A Season for War by H C Palmer

DSC_0046They had overcome him in the end, tenaciously…taking him down.  Their heavy shots splashed into him…with that courageous passion peculiar to hunters. ~ James Salter

Billy and I pot-shot what we mistook for a duck

back in 7th grade at Santa Fe Lake in Neosho County.

The bird dove, surfaced for air, dove and surfaced again,

forced down by salvos of # 6 bird shot until it floated

and washed to shore.  I presented the bird to my father

like a sinner’s offering to his Priest and remember saying,

If it had flown, it might have lived.  A loon, father said

without taking it.  They don’t often range in Kansas


and they’re never in season. Last time I saw Billy was Da Nang.

A forward air controller flying O-1E Bird Dogs, he marked

VC positions with the bright smoke of white phosphorus rockets.

I flew one mission.  Rode the tandem seat.  We packed M-16’s.

He controlled the aircraft by working the stick with his knees—

hands free to fire through pop-open windows.  2 Sampans,

ferrying Vietnamese dressed in black, motored across

the Han River.  Shoot ‘em, he said through my headset.

Ducks on a pond.  I aimed far to the side.  That night,

at an Oceanside bar between chugs of Tiger Beer, Billy teased,

You’re still a lousy shot, Doctor.  Billy stayed another tour,

rigged an M-60 machinegun in place of the tandem seat—

converted his observation plane into an attack aircraft,

so by tilting or turning, they became a lethal weapon

until diving within range of an AK-47 when Billy took a round

in his chest.  He radioed for escort.  Huey gunship pilots

called through their mikes, You’re losing altitude Captain, 

head for the sea.  Billy and his O-1E splashed on the surf,

rode the breakers upright until lifted onto China Beach,

an open spread of sand as fine and white as altar cloth.

~ HC Palmer

Note: China Beach is a recreational area near the Da Nang Air Base used for R and R by American troops during the Vietnam War.

H C Palmer is a retired Medical Doctor, Vietnam War Battalion Surgeon and poet.  He is an assistant poetry editor for Narrative Magazine.  A recent poem in New Letters was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best New Poets, 2012. 

One thought on “A Season for War by H C Palmer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s