Register NOW

Interview With A Sergeant

When I was still at the Far East Network Newsroom, I expressed my disappointment with the feature news coming out of Vietnam in the "Stars & Stripes". One of my co-workers, a Marine sergeant, asked me if I could do better. I didn’t know. However, in June I was in the Army's 249th General Hospital, where wounded were sent before being sent back to the States. I talked to many of the troops, from some paratroopers with stomach wounds to helicopter pilots when I was moved to the Junior Officers' ward. This gave me the chance to write the following. The Marine sergeant agreed I could do and did better than what was in "Stars & Stripes."

So you want an interview.
You want to know what War is like;
What I feel and what I think;
How I lead my men.
Have you ever been in a war?
I didn't think so!
If you had, you wouldn't ask;
You couldn't ask.
But you did ask, so I'll try to explain.
Maybe I can understand, myself.
And understand myself.

To begin with, I'd say it's Duty—
Or, a better word, Order.
A matter of my being ordered into combat
As a soldier
To restore order in the chaos—
In order to have Peace.
And you, an information specialist,
Ordered to interview me in this hospital.

You sit here, a thousand miles from combat
And try to imagine our feelings.
And you can.
But you can never feel our

You want to interview me?
Okay, but we'll talk about you.
You sit here and feel guilty
Because I've been wounded,
And you haven't fired a weapon
Since basic training.
So you’re extra nice to a
Grouchy guy like me,
And you ignore my rudeness.

But you shouldn't regret not going
Any more than I regret going.
You've got your orders
And I have mine,
And we'll have some in the future.
And we'll both do them without regrets
Because the good soldier is never sorry,
And the sorry soldier is never good.

What's War like?
Ask the kid there is the next bed.
He'll tell you that it's fear.
At first, you're afraid of being afraid;
And then you taste the real fear, itself,
As you look for an enemy who's looking for you
And you both secretly hope you'll never meet.

And then, one day,
You're no longer afraid,
And that scares you even more
Because then you're afraid
Of yourself.

Or ask one of the other guys.
Any one – or all.
They'll tell you
War is Nature turned around.
In the middle of the day
It's dark with fear.
In the middle of the night, it's
Bright with hope.

Or you can suddenly be cold
In the jungle heat—
Cold and dark and all alone.
Or you can be hot
In the chill of the night.
It doesn't make sense.
But War never does.

Ask any one the men here
What War is like,
And they’ll all give you the same answers
Which will all be different.
Ask 'em again, and
They'll all give you different answers,
Which will all be the same.
Ask me.

What's War like?
Don’t ask.
I hope you never find out.

249th General Hospital, Camp Drake, Japan, 1967

Dick Rose is the author of this piece that was aired on Armed Forces Radio back in 1967 in the Far East network. Dick is a Vietnam Veteran. His upcoming collection, "Vietnam Through Rose Colored Glasses" and video will feature this article.