to go back and help.
I almost let you, but something
I sensed said, “Don’t let him go.”
Then that something from
Deep within me welled up
And I said, tentatively,
“Get on that chopper,” but you
Couldn’t hear from the noise.
Then it welled up to fill me
And it broke through. I ran
To you as you walked away
And grabbed you by the back
Of your fatigue jacket, and stopped
You. When you turned in
Surprise I looked at you and in
The fear that I couldn’t persuade
You and almost in desperation,
With all the strength my twenty-
Year-old spirit could muster,
The words exploded out
From me: “Get on that chopper,
Get the fuck out of this
Motherfuckin’ place!
Don’t go back and get killed!”
I said, “I’d get on if I could,
But I ain’t wounded. This is
Your third time**. It’ll get you
Off the line, so go yourself since
You have the chance!” I begged—
Almost forced you to leave.

I don’t remember your name, but
I will never forget the look we
Shared through that open
As that chopper lifted off, when
I stared into your dark face,
Into your eyes, as we were
Surrounded by the noise and
The turbulence created by the
Motor and those blades that
Drowned out the sound of sporadic
Small arms fire and exploding
Rounds; we shared that quick,
Yet intense look
Lighted by that flare-lit night.

I will never forget the Love.

*med-evac helicopter
**It was customery in Vietnam that a soldier who was wounded three times would be given a rear position away from combat.

Robert Jost

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hearts and Souls and Lives

This blog has a major theme that could interest combat veterans and those who interact with them. Considering this it might be beneficial to consider combat veteran Davidson Loehr’s words that call for empathy and compassion from those who would associate with such veterans. His words suggest the basis from which care for veterans need to proceed. Loehr drew on Herbert Butterfield’s critique of documented history. Butterfield comments that the condensation of history into a manageable form eliminates the “chaos” that makes up historical reality:

"There is not an essence of history that can be got by evaporating the human and personal factors, the incidental or momentary or local things, and the circumstantial elements, as though at the bottom of the well there were something absolute, some thing independent of time and circumstance . . . The chaos [of history] acquires form by virtue of what we choose to omit."

Loehr applies Butterfield’s commentary to the healing relationships between Vietnam War combat veterans and caring individuals.

"‘The chaos acquires form by virtue of what we choose to omit.’ In the cases of Vietnam era veterans, the chaos acquires form only by omitting the hearts and souls and lives of the veterans themselves. So that’s really my message and my hope: that you will not try to understand, not try to assign moral values to the stories of individuals in Vietnam, not try to come to an attitude of certainty about the right and wrong of it all. Rather, if you would try to be with us at all, be with us in the chaos and let yourself become confused and disoriented, all awash with feelings, hurts, and memories of both joys and regrets that will never be fully sorted out, never be fully assimilated, and never be gone.
Then, perhaps, we can begin to come home again."

The ambiguity in the word “we” in the last line of Loehr’s statement suggests the benefit for veterans and others. “Coming home” is based on the truths that both Vietnam war veterans and combat veterans of other wars and their friends and associates must come to know. These are truths about humanity that if accepted will help make veterans, minister, associates, and friend whole or at home with themselves.

Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Understanding of History (New York: Norton, 1965): 31,66,68, 97. Quoted in Davidson Loehr, “To Care Without Judging” The University of Chicago Magazine. (Spring 1985): 49, in Walter Capps, Ed. The Vietnam Reader. (New York: Routledge, 1991): 25.

Davidson Loehr, “To Care without Judging” The University of Chicago Magazine. (Spring 1985): 49, in Walter Capps, ed. In The Vietnam Reader: 25.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Prophetic Message

The poet Ted Hughes wrote this poem with young men in mind. Young women participated in combat now. His words now concern both genders. This poem hangs on the door of an Oakland, California Veterans Administration counselor.

Do not madden our young men
With the hiss of the whetstone
And the dream . . . of purging themselves
Of all their bodily violence
In the rapture of battle.
Do not addict them
To the drug of danger --
The dream of the enemy
That has to be crushed, like a herb,
Before they can smell freedom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Desperation and Devotion

In a class that I attended while in graduate school, Generation X Spirituality, one of the projects that our professor proposed was to make prayer beads. I decided to make a rosary because I have a devotion to that form of prayer. In one class, class members shared their individual experiences with prayer beads. I did not speak until the end of class when, from deep within me, powerful emotions rose along with the memory of a rosary that I carried for a while in Vietnam. A couple of years passed. However, the memory of my experience with that rosary and the memory of my emotional experience in class prompted the following poem.

A Rosary

They always broke
or disintegrated in my pocket.
The ones made of string rotted
when they got wet. The ones made with wire chain
kept breaking apart.

Then the reluctant solution, possibly a sacrilege.
I’d break off ten rounds of linked machine gun ammo.
That’d hold together.
I’d pray on them when we broke
in rice paddies, in villages, along
dikes, next to V.C. bunkers, while on guard, in basecamp,
in the field, on night or day patrol, under fire
So that I’d be able to love.
Something in me had begun to give up on everything else.

Robert Jost

Credits: First published in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, Koa Books, Kihei, Hawai'i