A Dark Night in Buna, December 1943

My Dad is on jungle patrol near Buna late at night. 

He hears the anxious farting of a Japanese patrol 

And a silhouetted figure looms with menace in his sight. 

“I.D. yourself, goddammit,” thinks my father, sick in soul, 

The answer sounds like leather on the muzzle of a gun. 

Dad feels the vomit in his throat and closes both his eyes. 

He doesn’t see the flash of his exploding Tommy Gun. 

The silhouette collapses with a gasp of sharp surprise. 

It’s too dark to see so Dad crumples to the ground 

And hugs the Tommy to his face and feels the muzzle’s heat. 

The jungle now is quiet and the only human sound 

Is the ghastly, gurgled groaning of that silhouetted heap. 

Dad pulls the Tommy closer and tries to close his ears. 

The moaning ebbed and flowed throughout the endless night. 

Dad thinks of Oneonta and the sweetly passing years 

Of youth, and closes his eyes against the coming of the light. 

When comes the grayness of the dawn he opens both his eyes 

And sees the Japanese boy, chalky white, and still. 

His blood has seeped throughout the night and now he lies, 

A cold and vacant shell. He is Dad’s first wartime kill. 

The teen-ager was gut shot and died in agonizing 

Misery. His face is youthful and unlined, even pretty, 

But all Dad sees is an enemy uncompromising 

In his love for Hirohito. Dad killed him without pity, 

Though now as he beholds this carcass drained of blood, 

It’s hard to ignore the common humanity

He shares with this dead stranger, pacified in the mud.

The war is a metastasis of insanity.

About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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