Modern War Poetry

The Poems

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Zuni Flight

20 February, 2013

Doin’ four-fifty up at ten grand,
Callin’ Air Force FAC, per the flight plan.
He answered up quick saying “What are you Packin?”
“Wall-to-wall Zunis; What are you trackin’?”
“Bad guys on the trail, just ran for the jungle.”
Now this was my mission to bungle.
“See ’em down there by the bend in the stream?”
There were ten bends. This was a bad dream.
I did not say I could not see squat.
I just crossed my fingers and picked a likely spot.
“Not there! Not there, you dumb SOB!”
“OTHER bend in the stream. Are you blind can’t you see?”
Now five hundred knots, in sixty degree dive,
I’m now just trying to get home alive.
But I fire off one more Zuni pair.
“You got arms and legs flyin’ through the air!!”
I guess he decided I’d done okay.
As for me it was a hell of a day.
Hey, you don’t think this was clever?
This was my second Zuni flight EVER.




Woody’s DFC

1 March, 2013

Woody could sure lead a flight.
And he flew the A-4 with great skill.
Being his dash-two was alright,
As I learned the dive-bombing drill.

This was not my first rodeo.
I’d flown helos in combat too.
’Bout five hundred missions or so.
But to A-4 I was still new.

One day Woody said scary words.
“This war’s winding down for me.”
I was hoping I had mis-heard.
“I sure want to get DFC.”

Distinguished Flying Cross that is.
I already wore on of those.
And I’d do what to get his?
Risk my butt do you suppose?

Soon after, his big chance appeared.
Bad guys’ artillery kickin’ ass.
It was about as bad as I’d feared.
Let’s get this done in one pass.

Forward Air Controller got us briefed,
With me positioned to bomb first.
I could see nothing but jungle beneath.
My expectations? Missing was worst.

There was more than artillery there.
Thirty-seven millimeter aimed at the sky.
I avoid fights that are fair,
Just how good are these guys?

Rolled into thirty-degree dive.
Black puffs much too near to me.
We’d clearly kicked the beehive.
And flak show ain’t pretty to see.

Woody was a witty guy.
“Who are these guys? They are good!”
Dropped half of my bombs on that try.
Laughing as best as I could.

Woody rolled in behind me.
The flak show as good for him.
His bombing as fine as could be.
Our fun-bowls were filled to the brim.

We each made an additional pass.
Entertained by continuing flak.
Then homebound with just enough gas,
Hoping effective, empty bomb racks.

FAC reported we’d done the task.
Award write-ups into the system.
The outcome you shouldn’t ask.
Tall thresholds and we’d miss ’em.

One Air Medal for each.
Of them, I wear twenty-nine.
DFC too much of a reach.
Woody, wish I could give you mine.




The Mighty C-117

26 March, 2013

Fine ol’ C-117’s
They’re what we flew in between.
It was Woody and I,
And a few other guys,
Doing night-time flare drops,
And great R&R hops.
I hadn’t flown 117’s before,
And they took some flyin’ for sure!
Cross-wind landings a bitch,
I nearly did rip a stitch,
Keepin’ it on the runway,
Landing DaNang windy day.

Udorn-bound we were flying west,
Put me to a new sort of test.
Flashes in the night sky,
Good judgment, we were high.
Those damn 37’s again.
We’re at 12K, they’re aiming 10.

One day it was Woody and I,
Plowing through afternoon sky.
Returning from Ubon R&R.
A fine Thai shopping bizarre.
Cabin packed full of young grunts,
With the bounty from their treasure hunts.
Woody and I swapping lies,
When a truth came as a surprise.
We were both new to the machine,
Not a hundred hours between.
With those fine Marines in the back,
A good thousand hours we lacked.
We landed that day with great care,
We were a hell of a pair!
Would we do it again?
We did! Next day, that was when.
Woody was the OpsO
So who else needed to know?

What did I do in the war?
Aircraft types? Yup, I flew four.
I played both predator and prey,
And I look back and do laugh today.
117’s weren’t the least of the deal,
Making banquet from a C-Ration meal.
I was too mean to die young.
Not yet time for my bell to be rung.

The Mighty



The Fence

21 February, 2012

Relate life to barbed wire?
Sure sounds like a reach.
And thrown in aircraft tires,
Without a sanity breach?

I spent much of my youth,
Repairing barbed wire fences.
So standby for the truth,
It won’t try your senses.

The tires on the Skyhawk,
Designed for max 1-4-2 knots.
Manual says; not just bar talk.
That was an issue on runway so hot.

What speed must I achieve,
To get Skyhawk in the air?
Manual said, would you believe,
1-4-2 knots! No margin there.

