what it was

The Japanese were
Desperate by then and sending their kids to war….”


by brian doyle


We were returning from attacking Fort Drum,
Says my friend Donald, who is really old now,
But then he was a tall skinny kid age nineteen,

And you remember, he says, that we had set out
To blow the fort once before but got sidetracked,
But this time we nailed it hard from every side,

Which was crucial because the fort had firelines
On every way into the bay and we couldn’t get
Past it at all, a lot of our guys had died there,

So coming back from blowing it up we were
Feeling good, first because we weren’t dead,
And second because we finally shut it down.

So I had my eyes on the water, it was my boat,
You know, and I counted ten bodies in the sea
As we went back to our base. Japanese soldiers,

Yeh, but they were only kids. More than half
I bet only thirteen years old. The Japanese were
Desperate by then and sending their kids to war.

So did we, of course. I wasn’t the youngest guy
In the American army, that’s for sure. All wars
Are fought by boys sent by old men. That’s a fact.

Listen, all these years later I don’t regret what I did.
We did the right thing at the time. I’m just telling you
One day I saw dead kids in the water. Yeh, they were

Soldiers, you could say that, but they were thirteen
Years old. That’s what I saw. You figure out what
You think about that. I’m just saying what it was.

Originally published:
Issue Forty-Four
August 2006


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr )

Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently The Grail, about a year in the life of a vineyard. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was a lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2006)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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