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Politics // Coffee Break
Jerry Coffee

Inspired To Poetry By Bombing

There had been no bombing raids in or around Hanoi for weeks, a situation that only increased the frustration of us POWs.

“C’mon you guys, if you’re ever gonna get us outta here, it’s gonna take more action than this. The longer you leave the ‘V’ alone, the more they’re just gonna use the slack to undo all the damage we caused during the last bombing campaign.”

We couldn’t figure out why our leaders in Washington could-n’t see this downside of their “on again, off again” bombing strategy.

I’d been a POW now for nearly three years – long enough to learn the North Vietnamese only would respond to overwhelming force.

Almost on cue, the sound of one or two aircraft rocketing across the sky above Hoa Lo prison and the sound of bomb explosions in the near distance stiffened the hair on the back of my neck.

The sound of anti-aircraft guns was even closer …

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Suddenly the thick prison walls shuddered with more bomb explosions, now close. Dust and plaster chips floated down from the ceiling.

The air raid warning siren began its perpetually tardy winding-up wail, announcing the approach of “enemy aircraft.”

The street corner loudspeakers outside carried excited Vietnamese voices announcing the same: “American airplanes! American airplanes!”

Disregarding the prison regulation to take shelter beneath my concrete slab, I sprang upon it and pulled myself up to the sill for a clear view through the high window above it.

The sky was pocked with black bursts of deadly flak, fiery trails marked the paths of SAM missiles.

A thunderous roar to my right brought into view a formation of four Air Force F-105 “Thunder Chiefs” in a tight echelon formation as they pitched upward toward the rollin altitude for their dive-bombing run.

They couldn’t have been more than a couple of miles away.

Just before the formation disappeared behind my roof overhang, it leveled off and the leader peeled off, nose down, commencing his dive-bombing run.

A few seconds’ delay, then No. 2 followed. The flak bursts were clustered tightly around the formation now.

No. 3 rolled in on cue, as tracers laced the sky around him.

Just as No. 4 rolled in, his tail was obscured by a flak burst so close it might have been a direct hit. Still, he steadied out his dive, but now he was leaving a trail of vapor and smoke.

He disappeared after the others below the barbed wire and broken glass on top of the 16-foot prison wall.

The raid ended with the multiple booming concussions of the bombs I had just seen being delivered.

That night I couldn’t go to sleep, thinking of No. 4 and praying that he had been able to put his bombs right on target with those of his squadron mates, and that he was able to nurse his crippled bird to the safety of friendly lines or out to sea.

I thought of my squadron mates who had been killed, and surely there were more now whom I didn’t even know about.

Gradually my thoughts began to take on the form of a poem, and before dawn it was finished. I called it One More Roll:

We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the sky

And were gently caught by God’s own hand, to be with Him on high.

To dwell among the soaring clouds they knew so well before

From dawn patrol to Victory roll at heaven’s very door.

And as we fly among them there, we’re sure to hear their plea

“Take care my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll … just for me.”

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