Runway needed for loaded A-4,
With six bombs and full fuel?
At 1-2-5 degrees or more,
It was a physics law duel.

Nine thousand nine hundred ten,
Hot runway feet to get there.
We reached ten thousand at its end.
Better be in the air.

I’d roll down that runway,
With throttle at the stop.
Please physics laws do obey.
Let me fly one more hop.

At one forty I would mutter,
And pull control stick full back.
Skyhawk would not shutter,
Nose-wheel would not crack.

Finally at one forty two,
The wheels would unstick.
I’m still here to tell you,
There’d be a grown from this cowboy hick.

Two ol’ strands of barded wire,
Beyond that runway’s end.
Airborne, no blown tires.
Physics laws were my friend.

I’d see those wires pass under wing,
I could count the barbs,
As Skyhawk did its thing.
Was not on a diet, but was burning carbs

So barbed wire reminds of my youth.
But more of DaNang runway
You know that is the truth.
And those Skyhawks, up and away.

The Fence



The Deuce

16 February, 2013

CH-37 was an ugly beast,
It’s flying days have long since ceased.
They were flown by a motley bunch.
Who would rather drink, than eat at lunch.
But they’d take on those nasty chores,
Delivering ammo thru clam-shell doors.
Rocketing along at sixty knots.
Carrying mortar rounds and fish oil pots.
On bad days hauling out the dead.
Can’t get that memory outta my head.
Each month we were to be through,
But without us they could not make do.
H-46’s falling from the air.
They had a heavy cross to bear.
And ’53’s with failing hooks.
Not worth the ramp space that they took.
So we flew ’til our tour was through,
Two Bobs, two Franks, and poet Lew.

The Deuce



Last Flight - NOT

4 May, 2013

I climbed out of the Deuce,
At the end of a very long day.
But my world lit up hearing,
What our Line Chief had to say.

“We are all done Skipper!”
“We have just flow our last flights.”
Group operations had made that call,
We are partying hardy tonight!

We had been flying for many long months.
In these tired ol’ greasy beasts.
We had more than paid our dues.
Off to club for a champagne feast.

We drank every bubbly bottle,
That club manager had pre-chilled.
Then we started on the warm stuff.
’til all inventory was confirmed kill.

In daylight I awoke,
To the sound of ringing phone.
“Why aren’t you assholes flying?”
Complete with matching tone.

I was in yesterday’s flight suit.
And someone had puked on me.
I felt like warmed-over shit,
And I was a sight to see.

I changed into fresh flying suit,
Knowing the puker was me.
Sort out misunderstanding?
That was never to be.

We flew a long day of sorties,
And for many, many more days.
’Til freedom bird flew us home.
To start life’s next trying phase.

Last Flight



Hitting the Tanker

21 February, 2013

Two mission numbers next to my name.
Hey! Ops-guy Woody, what is the game?
Tanker to be airborne; you can refuel.
If you have weapons left. Isn’t that cool!

I found friend Jack at Officers’ Club.
Had not tanked before; that was the rub.
I said to Jack: How do I do it?
Over martinis, Jack talked me through it.

I told tanker pilot: Ain’t done this before.
But need two grand of fuel, that is for sure.
He said: We got time; give it your best.
You hit the basket, we’ll do the rest.

I stabbed, I jabbed and I used my speed brake.
Trying to execute just what it would take.
To plug into that basket and get my gas.
I finally did it on my tenth pass.

By spotty training, I’d been impeded.
Without Jack’s help, would not have succeeded.
Next day’s flight plan was the same deal.
I plugged in first pass; I had the feel.

I’d learned to tank over unfriendly ground.
And I had it perfect on second round.
Okay, okay, I just did it two times.
Ain’t done it since, but I make it rhyme!

Hitting the Tanker



Engine Fire

13 April, 2013

Fire warning light blinked ON.
Was number two engine on fire?
Visual check: Smitty sez: “No Sir.”
Just a damned faulty wire.

Number two light blinked on twice more.
Crew Chief Smitty assured us again.
We pressed on with our mission,
Resupply Marines at Con Thien.

My copilot was Keeler.
Cockpit debate did ensue.
The fire-warning system does suck.
Bob reached for bulb to unscrew.

Hang on Bob, Don’t go there!
We’ll do wire repairs in due course.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep on checking.
Ain’t facing real engine fire remorse.

Returning to base, number one light shined.
Is that system bad as well?
Smitty, is number one on fire?
Are we flying the mission to hell?

Smitty reported: “Yes sir, it is.”
In same calm voice used before.
“Number one engine IS on fire.”
Now, I AM lovin’ this war!

Number one engine back to IDLE.
“What are you seeing now?
“Fire appears to be out “ Sez Smitty.
Can we stay airborne in this ol’ sow?

