Poem: Thank you for your service

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.