Remembering Michael Davis O’ Donnell

The Vietnam War poem by Michael Davis O’ Donnell…

mdRetro Culturati believes in remembering the fallen, those whose lives were ended by the decisions of others, their names turned into statistics. We live in a world today in which the term ‘hero’ is given to anyone who wears a military uniform, regardless of job description. It serves no purpose other than to distil the memory of those who truly earned the accreditation. For there are men who have committed truly heroic, selfless acts for no other reason than to help their comrades on the front line and whose deeds have long since faded in the memories of all of us.

In previous conflicts to the Vietnam War American soldiers returned to celebratory homecomings, there was none of that for the Vietnam vets save the efforts of their immediate families. Not for them the periods of national mourning, the thanks for their sacrifices, the blood, the tears and the cold sweat they endured long after coming home. Nothing.

Dak To, Vietnam January 1970. Michael Davis O’ Donnell, a helicopter pilot from Springfield, Illinois sat and composed a poem asking for his nation’s understanding of his fellow soldier. It is a beautiful testament to his brothers in arms from a man clearly struggling to make sense of his situation. Three months after writing the poem, O’ Donnell attempted to rescue eight soldiers trapped on all sides by the enemy. He, and his three crew were shot down, crashing in a ball of flames. Despite witness reports to substantiate the explosion he was declared missing in action for the next eight years. In 1977 he was given the title of major and the following year declared killed in action. His family received the Purple Heart, The Bronze Star, The Air Medal and The Distinguished Flying Cross.

This is his poem:

If you are able,
save 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,
though you may
or may not have always.
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.


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