Winners: 2017 National Veterans Poetry Contest


Thank you for your service
by Jay Wenk, US Army
First Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

Gregory, nicknamed Raj,
from Bangor, Maine,
a vet of Iraq,
hooked up a vacuum cleaner hose
to his car’s exhaust.

These are today’s dead veterans.
There were others yesterday.

Living alone in a fifth floor walkup
on East 111th Street in New York,
Antoine raised and flew pigeons
from his rooftop chicken wire and slatted frame cage.
As he plunged into the backyard,
he took out several clotheslines.

There was Irv, Helen, George, Harold
Rennie and Harry.
Harold was gay, was called Roxy
among his friends, and he used a knife.

Frenchy never made it to the Post Office.
That’s where he told his wife he was going.
He drove head-on into the side of
a concrete bridge abutment
on Route 66 in Arizona, at 120 MPH.
It was a clear, bright morning.

A Lieutenant Carbonaro took his ’45 along
on a hunting trip upstate in North Dakota.

The medic who used to shoot up prisoners with
morphine, Carlos, saved up enough for himself.
He injected it while on leave, in Germany.

Angel, a guard at
our prison camp in the desert,
was a huge, smiling man, very friendly.
After discharge, he got a job as a warder
in a State prison near Biloxi.
He hung himself in his secondhand RV,
parked in a shady cottonwood grove.

There was Rudy, James and Eduardo,
living in ghetto flops in several different cities.
They combined booze and pills.

Reuben’s father was an Air Force officer,
so Reuben was born into it.
Everyone called him “Hey, Rube”.
When off duty from guiding armed Drones,
he loved to go up with the Paratroops.
On a flight yesterday,
he pushed his way past the jump master.

There was Bennie, Vera, Eli and Chris.
Chris was trained to defuse mines. Last evening,
on patrol, he jumped on one in plain sight.
The taxi driver who took Vera to
Chicago’s railroad yards reported that
she was drunk.

During the night, Juan, in Nevada, and
Eugene, in Colorado, both walked out
into their respective deserts,
stripped, in spite of bitter cold,
lay down, cut their wrists, and died,
looking up at the full moon.

There’ll be 22 more tomorrow.

The Corsairs
by David Rogers Jr, US Navy
Second Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

We found them, finally.
Bobbing on dusty languid
Yemen gulf-water,
Bright white hulls, one tarped in
Orange the other in blue
Like circus tents.
Our thin gray frigate
And hovering helo,
The eyes of the fleet,
found the smugglers like we
Were told to.

The boarding team
Went across. They found:
bilges swished with blood,
shit, garbage and
the fevered wounded.
The refugees begged us to take them,
The smugglers begged us to leave them,
The desperate dove into the water
And the clock was started,
Counting minutes until
The sharks came.

We sealed wounds and
Left succor and direction.
The Somalis cried for their suffering.
Our crew cried as their witness.
The helicopter left, we left.
What could we do?
We were told to find, to report,
To help, but not to save.
Functionaries in far capitols had
Not yet decided to extend
clean white palms.

And we were just one small ship, after all.

Living is the Hardest Thing
by Nicole Goodwin, US Army
Third Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

“Where was your child when you deployed?”
“How long did you stay away?”
“Did you ever think you wouldn’t survive?”
“Did you ever kill anyone?”

These questions hunt me down like a boar
in broad daylight.

My apartment is silent,
but I can still feel the pounding
of the mortars.

The boom of the bombs.

These sounds rattle
my cage, pushing against
my sanity.

Each day threatens to
crumble the walls.

Sandstorms whip nightmares
around my throat. Breathe!

I cannot.
The air is brittle.

Trails of sweat dance
with traces of my tears
of salt. All left to conjure

a reality that is a dream
before dying.


Memorial Day Parade, 2006
by Shane Griffin, US Army
Fourth Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest

I watch the veteran from
the other side of the street
in the shadow of buildings.
I hold my infant child
with both arms, tired and sore.
The Honor Guard passes.
My wife claps and cries,
From patriotism, I think.

He sits in his wheelchair in full sun.
His World War II Veteran hat
cocked off center, pulled down
to shade his eyes. He is unable
to stand when the colors pass,
but he raises his bony arm
in a painful salute.

He could have served anywhere.
Decades ago in that other life.
He could have beached on Normandy,
parachuted into Belgium, survived
the invasion of Wake Island,
Pearl Harbor perhaps.
But I don’t care to know.

I shift my arms, my child
sleeps. The high school marching
band passes. The crowd
claps. My arms are sore,
my shoulder still aches.
This body remembers when
I threw too many grenades
in Ramadi.