Jerry Neren


I wrote the U.S. Government
and asked them why they will not

award me the Purple Heart
for going insane in Vietnam.

Why isn't it a wound, I asked,
worthy of the Purple Heart

unless an arm or leg
or a chunk of a face or a hunk

of neck or back
gets blown away

by something like
a Chinese communist grenade

or a Russian artillery shell?
Why isn't it a wound, I asked,

worthy of the Purple Heart
when a mind is cut down

by nearly a year of things
inside a combat zone

like seeing seven men
out of nine in your squad

perish in a skirmish,
like trekking through triple-canopy jungle

lunging with leeches and mobs of mosquitoes,
like humping the boonies in clouds of burnt dust,

like holding dying comrades in your arms
then bodybagging them,

like tripping over ranges of ripsaw mountains,
like dragging Cong corpses into piles

then shooting their wounded,
like sloshing through monsoons in boot-sucking muck,

bathing hardly ever, never
sleeping soundly,

living on nothing but C-rations,
living in fear of the incoming mortars and rockets,

living in terror of land mines and booby traps
each step you take,

sweating every second when the next sniper
will have you in his sights,

till either your tour time or
your luck runs out?

The U.S. Government wrote me back
and said they were not awarding me

the Purple Heart
because my wound,

my type of wound,
did not draw blood.