Padre


Basic vestments adorning,
As the Padre began,
A message quite clear,
Yet I don’t understand.
Blessing all we young men,
Group huddled at dawn,
Some faces were different,
Replacing those gone.
His role was to guide us,
Say all that he could,
Words of some comfort,
Holy man preaching Good.
To all we young soldiers,
He offered us light,
From the darkness of danger,
With the knowledge of ‘Right’.
Blood soon would be spilt,
Many too will have died,
Parents consoled or left cold,
Hearing: “God’s on our side!” 

“Oh Padre! ... Padre!
Shallow words that you said;
Written in gold, now engraved,
In stone for the dead.”


*
 

A prayer was then offered,
Ending with a crossed sign,
We ‘boys’ all moved off,
Whilst he stayed behind.
Where he’d meditate long,
And curse his own role,
Because it unaffected,
The growing death toll.
And he felt so helpless,
Prayed at the foot of his bed,
That comfort and courage,
Stemmed from what he had said:
“Fear not death, in the valley!
He’ll keep you from harm!”
Each soldier stirred with that image,
Of mines and burning napalm.
Out through barbed wire,
He wished us all well,
Prayed we would see Heaven,
Knowing we’d come across Hell. 

“Oh Padre! ... Padre!
Telling us to be brave!
Your preachings of love,
Empty words on a grave.”


*


At the service that followed,
Many days after then,
Smaller circle of young ‘boys’,
Changed now into men.
This time there was silence!
What message to teach?
Anxious faces awaited,
Comforting words in his speech:
“Young soldiers of God,
You are fighting a just cause,
Like your fathers before you,
In their own noble wars!”
The Padre then continued,
Looking us straight in our eyes,
Confusing young minds,
With his words that seemed lies.
Proud flag at half mast,
There in the jungle, ’twas chilling,
Bugle seemed to be saying:
“Let’s stop all the killing!” 

“Oh Padre! ... Padre!
With these words I implore:
If God’s on our side,
Can’t he please end this war?”


*
 

A flash in time, thirty years,
No uniforms do we wear,
An honour guard for that man,
Who once led us in prayer.
A cortège, in silence,
For a Man of God, so well versed,
Coffin draped in our flag,
In a morbid black hearse.
A stranger, in a white gown,
Requested all present to stand,
Familiar sounds from this Padre,
As the funeral service began.
A hymn filled the chapel,
Then from the Bible words read,
Appropriate text pre-selected,
To honour this man who’s now dead:
“Let us take comfort from God,
And in the hopes of our brother!
His prayers were always for peace,
And for us to love one another!” 

“Oh Padre! ... Padre!
Rhetoric we’ve all heard before!
You know there will always,
Be another damn war!”


©

Padre


     For some of the more religiously orientated troops in Vietnam (and there were some), the Padre (for the Catholics) and the Chaplain (for the Protestants) no doubt gave some measure of comfort (he was nick-named the ‘Sky Pilot’ ... the guide to ‘The Man Upstairs’). War has a tendency to challenge even the strongest of religious faiths and so for that and other reasons the vast majority of troops chose not to attend ‘church’ services, except on rare occasions (usually when about to go out on patrol … Oh how cynical of me!). This poem was written through the eyes of a disillusioned soldier. 

                       ♪♪ In the morning they return ... with tears in their eyes …
                           The stench of death ... drifts up to the skies …
                           A soldier so ill ... looks at the ‘Sky Pilot’ …
                           Remembers the words: ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ …
                           ‘Sky--Pilot’ … ‘Sky--Pilot’ …
                           How high ... can you fly?
                            You’ll never ... never ... never...
                            Reach the sky! ♪♪

                                                                     -  from the song Sky Pilot by The Animals, 1968. 

                               ♪♪ My name it is nothing ... my age it means less,
                                   The country I come from ... is a part of the Free West;
                                   I was taught and brought up there ... its laws to abide,
                                  And that the land that I live in ... has God on its side! ♪♪

                                          -  from the song With God on Our Side , by Manfred Mann, 1968. 

                                                  “There are no atheists in the fox holes!”
                                                                                                                  - William Cummings, 1942.