Power back up, fire back on.
That option was not a player.
Number two FULL power, One to IDLE.
Anyone got appropriate prayer?

Losing altitude with base in sight,’
With number two saving our skins.
We ease across the Dang Ha fence,
And walk away yet again.



Coming Home

2 April, 2013

It was not the easy part.
A brutal test of the warrior heart.
Was this what we were fighting for?
Home to women who were sure,
That we’d been doing the wrong thing.
Not home to castles where we were kings.

Home to train to go back again.
Losing wife and abandoning friends.
Why did this have to be so hard?
I’d clearly drawn bad gypsy card.
But sweet lady I love combat more,
I’ll cope without you, of that I’m sure.




24 March, 2013

Flying to Dang Ha after mission,
And a long day we thought was done.
When the Ops guy called, he was fishin,
Could Junkman make several more runs?

Ops said we could turn this one down.
It was no job for the slow, greasy, ol’ Deuce.
NVA surrounding our Marines on the ground.
They needed ammo and chow to get loose.

I was flight leader of two of the beasts,
With Bob Keeler best copilot of all.
I said we’d make a try at least.
Load us up with what we can haul.

Bob said: “Lew, are you real sure?”
“This doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.”
“That’s why it’s called a combat tour,”
“You know the grunts need this done.”

Five round trips with ammo and chow.
Hauling wounded on the trips out.
We took no hits. I’m not sure how.
Prefer luck to skill, NO DOUBT!

During the mission a friend of mine,
Flew observation plane overhead.
“Why’s Junkman there? (our call-sign)
“Are they lookin’ to be dead?”

I didn’t think it was a big deal.
Just doing what we signed up to do.
But folks up the chain had a different feel,
Wrote up awards for pilots and crew.

I proudly wear that DFC,
That is: Distinguished Flying Cross.
Okay, It was a big day for me.
More important, no lives were lost.

The memory that stays with me,
Is looking at the grunts on the ground.
As we sat eight feet in the air,
And they were well-hunkered down.

We got to fly back to our safe base.
The grunts had to stay in harm’s way.
Neither of us would choose to change place.
I was proud they were armed for next day.

Damn, I loved the role we played.
Would not have it any other way.
We, indeed, played it where it laid,
And we’re all Marines to this day.




Flight Lead

27 March, 2013

We weren’t the standby squadron,
We had no hot standby crews.
Most of the pilots were drinking,
‘Cause they had nothing to lose.
But I was stoney sober.
Silly new-guy me.
The call came to launch two 34’s.
My role was plain to see.

Shit-sandwich down at An Hue!
Grunts need mortar rounds real quick
Ops had to find two sober crews,
That was not an easy trick.

Would I be one of the copilots?
Of course I said: “Hell yes!”
What was Ops O’s next request?
I’m sure that you can guess.

I said, of course: “Roger that!”
When ask to command Dash-Two.
Quick jeep ride to the flight line,
My copilot had consumed a few.

As we pre-flighted our H-34,
I heard unexpected sound.
The sudden stop of human body,
As copilot fell to the ground.

We got strapped in and cranked ‘er up,
And taxied good-to-go.
Flew five miles toward the ammo dump,
When lead lost one of his radios.

“Hey, Dash-Two, you’ve got the lead.”
A call I’ll not forget soon.
Sun was set as we took on the loads,
I was hoping for full moon.

I called “Ridge Runner inbound” to the grunts.
As I looked at the dark, dark ground.
Only tracer paths to see.
“How are you guiding me down?”

“You’ll be landing to my flashlight.”
Which I could barely see.
“If I turn it off, get outta here.”
“It’ll mean they are shooting at me.”

“Roger that,” I told the lad,
And we started our descent.
Copilot was stone sober now,
Wishing he were in his tent.

Mortar rounds out, wounded in,
We lifted quickly outta there.
Back to the med facility, Then back into the air.

One more trip with ammo,
And more wounded coming out.
And I remember thinking:
“This is what I’m about!”

I’ve done a lot of flying since,
As you will, perhaps, read.
But I’ve never performed better,
Than on that first combat lead.

Flight Lead



About the Author

Lewis Watt

Colonel Lewis Watt

Lewis’ twenty-six year Marine Corps career included two combat tours in Southeast Asia, five years as a test pilot at Patuxent River MD, and many Washington DC years. Lewis flew a hundred different type/model/series of aircraft, four of them on his thousand hours of combat sorties. His final assignments were command of the Cherry Point, NC, Aviation Depot, and Program Manager of the AV-8 Harrier program for the Navy Department. Lewis lives in State College PA with his wife Judith.

Click the link below to purchase a collection of poetry by Lewis Watt, available on

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