for Ben S. Woodruff
Who is touched
by more than a picture
can tell you blood stains
dry and brown and flake,
the chest's splatter a slow-drip
painting filling the camouflage
canvas where you signed
your name. Over there, in the theatre
of operations for enduring
freedom, you scrubbed your hands
with dust and sand, held a finger
to the air to catch the direction
of the fire's flash just as the guy
ahead mimed he wants to go home.
Later, you got a fleece John Wayne
blanket for your hospital bed,
reworked your quilt of luck daily,
chanting the novena to make
your way back and finally out
of the One Percent club
whose purple-and-gold hearts
explain blasts' effects better than tears
in Kevlar or a squeeze of the left
hand now doing its double-duty.
The general who lost
his son the day the boy mis-
stepped on a land mine wants
to tell you their struggle
is your struggle but he speaks
for only one of 5,500 families
while we, back here in America, are the millions
who never will take a direct hit.
© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas
This poem is prompted by a photo (scroll down to sixth image) on the site of a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ben S. Woodruff, a young man I know via Twitter who in 2004 joined the United States Army and, as he tells a part of his story here, spent only a month with his unit before deploying to Iraq for the first of two tours, one approximately a year long and the other "a strenuous 15 months". Ben now is working his way through college.
I conflated this poem with several details from a moving story that appeared in the March 2, 2011, edition of The Washington Post, in which Lt. General John F. Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan, spoke of Americans' lack of awareness of the price of our wars overseas.
Note: Technically, Operation Iraqi Freedom ended August 31, 2010, with President Obama's declaration that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended" (text is here). Effective September 1, 2010, the new name of operations of United States Forces in Iraq is "Operation New Dawn".
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