Heroes’ Voices is pleased to present the winners of our 2018 National Veterans Poetry Contest.

See the winners of the 2017 National Veterans Poetry Contest
See more poems by veterans.

If you are a veteran and would like to share poems or stories that you have written, please contact Heroes’ Voices.

I. E. D.
by William Glose, US Army 1989-1994
First Place Winner: 2018 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

I. Improvised

Like Steve Austin, you said,
new legs will make you
bionic, better than before,
worth six billion after inflation

You taped a photo of Oscar Pistorius
to your bedside wall at Walter Reed.
These were the days before
“Blade Runner” shot his girlfriend.

Before you penguin-waddled
on “shorties,” then ten-inch stilts,
then C-legs hoisting you
to almost-normal heights.

II. Explosive

Long nights when you wish
it hadn’t been just your legs,
you dream of ways to twist
contempt into strings of obscenities

to hurl in daylight without aim,
the only target between handrails
a therapist, her hopeful,
heart-shaped face.

“It’s okay,” she says, patience
reliable as phases of the moon,
every shadow-swallowed crater
destined to one day reappear.

III. Device

Buried within titanium joints,
microprocessors control motions
that bend and stretch the knees
and feet, adjusting for impact

of walking, jumping, climbing,
locomotion of daily life.
When red-rubbed hands tire
of pushing wheels, you stand

erect, silver gleaming beneath
your shorts, jostling crowds
breaking like white-capped
water round a stone. Normal

walkers have one foot in the air
forty percent of the time.
Even unborn babies churn
their legs in the womb.

Your gait shuffles and lumbers,
collecting glances scimitared
with pity. But all you can
think of is the Halloween

when you were ten and dressed
as Frankenstein, that revenant
sewn together with borrowed parts,
thankful just to be alive.

Squadron Requiem
by Michael “Mule” Mullane, US Navy, 1967-1969
Second Place Winner: 2018 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

Do not blame us.
Like our fathers before us,
we did not choose the war.
Nor did we choose how it would end.

We did not choose to live.
Nor did our brothers choose to die.

We chose only to keep faith
with each other.

If you ever knew us,
if ever you cared,
if ever you knew
a name
on the wall

We ask only that you remember
some gave what they had,

and that others still pay
to this day

for keeping you
far from the abyss

from that day
to this.

Spouse of a Hero
by James Kennard II, US Army, 1987-2018
Third Place Winner: 2018 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

Resting easily amongst their accolades,
They embrace you.
All I will have to hold is a tear stained flag.
Comfortable in the bravado of brothers,
Your legend will continue to blossom
In the minds of eighteen year olds,
The naive and blind in which
No wounds can grow.
Your gallantry is heralded,
Yet I am haunted,
By the pomp and circumstance,
Ribbons of red, white, and blue,
A daily anniversary of your death.

Why did you volunteer for violence?
“Duty”, “Honor”, “Country” “Brotherhood”,
The vocabulary of men with divided hearts,
The kind that allure with
Devotion, emotion, boldness,
Then crush in coldness,
As you walk away from the outstretched arms
Of wives, sons and daughters.
“Daddy” I wonder
How can you jeopardize the lives
Of those who’ll mourn for you,
When the crowds are gone,
While the grass grows in the lawn?
We’ll watch your medals collect dust
As our hearts daily rust from your absence—
    Would you have even cried in Gethsemane?
I can’t understand the warrior.

Left bereft, to pick up the pieces
Of your parade,
Others will read of your actions
With satisfaction,
Holding aloft their arrogant sabers,
Praying their hearts, minds and souls
Contain the same fire─
An unholy trinity.
Do they too want to die?
Do they too want to rend
Where no surgeon can mend?
Memories, moments, space and time,
Septic wine I’ll forever be forced to swallow.

But now the world serenades at Arlington,
Round a six-foot hole,
As tombstones salute in stoic sympathy.
And yes,
I will,
I know,
I must,
Put on the patriotic show,
Of the spouse,
Of a hero.


Home Without a Home
by Tim Connelly, US Army, 1968-1972
Fourth Place Winner: 2018 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

I travel with a heavy backpack
strapped across my shoulders,
and a plastic bag of clothes.
When you are homeless,
these are the things you carry.
And tucked away somewhere
are the memories of a war
that are still fresh.
No yellow ribbons greeted me
when I returned home.
Now I soldier on each day
trying to find some place to call my own,
riding late night buses to shelters
only to be rousted out at dawn.
A private first class,
now a second class war veteran
walking the dark streets.
Home but without a home.