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POSTED ON 9.24.2009
POSTED BY: Bob Brudno

Alan's Poem


On Memorial Day 2004, the name of Captain E. Alan Brudno, USAF, was added to the Vietnam Memorial. After enduring 7-1/2 years as a POW in North Vietnam, he died suddenly only four months after his release. He was the first to die.

Adding his name to the Wall got national attention, in part because of how he died, but more because he served as a reminder that wars kill after the shooting stops. He was tortured physically and mentally by his captors, but resisted, as did the others, until he was inevitably broken. The North Vietnamese stole his spirit and left him with little strength to survive. Left to fend for himself then, he took his own life after so briefly tasting freedom.

What his captors could not take from him was a poem that he committed to memory as a gift to his wife. Being an aeronautical engineer by training, he knew little of poetry. So he used the tap code through his cell walls to reach other POWs who might teach him how to structure a poem. When he was done, the poem was 1,000 lines long.

Most of the poem was so personal that it will never be published. Many of his fellow captives, however, have urged his family to publish parts of it, because it tells their story too.

Robert Brudno

The blistering sun – much work to be done –
The missions were long and fatiguing,
Then to Bangkok I flew – to relax, and to view
The mysterious East, so intriguing.

Oriental new faces – exotic old places –
I loved buying gifts for you, too.
But the one thing to mar that brief R&R
Was the emptiness there, without you.

I returned to my base – to the war’s hurried pace –
To the letters and tapes that you sent.
How exciting to hear all your words of good cheer –
They were with me wherever I went.

Our future looked bright, through the perilous fight,
Though the air of each flight remained sober.
Then Fate made its play, in its impartial way,
On that eighteenth day of October…

Get out!! Get out!! – I heard Tom shout,
As we made our dive for the ground –
We were out of control – we started to roll –
The earth was spinning around!

Not a second to lose! I grabbed for a fuse –
Could this be the terror of Hell?
An ear-splitting din – sudden darkness closed in –
I’d ejected – I tumbled and fell.

I plunged through the void – would my chute be deployed?
Then the air seemed incredibly still…
As I drifted down there, so engulfed in despair,
That strange hostile land sent a chill…

The jets circled high in that clear, foreign sky,
O’er the trench, where I now lay in pain.
But no rescue could be – it was over for me –
The search, overhead, was in vain.

Heartbreak Hotel: That first dismal cell
Was a seven by seven foot room.
An old rusty pail – the filth of that jail
Contributed much to the gloom.

A slab for a bed – I would there rest my head
On the shackles that yet were unused.
The guards – not too pleasant – and the rats, ever present.
Could hardly have kept one amused.

Twice a day, I’d be fed a hunk of stale bread –
And soup, made of swamp-weeds and bones.
Or at times, for the bread, there’d be rice, instead,
With those damned little tooth-cracking stones.

And dessert – for the ants – was the blood from my pants,
And the pus that would ooze from each sore.
For the medical aid, like the flesh that decayed,
Was rotten right down to the core.

A dim, staring light – each grim, sleepless night –
With confidence yet to won;
I fought isolation – each camp regulation –
But the battle had barely begun.

In the weeks that would follow, my life would seem hollow –
Away in self-pity I’d wile.
I’d ponder my fate – the misfortunes of late –
Would I ever again know your smile?

A red, bamboo curtain – a life so uncertain –
I feared that the worst would come true.
And my mind, as it strained, was especially pained
By the fears of what you might go through.

Then I found consolation in deep meditation;
And I came to appreciate more
Of the life God had planted. For I’d taken for granted
The blessings I’d known once before.

Well, I left that first prison – new hopes had arisen –
And a cell-mate was waiting for me.
The nightmares subsided, and new dreams provided
Escapes to the land of the free.

Sixty-six, sixty-seven: So far from that heaven
Of being in your arms once more.
In the Devil’s embrace, I was now face-to-face
With the communist concept of war.

With conceit they would preach. With deceit they would “teach.”
Their “brainwashing” never would cease.
How I’d always despise all their slanders and lies,
And those endless harangues about “peace.”

I’d often take note of an infamous quote –
Fundamental to Lenin’s own laws…
That “truth” was defined for the communist mind
As whatever would further the cause.

With utter hypocrisy, they challenged democracy,
And ethics I learned in my youth.
And to show me the light, it was their declared right
To force me to swallow their “truth.”

With naïve expectations, they had hoped that my nation’s
Ideals I’d betray with concessions.
I retorted, of course – they resorted to force –
Only tortures could gain those “confessions.”

Being chained to a spot – being tied in a knot –
So bent, so crushed, so twisted…
In such terrible pain that could drive one insane,
Few mortals could long have resisted.

Against horrors so chilling, the spirit was willing –
But the flesh was too weak to withstand.
Was it really a sin for a man to give in?
Could I better resist each demand?

Those “civilized” fools broke all human rules –
So sadistic, so cruel, so brutal.
In those darkest of hours, when a proud soldier cowers,
Those tortures made living seem futile.

To be, or not to be – to be, or not to be –
I pondered o’er Hamlet’s frustration…
How it heavily weighed on my mind, as I prayed:
O Lord, lead us not to temptation.

The sight and the sound of the evil I found
Caused a strange reminiscent alarm.
In their “great forward leap,” these gullible sheep
Became part of The Animal Farm.

