A Minnesota PBS Initiative

Sergeant Rick

I met a man in a park one day
By a monument called the Wall
Where friends and family did engage
In prayer for all the fallen

As he wheeled himself round and round I said
“what can I help you find?”
He said, “Just one piece of solid ground
For my body and my mind. 

As he stared straight ahead, his eyes unblinking
I said “tell me, sir, what are you thinking? “
As he continued his unwavering stare, he said
I never came home from over there.

As his long boney fingers traced the names on the wall
I said “who have you come to see? I mean is there a certain brick
He said “Oh no, my friend, 
I’ve come to see them all.
You can call me Sergeant Rick.”

I said “What happened in country, Sergeant Rick?”
Is that where you lost your sight?
Was it like they said “all politics?”
“Were you caught up in a firefight?”

My dear, I cannot talk about
what happened over there.
If you could hear what I still see,
You would walk away in fear.”

“Oh no,” I said, “it’s so long over.”
“Well,” he said “maybe for you.”
“No, I also lost a friend and lover.
And his honor is long overdue.

Like so many others, 300,000 strong.
His journey to find home again has been so fierce and long
You see, sir, he’s not dead, not blind; 
Somewhere in that fearsome jungle
He lost his peace of mind.”

Now the sergeant was ready to talk.
He gently took my hand.
For the first-time
He did not balk.
He wanted me to understand.

There was the Hanoi Hilton,
Then came Hanoi Jane.
We followed orders with our best ability,
But was it all in vain?
She Came not to honor, but to question our nobility.

“There was the Gulf of Tonkin where the whole damn thing began
We went to fight for a people so grieved
In a very troubled land
And in this mission, we so believed
Who knew how badly it would end.

There were foxholes, there were jungles,
And heat beyond belief.
As the war went on and on
There seemed to be no relief
Just trails of blood from Hanoi to Saigon.

There was Ho chi minh in the North,
Viet Cong in the south,
Innocent villagers in between;
Who knew there would come a time
When we couldn’t sort them out.
Too often at night we still hear their screams 

 Between the fighting and the yelling,
And the helicopter noise
No matter how we tried
It was hard to keep our poise.

There were AK 47’s and M16’s
Firebombs and bayonets.
Injured soldiers, some, boys in their teens.
Some scenes I can’t forget.

I lay in my foxhole late one night,
Praying for peaceful sleep.
I’d lost six men in a fire fight;
All I could do was weep.

Drugs came in handy,
Oh yes that is true
Something we did not intend
But who knew when it might be you
Or maybe your very best friend.

After the Tet offensive in 1968
When we thought the war was done
All hell broke loose back in the states.
Did we lose, or had we won?

In 1970 they sent us home,
Me and my buddy Boyle.
We wondered, are we welcome
Back here on US soil.

I said, hey Bud,
Let’s go have a beer. We need to celebrate.
The bartender said, ‘We don’t serve vets here.”
So good to be back in the states.

Coming home was a good thing
In a way,
But what of the men we left behind
At the Hanoi Hilton, there to stay
And the rest behind enemy lines.

By ’75 most men did come home
They say we lost the war.
We left those people all alone;
Not much to be proud for.

At the end of the day,
All promises were broken.
We left them to deal with their fate
What words could even be spoken
To mend that breach of faith?

So 300,000 men came home
Not the same as when they left
They line the halls of veteran’s homes
Some broken, some bereft.

I asked, “Do you have a family?”
He said, “I did back then,
Now it’s shattered dreams I see,
And dead men, all my men. 

I come here each and every day,
And pray for one and all;
Not all the men we lost
At war have names carved on this wall.

I cared so deeply for this soulful man,
My knees actually went weak.
I knelt and gently took his hand,
Hugged him hard and kissed his cheek. 

And then, although a little nervous,
I stood up tall, saluted, and said
“Sir. God bless; and
Thank you for your service.” 


I was born and still live in St. Paul MN.

I visited the WALL in 2004. Of course, we also visited all the other war memorials, but the WALL has always haunted me, because of the three men who I shared and lost relationships with, due in part to PTSD.

I honor, as we all do, all the soldiers who died in the war, but I feel that those who came home changed don’t always receive the honor they deserve.

They all fought for us.

Older woman with cane, standing by the Vietnam War Memorial.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: St. Paul, United States Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Civilian

This story is part of the Stories About The Tet Offensive and Spotlight on Poetry collections.

Story Themes: Addiction, Art, Brotherhood, Civilian, Coming Home, Death and Loss, Diane O'Shaugnessy, Family, Hoa Lo Prison, Memorial, Physical Wounds, Poetry, POW, Prisoner of War, PTSD, Read, Reflection, Relationships, Saint Paul, St Paul, Terrain, Tet Offensive, The Vietnam Memorial, The Vietnam Wall

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