Frank J. Montoya

MY PARADE, AT LAST

IWVPA Bronze Helmet Top Poet Award For Excellence
September 2001
The Vietnam Wall Replica came to town last spring.
I had to see it again knowing what it would bring.
Feelings that somehow seem never to fade,
Reading thousands of names and the price that they paid.

My memory went back to that cold winter day,
We had landed in ‘Frisco, right next to the bay.
I remembered the newsreels made on V J Day,
When the crowds did cheer and the bands did play.

Would our welcome be loud? Cheers and songs from the crowd,
Or a speech on the tarmac, would make us feel proud.
Our time served in ‘Nam, we’d be soon homeward bound.
But as we stepped off the plane, we heard not a sound.
The field was deserted, not a soul was in sight.
As we walked to the terminal, I thought: “Something’s not right”.

I couldn’t believe we’d be forgotten, too,
Like the Korean Veterans who we all knew.
They were first to fight an unpopular war:
Over 50,000 dead: Missing – 8000 more.
They were quickly forgotten, their deeds cast aside,
No tribute to those who so gallantly fought, those who died.

The Vietnam Veteran’s fate was as bad, if not worse,
Their welcome home was spiteful, more often a curse.
Press, protestors and politics held the public in sway;
Our troops were villains, the bad guys, doing wrong every day.

Ostracized and criticized, our troops took the fall,
For doing their best, at their governments call.
(I was there for that holiday known fondly as TET,
An experience I surely will not soon forget.)
They were shunned and neglected; left to go their own way:
Even friends and relations didn’t know what to say.
Not allowed to win at their grim, thankless task,
Was a little respect really too much to ask?

So last Spring I stood there again, reading names on that wall.
Thinking back to the years when they gave it their all.
Duty called and they went to that strange distant land;
And those that did not go… just can’t understand.

People listened in silence to the Veterans’ speeches,
About warriors, their feelings and the lessons war teaches.
A Poem about Comrades-in-Arms, a tearful goodbye:
One about reading names on that wall and wanting to cry,
And a song about “Soldiers of the Sky”.
As those words were heard, not many eyes were dry.

All the Veterans were then asked: please, to stand,
With a flickering candle in their hand.
Then we formed a line and faced the wall,
And the people were asked if they could, maybe, thank us all.

They started slowly at first, some reserved, some shy.
Then more and more came and soon all would walk by.
Old and young shook our hands as they passed through the line,
And said: “Good job”, “We thank you”, “You really did fine”.

A small girl who couldn’t have been much more than five,
Looked up at us and said: “I’m glad you came back alive”.
Those expressions were wonderful: I felt ten feet tall…
But the words “Welcome Home” were the greatest of all.

The years melted away as we stood there that night:
We felt honored, respected – everything was all right.
There were no bands and no marching, but I cared not at all.
‘Cause I got My Parade there, that night, by The Wall.