Monday, November 10, 2014


World War I

In response to my review about his Indian stories in “The Nations,” which I claimed was really about fighting in Korea, Tom Sheehan said this:

Perhaps the Korean situation does mix with these stories more than haunt; because I can still see the inside of a squad tent where I slept on ammo boxes, inside a bunker under fire, or a lone dug-out or night trench, can smell them at times, hear the once-familiar sounds, and transport myself to many such incidents that occurred about me, see faces that never change because they are not allowed to change. I never said I knew any Indians or their actual surroundings, but I contemplated them (not to get favors), much as I contemplated cowboys and sheriffs and outlaws and Mexican boys making good after they crossed the border (not to get favors)... the play being my play, the tools my tools, the only things I can bring with me to this machine."

Sneak-up Dancing

These stories are about the felt essence of being a "warrior" rather than the technicalities of code-talk or how many basic lodgepoles your tipi has.  I sent Tom this video of the “sneak up dance”.  
I meant it to signify the congruence of military strategy and enemy-knowing between his Korean fighting and Native American early guerrilla warfare.  Of course, a high proportion of Indians, particularly Plains tribes, fought in America’s wars from the time before there WAS an America or even a Massachusetts.  (Have you seen “Jimmy P.” yet?) 


November 2 superimposes two days:  Veteran’s Day, meant to celebrate the men who survived even as they live starving on our sidewalks in rags, as well as All Souls Day, which is an ancient Euro memorial day.  Korea was not a European war.  It was Asian and it wasn’t really finished, but its roots were as deep in history as any other persistent dissension between North and South.

The veterans are those who survive, but they carry the war with them, a dark cave.  They witnessed.  Now Tom testifies, a shaft of light.

A Last Moment Caught
It comes again,
without prejudice,
in another millennium:

I know the weight of an M-1 rifle
on a web strap hanging on my shoulder,
the awed knowledge of a ponderous steel helmet
atop my head, press of a tight lace on one
boot, wrap of a leather watch band
on my wrist,

and who stood beside me 
             who stand no more.

             John Maciag  (May 1951 Iron Triangle)

             John Maciag was all bone
knees, elbows and jaw
hated his rifle
                            proficient at killing
wanted home so badly it burned his soul

             We leaned up that mountain
near Yangu, frightened
War’s hurricane tore our ranks
                            trees of us lifted by roots
I came running down three days later

             Like cordwood the bodies were stacked
between two stakes
all Korean, but that jaw
                            of John Maciag I saw
a log of birch amongst the scrub

             I stopped, the sergeant said move on
I said maybe never
I’m going to sit and think about John Maciag’s
                            forever, whose fuel he is
what the flames of him will light
             Perhaps he’ll burn the glory
                            of God or man

Once Screamed to the Flag-waving Drunks at the Vets Bar, Late, Memorial Day Evening                  
Sixty years now and they come at me, in Chicago, Crown Point, Indiana, by phone
from Las Vegas. I tell them how it happened, long after parting, one night when I
was in a bar, thinking of them all.
Listen, gunmen, all I can smell is the gunpowder on you sharper than booze.
You wear your clothes with a touch of muzzle flash. Is it a story you want…?
Listen to the years ago, to the no shooting, to the no rout, to the just dying.
The day stank, it wore scabs, had odors to choke tissues and burn secret laminations
of the lungs. Rain festered in soot clouds, rose in the Pacific or the Sea of Japan,
dumped down on us, came up out of yellow clay like a sore letting out.

The air must have been full of bats, of spider weavings; it was lonely as the lobo,
yet a jungle of minds filled it with thought leaves shining with black onyx.
Who needs doctors at dying…? Prayers sew wounds, piece heads, hearts,
hands together, when blood  and clay strike the same irrevocable vein, arterial
mush; when God is the earth and clay, silence, the animal taker leaning to grasp.

Listen, gunmen, listen you heroes in mirrors only you see into, we through,
it isn’t the killing, it’s the dying must be felt, associated, even if it stinks.
Blood freezes in hot days of dying, is icicle inside movement of trickery
less than glacier’s, where a man crawls to his maker up his own veins,
is touched, feels the firebrand burn in the cold.

Where are the shade trees, cool drinks…? Once I froze in the confessional
against the fire. He was a Spick, they said, washed his skin too much, wanted
to sandpaper it white, be us, be another man But we wagered ourselves to get him
out of a minefield live as breathing, comrade shot down in the clay in the rain
in the time of bright eyes rolling with thunder’s fear. Was it him we carried,
or the stone of his monument? Tons he was of responsibility, one of us
despite the Spick name, man being borne to die.

God is everywhere, the catechism says, my son says, now, years later. It was once
a divinity we carried on the poles, with his balls gone pistonless, no more a god
 to his woman. His image rolled red on the canvas, burned through the handles
of the litter as secret as electricity; Spick shooting himself into us, Godhead
shooting signs up shafts of wood.

Lugging God on sticks and canvas is frightening. We felt this. Jesus! We screamed,
have You let go of this god…? Do You fill him up making him burn our hands?
He wanders now for times, rolling himself together, womanless, childless, a journey
in dark trees, among leaves, in jungles, to get near You. God seeking God at the intercept
of shrapnel, the tearing down and lifting up by our hands, God in the cement of death.

Oh, gunmen, it’s the dying not the killing you must speak of. This day is theirs, not ours,
belongs to the gods of the dead, of the Spick we carried to his dying and all his brothers,
none of them here among us.

Drink, gunmen, one to the Spick and grave’s companions, jungle flights they are in
to match their god with God. And think, gunmen, who among us have the longest
journey among leaves, in darkness, through the spiders of trees, now.

1951 Korea

Tomorrow I will park my vehicle by the monument, but in cemetery grounds, and watch the ceremony, the kids I left behind me almost here again, the young studs, ramrod straight, erect, their faces nowhere 63 years older.

Within an hour of posting my review of "The Nations," there were two hits from Korea.  Must have been pinging.  (Electronically monitoring words or phrases.)

Tom says there are some of his military stories in A Collection of Friends and In the Garden of Long Shadows (Pocol Press), Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans (Press 53) and Korean Echoes (Milspeak Publishers) eBook only. All are on Amazon and/or Nook eBooks.

Tom tells me:   "One of my war pieces was accepted at the same time this reply of yours came in, about a Graves Registration outfit in Burma area WW II. I was invited to dinner by a vet of Burma campaign ( and a co-worker at Raytheon  and went to his wake last year and met his daughter again, 30 years apart) and took about a dozen 3x5 cards of notes on his history in Burma and wrote ''Aces and 8s' .  It's been used a dozen times by those who allow reprints (sometimes 'Aces and Eights')." 

"Aces and Eights" is the dead man's hand.  Bob Scriver used it as the title for a Western sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok's demise holding those cards.  I couldn't find a photo of it, so here's Gib Singleton's version: Aces and Eights”, depicting the moment on the afternoon of August 2, 1876, before “Wild Bill” Hickock was gunned down in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. 

Gib Singleton is not a name Tom Sheehan made up, but he could have.

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