The parade through Hanoi, down that Street Without Joy,
Further strengthened my previous conviction;
I shuddered and squirmed, as it also confirmed
Nineteen Eighty-Four’s savage prediction.

Many torments ahead – many purges to dread –
Many threats of war-trials remained.
Many prisons for me – many cells would I see –
The turmoil kept life ever strained.

A new cell-mate for me! At times, there’d be three!
Having someone to talk to was great!
That existence, so bleak, had not been unique –
They also had shared in that fate.

Isolation’s reprieve – those friends helped relieve
So much of the misery then.
It was all off ‘n on, though – in time they’d be gone…
I’d be left all alone, once again.

The jingle of keys – I was so ill-at-ease,
Especially when I’d be alone.
The adrenaline’s surge – I could sense a new purge,
When I’d hear an American moan.

It’s so hard to express how that mental duress
Played an especially torturous role –
Like the termites that fed on the boards in my bed,
It was gnawing away at my soul.

A clandestine call! A few raps on the wall
From a man in a neighboring cell –
The encouraging word from the taps that I heard
Brought me out of the Doldrums of Hell.

How many more frights – how many more nights –
How much sorrow, each long, lonely day?
How many more fears – how many more years?
Tomorrow seemed so far away.

Though my daydreams of you gave me something to do,
How empty was life when alone!
Then I found occupation in mental creation,
And designed a new home of our own.

From frequent recession to deeper depression,
I still held possession of it,
From solo existence to cell-mates assistance,
My work on it never would quit.

As my dream house progressed, I became more obsessed
With designs for your future with me.
For without you to share all those dreams with me there,
How meaningless living would be.

So your happiness stole first place as my goal –
My other ambitions withdrew.
There was little regret – my future was set –
I now knew what course to pursue.

Sixty-eight, sixty-nine: There was still every sign
That the Reds would relax no demand.
Our resistance was met with continuous threat
Or a purge – to soften our stand.

From home a few came seeking truth (?) – perhaps fame;
To themselves they brought shame in our eyes.
So naïve to be sure – yes, they got the cook’s tour;
Most were fools for the lure of Red lies.

Though our plight would remain, and the Reds would maintain
Propaganda to quell world suspicions,
The wind carried straws to plead for our cause,
And to press them for better conditions.

And great changes came! Some sunshine – a game –
And six mates for me then seemed so many!
But how could that prize ease the plight of those guys
Who still had to live without any?

A few would get fetters, while some, a few letters;
What luck for me the eight that I did!
Not releasing a name – it was part of the game,
Like the news the Reds constantly hid.

Nineteen seventy’s eve: Seems so hard to believe
That so many long years have now passed.
But our youth shall not fade – like the polish of jade,
It forever was destined to last.

The years that you’ve wasted – the tears that you’ve tasted –
The bitters you’ve found in the stew –
You’ll never regret it – don’t ever forget it –
I’ll, some day, make it all up to you.

Debby, where there is life, there is bound to be strife;
But where there is life, there is hope.
My life now is you – and I know I’ll pull through
With whatever I may have to cope.

I’ve learned from the shocks, in this school of hard knocks,
That Fate is a bitter advisor.
Though I’ve still much to learn, when at last I return,
You will find me much older – and wiser.

More capable, too, of being, to you,
The husband you’ll always deserve –
I’ll devote my whole life to my wonderful wife;
You, forever with love, will I serve.

The children we’ll raise – their memorable ways –
The treasures of love that we’ll keep –
The home that we’ll build will always be filled
With those greatest rewards life can reap.

Yes, the years have been long – but my faith remains strong
In God, in my country, in you.
How I dream of the day you’ll again come my way,
And the good life we’ll then build anew.

When that day arrives, and freedom revives
With a thrill beyond any compare,
I’ll return to the world – to Old Glory unfurled –
To the heaven of meeting you there.

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POSTED ON 9.23.2009
POSTED BY: Bob Brudno

Put a Face with a Name

POSTED ON 9.15.2006
POSTED BY: Bill Nelson



"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you....and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.....Be not ashamed to say you loved them....
Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own....And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind...."

Quote from a letter home by Maj. Michael Davis O'Donnell
KIA 24 March 1970. Distinguished Flying Cross: Shot down and Killed while attempting to rescue 8 fellow soldiers surrounded by attacking enemy forces.

We Nam Brothers pause to give a backward glance, and post this remembrance to you, one of the gentle heroes lost to the War in Vietnam:

Slip off that pack. Set it down by the crooked trail. Drop your steel pot alongside. Shed those magazine-ladened bandoliers away from your sweat-soaked shirt. Lay that silent weapon down and step out of the heat. Feel the soothing cool breeze right down to your soul ... and rest forever in the shade of our love, brother.

From your Nam-Band-Of-Brothers
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POSTED ON 11.19.2005

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Mary Frye – 1932

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POSTED ON 5.20.2004
POSTED BY: Katrina

Thank You

I read your letters from the book "Dear America - Letters Home From Vietnam". To read that you were held captive for many years continues to break my heart. Although I was a baby while this war was happening, I'm learning a lot from books and each book breaks my heart. I have the greatest respect and love for you and for all the others that fought. Thank you forever and always for doing what they asked of you as your duty whether you believed in it or not. You are my hero.
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