When we put our hands on our hearts and said the pledge of allegiance to the flag
just like we did back in grade school at the 50th high school reunion at the event center
way out in Hampton Township where I once picked tomatoes for 50 cents/hour and
swam in the pool when Mrs. Maxson’s field became the Elks Club and my Dad actually
had a membership I remember Grand Ledge, Michigan and Saturday morning
we would listen to No School Today on our radio on the table with Jon and his little
wooden buddy who wanted to be a boy, Sparky, and we heard Jon make up multiple
vocal characters and waited for the theme song “Teddy Bears Picnic” when we would
frolic through the woods full of teddy bears who materialized in our living room to leap
over Mom’s foot stool and prance and dance to the rhymes and lilting melodic tune.
I was the wildest one without a doubt. Only nothing could stop me once I got going.
The Teddy Bears Picnic in my head ended and so did the Pledge of Allegiance and
The American Legion Color Guard left when then some guy got up and started talking
about being a door gunner in a helicopter shooting .50 caliber rounds down onto Vietnam
and I was feeling as bad as I felt when I got out of the army in 1968 just weeks after the
assassination of Robert Kennedy and a few months after the assassination of Martin Luther King
and I’d spent the last months since then on Okinawa working off an Article 15 extra duty
because a sergeant bucking for promotion as they used to say from buck sergeant to staff sergeant
before he re-upped startled me when he yelled at me when I was napping on break time
at the motor pool and I jumped up yelling so they charged me with insubordination. They wanted
to get me anyway because I was depressed and anxious, outraged by what I was hearing about people,
prisoners being thrown out of helicopters at 1000 feet until someone talked and mowed down
by machine guns from them out in their rice paddies. All the guys were outraged that a short timer
like me with less than 90 days to go got extra duty for being harassed by a lifer after a bigger bonus.
I felt so bad I didn’t even care and that’s how I felt at the re-union. So I left and walked the old road
all the way back without a sidewalk through the township, back to town in the dark with the infra-
structure blinking with me in the night with the stars. What a long war. For once the Pentagon got it
right. It’s The Long War. “If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone.
It’s lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home.”
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Van Looy leads the Labyrinth Creative Movement Workshop, which his Labyrinth titled poems are based on. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.